I’m about to share with you all something that is constantly on my mind. I’ve debated whether or not it’s in my place to say the things that I’m about to say. Sometimes, it’s really difficult to come out into the open about something that bothers us, but I feel confident about the support behind me and the people who read this blog.
Today, I’m going to try to explain why being a photographer is more than just “clicking the button on a nice camera.”
I know there have been people write these types of posts before, and they have been wonderful to read, but I think it’s about time I put my two cents in.
And by the way, I’m not writing this post out of bitter feelings, anger, frustration, the feeling of being unappreciated or anything. I’m writing it because it needs to be said and people need to hear it.
Here we go.
If I had $5 for every time I’ve heard one of the following:
“Your job is so easy! All you do is click a button!”
“Your camera is nice…it must take really good pictures.”
“You charge THAT MUCH for pictures?”
Then I probably wouldn’t have to work for a few years.
It’s nice knowing that some of the people I interact with think that my life is stress free. However, if you really know me (on more than just a facebook or twitter level), then you know that I am dealing with a lot right now. And whenever I feel like the weight of the world is about to crash land on my toes, I still have a billion things to give thanks about. I’m 21, a full time student in her last semester, who is planning her wedding, working another job, and trying to operate and build a successful business all while trying to find the time to spend with family, fiance, and friends. But, I’ll say it again, I’m incredibly thankful for all of it.
Here are just some of the reasons and explanations why being a photographer isn’t easy.
1) Now that Canon and Nikon produce relatively cheaper bodies of DSLRs, it’s easier than ever for people to get their hands on a “good camera.” If every page owner of a photography business on facebook (whether actually professional or not) gave fifty cents towards ending hunger around the world, we’d have children who could eat more than once every two days.
It is incredibly frustrating to see someone just getting into photography, who still doesn’t really know what their camera does, who shoots with kit lenses and the built in flash try to take on senior pictures or weddings. And what’s even more frustrating is that people pay these certain “photographers” money to photograph the biggest days of their lives because they’re “cheaper than most photographers.” Actual professional photographers are more expensive for several reasons. But I’ll get into that later.
So, with the massively expanding availability of “photographers” out there, it is A) more difficult to get clientele who want beautiful photos as opposed to cheap photos and B) there is seemingly more competition to deal with. As much as some photographers call other photographers their friends (and I consider myself to have many friends who are also photographers), I think we all feel the need to somehow prove ourselves worthy of being called a photographer. Does that make sense? There’s always the need, the drive to be the best and do the best and have the best work and clients and stuff like that.
2) Photographers are more than just people with good equipment. That is, there is SO much more than just snapping away at a couple or family and then burning all the photos from the session onto a disc, mailing them to the couple or family, asking for $50 bucks in return, and never speaking with them again. Sure, that would be easy, and with prices that cheap, you’d probably have clients knocking on your door at 2 in the morning trying to schedule a session with you.
BUT: there is so much more to running a business than shooting and burning a disc. Let me explain (and I’m still learning, so this is just my basic method of running my own business). There are finances that you have to deal with. How much did your equipment cost? I’m talking camera body, maybe two or more, various lenses (that all work for specific types of settings and shots…not all lenses are created equal), CF cards, SD cards, external flashes, other lighting equipment, reflectors, possible studio space or a separate building you work from, then packaging supplies, discs, or thumb drives, prints, canvases, ink, an accountant who keeps track of all of your profit and expenses, and a domain name, hosting site, and website. Then there’s mileage you drive to meet with clients, and the coffee or sandwich you buy them when you meet with them. You have to factor in the editing software you use and the computer(s) you edit on. Then you have to charge (or factor in) the correct percentage of taxes to charge for each session or wedding. I’m fairly certain that $50 for a disk of images isn’t going to cover too many of your expenses… However, if it works for you, then it works for you.
Then, there comes the actual running of your business, all the things that go behind scenes outside of sessions. You must check and answer emails from clients to set up appointments with them. You must keep records of your expenses and profits, as well as keep an organized schedule. Then you meet with the clients, and get to know them. Sometimes I give clients a little questionnaire for them to fill out. You try to balance friendship with business. Then, you meet for their session or engagement shoot or wedding and you lug around 10+ lbs of equipment while kneeling, lunging, running each and every way trying to get the best shots possible. For weddings, I’ve had 4 hour days, and I’ve had 12 hour days of doing nothing but shooting. From any given wedding, I’ll have taken anywhere from 800 photos to about 1800 photos. I don’t give all of those to the clients. From those several hundred, I’ll cull them, leaving another several hundred of the “best” ones, and then begin the editing process. It takes hours and hours and hours to edit weddings. A week ago, I photographed a bride for maybe an hour and a half. I took around 300 photos, went home and sat down and editing non stop until I got those done. It took probably 3 hours just for those bridals. And that was after I took the best images out of those.
After you’re finished editing photos, you should package them nicely and professionally (which also costs money) and then you send them on your way or meet with the clients to go over them.
Outside of sessions or weddings, there’s always the heavy weight of keeping your business up to date, marketing, branding, and getting your name out there. Then there’s all the legal aspects of running your own business, but I won’t go into that here.
3) I’m a fairly new photographer. Especially in OKC. Getting my name out there is one of the most challenging aspects of my business. Granted, I am a full time student who also works another job, so I may not be able to spend as much time on promoting myself as I’d like. With that said, I have seen a steady increase in my clientele with each year and am excited about the future.
When people don’t know who you are, you’re less likely to be hired. That’s just a given. So, in my experience, since I am not-so-known, I will often go several weeks without a session or wedding, and am therefore, not being paid to do my job. No photographer is guaranteed any work. They can promote themselves until they’re 80 years old and still never have someone hire them. Fortunately, that rarely happens. Without your clients, your so-called “fan base,” it’s very difficult to establish yourself as a professional photographer (as far as shooting people go…there are always awesome photogs who focus on landscapes or other things).
Too often than not, that’s where I find myself. I WANT to have hundreds of clients who want me to photograph them. I WANT to be able to quit my “day job” and focus full time on pursing my passion and living my dream. I WANT to eventually be comfortable with where I am financially and be able to support myself, and my family as well as give to people who need it. But I am not guaranteed any of that. I have to work really hard to get that.
Being a photographer is my dream. This is what I want to do. With every session, with every image I take, I become alive. This is an art and a job that fulfills my desire to learn, to stretch myself, and to create. Though I am still learning, still hoping for an increase in clientele and ultimately good friends, and still unable to do this as much as I want, I feel incredibly blessed to be able to call this my (part time) job. I want it to be my full time job soon. I am passionately in love with being a photographer.
If you’ve read all of this, congratulations…you’ve done something extraordinary.
I just want to leave you with this:
Before you worry about money when hiring a photographer, get to know them, look and study their work, ask them questions, make sure you feel comfortable with them. When you hire them (and hopefully their images are beautiful), remember that it’s their job to make you feel and look beautiful and/or rugged and manly, that it’s their job to capture some of the most memorable and stunning moments of your life. Remember that after your wedding is over, all that you’ll have left are the memories. I would rather pay a bit more knowing that those memories are going to be beautifully captured. Before you let your cousin with a Canon Rebel photograph your wedding because it’s free or cheap, do a little bit of research and find a photographer whom you love. If that happens to be me, then I am already ecstatic.
When all is said and done, the few things that remain are memories. Let me (or another really awesome professional) document those memories. You will not be disappointed. I promise.
Thank you for letting me share what I think, feel, and hope.
I am so blessed to be able to do what I do. Please let me know if there is anything I can do for you.