Photography Technique

5 Rules I Live By as a Professional Photographer

As someone who makes 100% of their income by taking pictures, I understand how uncertain, and perhaps unstable, this career is. Spending thousands on gear is easier than ever, and with such a low entry point, everyone wants to be a photographer. It is not easy, and here are some rules I have come up with to survive in this industry. 

Cut Overheads

This is an excellent business tip in general. Given that your income is unstable as a photographer, you may easily have periods when no money is made. At the same time, there is a constant obligation to spend. Such payments may include subscriptions, rent, marketing costs, and so on. The devil for most creators is the stupid amount of subscriptions that you have to sign up for. While I understand the business decision to make software a subscription service, it is simply unfair to smaller creators who may not even have the budget. For example, I could not use Photoshop when there was no budget for it. The same applies to Capture One and virtually any other software. The subscription model is, frankly, a plague that does not do anything for the user besides making them pay a ridiculous amount if they need the software. Another thing that I cut down on is the heating as well as utilities. There is no reason whatsoever for the studio to be heated when I am not shooting there. The same applies to subscriptions such as Netflix, HBO, and so on. I don’t really have time to watch movies in the first place, and when I do, it is with friends who do have a subscription. The fewer subscriptions, the better. The less overhead, the better.

Help People up the Ladder

One of the best and worst things about working in such an easy-to-enter industry is the number of newcomers. Everyone wants to have a go at this fun and seemingly easy job. Besides the fact that it is not so easy and fun, you still should encourage people to have a try. Don’t be one of those super-protective creatives who don’t share what setup they used or what idea is more effective. I don’t have any secrets about my technique. Anyone can message me and ask a photography-related question and be sure to get an answer that will be complete. I don’t have a secret setup or a secret sauce. As someone who had to pay a lot for renting a studio when starting out, I now offer up my space to up-and-coming creators for free.

I was really fortunate to work with a world-class retoucher not too long ago. He has given me more than anyone, I have learned more than I can understand from this person, and I will be forever grateful for the opportunity to jumpstart my career. 

The more you help, the more help you will receive. 

Cost of Running Business Is Not a Justification for Being Reckless With Money

It might be an obvious one, but I still see so many photographers spending thousands on equipment they don’t really need and justifying it as a cost of doing business. I mean, sure, buying two identical bodies who can do 99% of the work is a cost. But replacing perfectly good cameras with something better because the camera marketing team told you so is not a cost, but an unnecessary expense. This is why the best camera is the one you have, not the one in the store. Having tested different cameras, I came to the conclusion that it really is the photographer and not the camera. The takeaway is that being reckless with money cannot be justified. The only time cost of running a business is a justification is when you cannot do your job without it. For example, I bought a background support system, because without it, I cannot use my paper rolls. But, I did not buy a set of autopoles, superclamps, and other things to do the same exact job. The bare minimum is usually enough. However, I will not skimp on the quality of what I am getting. While I own Profoto, I own the adequate minimum in their lineup, not the top-of-the-range lights. Most of it is bought used anyways. 

Stay True to Yourself, Decline if Necessary

Most things are for sale if the price is right. There are two kinds of projects that I do: a cash cow and a passion project. A cash cow project is something that I am not proud of, would not want to sign my name under, and in general, would rather forget about it. The motivation to do these projects is the money, nothing else. But, you have to be able to sell yourself at a high value. If the number is not good enough, just decline. There are other times when no sum of money would make you do the project. You must be able to say no to such work without any hesitation. The more you are able to stay true to yourself, the better. I wish I declined projects more.

Remember Why You Started This

It is easy to get caught up in the small-scale drama. In fact, there is always some drama between somebody you know. It is unavoidable, especially if it’s fashion or any other industry where people work more against each other. There were countless times when I felt like I wanted to give up, just do what people my age do, and follow a simpler, more traditional corporate route. Because really, I am on my own. I don’t have a family of creatives who land me work, quite the contrary, actually. If I don’t believe in myself, who else would? The reason I take pictures is not to have small-scale arguments or worry about who hates who. I take pictures because it feels right. Trust me, when you feel like quitting, the most learning happens.

Bonus Rule: Don’t Buy Coffee at Starbucks

This seems like a stupid business rule to include, but you would be amazed at how expensive it is to get a flat white every day for a month. Not only is Starbucks coffee garbage, it is also expensive. It is far cheaper and wiser (and more satisfactory) to own a coffee machine and make your own brew. The markup, even on an espresso, is ridiculous. Sure, coffee shops have become a hub for freelancers, but again, there is nothing romantic about being a freelancer in a coffee shop with a flat white. If anything, it is distracting and counterproductive. Have an office instead or at least a space that is silent and work-conducive.  

Closing Thoughts

So, here are some of the rules that I apply in my photography business. Condensed to one sentence, it might sound something like this: don’t spend money stupidly, be good to people, and be good to yourself. Sure, that is oversimplified, but it is the essence.

What are some of the rules that you use in your photography? Let us know in the comments! 

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