Be a photographer, not a business person!

So, people ask me all the time, “What do I need to do to make money taking pictures?” I usually try to be very helpful, because I truly want everyone to succeed and do well. But it occurred to me the other day that maybe I shouldn’t encourage people to enter the portrait photography market. It’s not the only way to make money in photography, but it’s the one people usually ask me about.

I think, instead, that I should encourage people to sharpen their photography skills for pure enjoyment. I recently talked to a very successful, well-known, high-level photographer. I asked this person what his/her plan is for improving their photo skills. This person’s answer: “I don’t. I’m a business person, not a photographer.” That’s when it hit me that success for a photo studio is not about the quality of photos, but about the quality of the business that you can build around your photos. That’s not bad news for me; I enjoy running a business (most of the time).

But it is bad for my artistically-minded friends who would rather take cool pictures than play with spreadsheets. Here are some useful questions to ask if you’re thinking about doing portrait photography for money:

  • Do I have a good grasp of accounting?
  • Would I rather make art, or figure out merchandising strategy?
  • Do I like to sleep?
  • How strong are my computer skills? They’ll have to be well above average for portrait photography.
  • Am I any good at setting up systems for workflow, accounting, computer networks, business analysis, etc?
  • Now, setting up a business is not rocket science. Most people can do it with enough time and determination. But you should know, if you’re thinking about getting into portrait photography as a business, that you’re doing business, not just photography. Even if you’re working out of your home. It seems like something you can get into on a very small scale, but it won’t be like that for long. For a whole host of reasons that experience alone can explain, it’s far more complicated than you think. It’s more like setting up a manufacturing operation than opening a retail business.

    No, I haven’t given up on the idea of art, and yes, I do get to use nice camera equipment. But I just want to be totally honest and not encourage people to try something they may regret in the long term. Instead of opening a business, try making images that you love. Work hard on them. Learn all you can. Don’t feel like you have to be professional to be a great photographer. Just be a great photographer!

    7 thoughts on “Be a photographer, not a business person!

    1. J Starling says:

      Great advise Andrew. I found myself taking that “Quiz” a year ago. Wile I dabbled in the business side for a bit I found that it wasn’t for me. God has blessed you with a great Eye and a great mind. keep it up!

    2. Johannes Adriaansen says:

      Here, here… Well said , and great advise ! Thank You Andrew, for the the “common sense”, and simple advise we just have to be reminded of every so often……Business is business , and that’s, that !

    3. Megan Holley says:

      “Try making images that you love. Work hard on them. Learn all you can.”

      That’s exactly what I want to do!! Couldn’t have said it better myself. Tips on where to learn all I can??

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