So You Wanna Turn Pro... (part 1)

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jakewatrous

Super Moderator
Staff member
#1
You love your images, your mom loves them, and more importantly, strangers love your images. Or maybe you want a more 'creative' career and you've begun thinking, "I'd like to make money with my photography".

Seeing a post earlier this week about jumping into professional photography, I thought I'd share some insights and thoughts about the process of "turning pro". Please feel free to add your own thoughts and insights.
 

jakewatrous

Super Moderator
Staff member
#2
Before You Start, You Should Know...

Here's where I try to scare you with reality. You know many of the positives; here are a few potential sticking points you may not have considered:

1) Say goodbye to weekends. Especially true for wedding photography, but no less so for any other branch, days off are days you don't make money. Saturdays and Sundays are also popular days for clients to book. Also popular? Summer and holidays.

2) Expenses come before profit There is a lot more equipment and many more expenses tied up in photography than you might realize, and they all come out of the money that comes in. Expenses include backup camera bodies, flashes, batteries, memory cards, software, computers, storage media, travel expenses, printing and production costs, postage fees, etc. That $2,000 Nikon lens you just bought works out to be a $200 expense for the next 10 shoots.

3) You are your own boss In addition to shooting and post production you are responsible for: your own PR, handling clients who understandably are very discriminating, writing your own contracts, negotiating fees, arranging shoot details, invoicing, following up unpaid invoices, constantly hunting gigs, maintaining connections and contacts with former/potential clients, etc.

Please know I am not trying to discourage anyone. I just want you to be aware of things I had to learn for myself.
 

jakewatrous

Super Moderator
Staff member
#3
Tip: Seek Help!

A great resource for help in starting your own business is SCORE. These are retired business executives who offer their business expertise for free.

One thing I was surprised to learn is that these are not elderly people, but more often those who retired young, drive expensive cars and love their jobs so much that they volunteer their time helping people like you to start businesses that you will love.

Other great resources include working photographers (ignore the grumpy ones, there are many willing to help newbies).

At any rate, you'll need help because....
 

jakewatrous

Super Moderator
Staff member
#4
There's a lot of legal mumbo jumbo...

The simplest way to do this is to apply for a "doing business as" (DBA) and do business as yourself. I'm not this smart and I instead started an actual business.

At any rate you'll need a Tax ID #, a business license, register yourself with your city/county/state, and prepare to be hit up for taxes.

You'll also need different insurance, potentially a business bank account, etc. Tax time is not as much fun as it could be since you need to file a Schedule C and 1090(?) and itemize where you got all your money.

Many of your commercial (business) clients will need your business info so that they may write off their payments to you as "business expenses".
 

squirl033

Super Moderator
Staff member
#5
Here's where I try to scare you with reality. You know many of the positives; here are a few potential sticking points you may not have considered:

1) Say goodbye to weekends. Especially true for wedding photography, but no less so for any other branch, days off are days you don't make money. Saturdays and Sundays are also popular days for clients to book. Also popular? Summer and holidays.

2) Expenses come before profit There is a lot more equipment and many more expenses tied up in photography than you might realize, and they all come out of the money that comes in. Expenses include backup camera bodies, flashes, batteries, memory cards, software, computers, storage media, travel expenses, printing and production costs, postage fees, etc. That $2,000 Nikon lens you just bought works out to be a $200 expense for the next 10 shoots.

3) You are your own boss In addition to shooting and post production you are responsible for: your own PR, handling clients who understandably are very discriminating, writing your own contracts, negotiating fees, arranging shoot details, invoicing, following up unpaid invoices, constantly hunting gigs, maintaining connections and contacts with former/potential clients, etc.

Please know I am not trying to discourage anyone. I just want you to be aware of things I had to learn for myself.

all this - B(1) and B(2) especially - presupposes you want to get into "people" photography. which is a valid assumption in many cases, but not everyone chooses to make money at photography shooting weddings, rugrats and puppies... granted, doing "people" shots is the most common path to a career in photography, but certainly not the only one.

most serious photographers i know, even the amateurs, already have the backup camera bodies, flashes, batteries, memory cards, software, computers, storage media. yes, you have to keep track of printing and production costs, and maintain records for any NEW purchases (that 5D2 you've been lusting after, for instance, or that 70-200 f/2.8 lens you always wanted), so you can list them as business expenses at tax time, but the initial outlay for most people has already been made.
 

BobH

Administrator
Staff member
#6
Rocky makes some good points. I agree that most folks will already have a good collection of equipment they can use. Unless you're a new college graduate with a degree in graphics or some related field, it's unlikely you'll wake up some day and say "Hey, I think I'll become a pro photographer!" and have to go buy everything from scratch.

