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!

    Another Blog

    I’ve tried this before.  There was a Shinn Photo blog awhile back, but it didn’t have a very well-defined concept and suffered from a lack of meaningful content.  I trashed it after a while.  Since then, photographers have gone crazy with client-side blogs, and I’ve happily decided to rip off the general idea and make a client-facing blog with photos and my professional writings.  For now, you can see it at  It’s taking the place of my regular site while I get a new main web site online.  Eventually, I expect it to end up at  Let me know if you’re likely to read it!