How to Make Money as a Photographer | Skip Cohen

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Not too long ago I was talking to a relatively new photographer about his business. He and his wife launched their business about three years ago, starting part time and now he’s full time and focused on being an entrepreneur. He was excited about shooting over 30 weddings this year, but commented they were still a long way from something better than “mac and cheese” every night!

So, we started to talk about his profitability and he asked me what I thought he needed to do differently. As we talked there were three basic challenges, each of which I’ve written about in the past:

· He had pretty much forgotten everything associated with the costs to get him and wife to the point they were at today in terms of their business.
· He lacked self-confidence in his skill set and priced himself too low.
· He felt the key to being more competitive was lower pricing and in turn bringing in more business.

Right off the bat, his first problem, like many of you was simply being shy about being paid fairly. He was actually excited that he can get $5 for a 5×7 and $12 for an 8×10! There it is, his first big mistake…his pricing. Sal Cincotta made a statement a few years ago in one of his short videos,

“If you’re starting out your business and want to start off on the wrong foot, get your pricing wrong!”

Obviously, like so many photographers, this couple’s pricing is simply too low, but there’s a deeper more serious problem by not recognizing all their costs. They were missing at list half of this list, (and this list is hardly complete):

Gear Computers Printers Supplies Furniture Software Packaging Charges from their vendors – lab, album company, equipment service Education Insurance Rent Phone Service Time Utilities Website Internet Car Gas and Maintenance Legal Counsel Accounting supportDues/memberships Advertising Marketing Additional labor Travel/Entertainment

Next on the list was his self-confidence. His skill set, at least in the images I saw was actually pretty good. He’s had an interest in photography for a lot of years, so even though the business was relatively new, he was pretty well-seasoned with technology and technique.

But here’s the challenge and so many of you share this one. He’s just not confident. I’ve written a number of blog posts about building your confidence and it’s harder for some people than others.

I recently published a post called, “Twenty Ideas for Photographers to Help Build Confidence”. It doesn’t make sense to list them all now, but here are the first seven:

· Read your camera manual. Get to know every button and setting on your camera. Experiment with different settings, understand depth of field, know all of your lenses and the coverage each one will give you.
· Attend every workshop you possibly can.
· Attend every convention.
· At a trade show spend time in the booth of each vendor you use, including your gear manufacturers, lab, album company, frame company, software etc.
· Listen to podcasts, webcasts, webinars on topics related to your specialty including those out of your comfort zone.
· Understand lighting! Not just natural light, but all the various qualities and patterns of studio lighting.
· Be a second shooter as often as you can, especially in your first few years.

Here’s the link if you want to check out the rest of the list.

Lastly was his theory that lower prices mean more business. I guess he was right, since he’s shot a lot of weddings, but that’s the sad part. He wasn’t paid fairly for his time, but in his mind he thought $1000 to $1500 was a pretty big number for just 4-6 hours of work he enjoys so much.

Look, my first job as an independent adult was with Polaroid in Boston. I was ecstatic to be making $2.89/hour and time and a half on overtime. My rent was only $130 a month and I remember my Dad telling me his rule of thumb was that a week’s pay should always cover the rent. I was there and ready to continue climbing the corporate ladder! LOL

Just like I thought in 1970 that I was making GREAT money, so many of you think the same way, but you’re not looking at the true value of what you’re providing. Lower prices might mean more business, but not more quality business. You’ll sell what you advertise, but low cost professional photographers turn imaging into a commodity item.

The biggest challenge so many photographers have is not establishing value.

For example, as a wedding photographer you’re not supplying the client with an album of pictures, but creating the first family heirloom of a brand new family.

It’s not filled with pictures – it’s filled with memories.

You’re not a photographer, you’re an artist and a magician, capable of stopping time and giving people tangible memories they can hold in their hands and go back to, time and time again.

Okay, so Mike asked me if I’d be interested in writing a post on profitability and I got a little off track, but here’s the real point and I’ve probably said it a few hundred times.

With the exception of modern medicine, no career field has given the world more than professional photography. You’re part of an amazing industry. Without us a newspaper would look like sketches from a murder trial. A wedding album would be drawings of stick figures with lengthy descriptions. A family portrait wouldn’t come close to capturing the love between the subjects.

Be proud of the career choice you’ve made and do everything you can to make your images amazing. There’s nobody in the world with the love you have for the craft – just make sure you remember to value the incredible services you provide.

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Skip Cohen is founder of Skip Cohen University an educational resource site dedicated to helping photographers raise the bar on the quality of their business and marketing. He is past president of Rangefinder Publishing Inc., where he oversaw Rangefinder and AfterCapture magazines, the Wedding and Portrait Photographers International (WPPI) Association, and the WPPI trade show. Skip has co-authored six books on photography and can be found at

This entry was posted in Making Money.
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