As for the people part of things, I can see both sides of that one. He did say "Going Pro" and by that I took it to mean a full time career. (I use the term "semi-pro" for folks who have a regular job that pays most of the bills, but also do photography work for money.) If you're trying to make this a full time career, it's nearly a requirement that you do people photography to earn enough money to stay in business. Yes, there are niches out there, pets, product photos, real estate, etc that may provide enough income. However, you're not going to make a living selling landscape images or event photos unless your images are truly incredible and sell for huge prices. In all likelyhood, you're going to be doing weddings or portraits or seniors or some other source of reliable income. There are exceptions, but most full time photographers do people shots, at least to get started.
 

JaniceL

Super Moderator
Staff member
#7
1 and 2 is a big factor in going into business for yourself. Don't forget the added costs beyond gear. Going into business for yourself is not for sissies. If you are photographing for businesses (which is my own goal) they usually prefer to see a brick and mortar presence - a studio, and it keeps a person in a working state of mind. If you are very successful you may need staff. And don't forget self-employment tax and other taxes that communities love to levy against business. I could go on. You better do it because you love your craft because you won't get rich at it. I've been self employed for for over 15 years and do my part to shine the light on anybody considering making that change. I do prefer to choose my hours even if they are long, irregular and after the sun sets and consider that a nice plus of being self employed. However, bear in mind that the client is really who sets your hours.

I recall a reference here earlier regarding a post inquiring about turning pro. I suspect that was my post that was referenced. I want to make it certain that that it is understood I am not considering this an option because I like my photos, my friends like my photos etc. This is a sincere effort to meld my skills and knowledge in business, client service, sales, negotiating, graphic design, production, and print knowledge. I have a BS in Business Administration with an additional AAS in graphic design. Adding my talents in photography makes total sense to me. In this economy one needs to be adaptable and use all the tools in your toolbox. It is NOT a "oh I think I can make money making photos" situation. I know how long it takes to develop and grow a new business. I would even consider being on the payroll of another photographer. I appreciate everybody's input here but do take offense if it is suggested that my inquiry was a "wake up some day and say, "Hey, I think I'll become a pro photographer!" moment. Instead it is a serious exploration of new possibilities.

And, by the way, I have most of the above mentioned equipment with some exceptions. So that hurdle has been pretty much jumped over by me.
 

jakewatrous

Super Moderator
Staff member
#8
Janice,

Absolutely no offense or negative interpretation was intended by my post. Rather, your post brought to mind the idea that others might be considering pursuing photography as a business and I wanted to share some insights. The "you" was the general collective and not any specific person.

As Rocky and you pointed out, and as is the case with all information and advice, not all of this applies to everyone.
 

BobH

Administrator
Staff member
#9
I appreciate everybody's input here but do take offense if it is suggested that my inquiry was a "wake up some day and say, "Hey, I think I'll become a pro photographer!" moment. Instead it is a serious exploration of new possibilities...
No, that wasn't intended to apply to you, or anyone else here.

Here's what I said:
Unless you're a new college graduate with a degree in graphics or some related field, it's unlikely you'll wake up some day and say "Hey, I think I'll become a pro photographer!" and have to go buy everything from scratch.
It applied to having to buy all of your equipment from scratch, without having been an amateur photographer before you decided to turn pro. That's not how it typically happens. Usually folks start out as a hobby, then get serious about it, and finally get to the point they want to derive some or all of their income from it.

I'm guessing most photographers do this for the love of the craft, not to get rich.
 

JaniceL

Super Moderator
Staff member
#10
I don't want to seem like I got up on the wrong side of the bed this morning, okay, maybe I did. But on the internet when quotes are place around statements or text is bolded, capped or otherwise there is a tone applied to it and that is what I picked up on. I wanted to make sure that anybody seeing my understood that I was doing my homework and not taking a shift in careers lightly when I made my original request.

I do appreciate everyone's input here and that is why I posted. Thanks again, I think I need another cup of coffee :)
 

Bill Anderson

Super Moderator
Staff member
#11
I just found this thread. People see my big white lenses when I am out in the field and ask if I am professional photographer. I tell them I have the best of both worlds: a professional's expenses and an amateur's income. ;)

My father volunteered for SCORE for several years. I heartily recommend seeking their advice for those who want to start a business.

I also recommend finding a good CPA that specializes in small businesses. One statement I often hear is "I can deduct the price of my equipment as a business expense." Unless the law has changed since I took a tax class in law school; equipment such cameras, lenses, etc. are capital assets. The value of a capital assert is not deducted but depreciated over time per IRS depreciation schedules. A good accountant knows this and other IRS red flags, such as the home office space and company car, and can advise accordingly.

There is a saying that the quickest way to ruin a hobby is to try to turn it into a business. I am retired and plan to stay that way.
 

BobH

Administrator
Staff member
#12
I also recommend finding a good CPA that specializes in small businesses. One statement I often hear is "I can deduct the price of my equipment as a business expense." Unless the law has changed since I took a tax class in law school; equipment such cameras, lenses, etc. are capital assets. The value of a capital assert is not deducted but depreciated over time per IRS depreciation schedules. A good accountant knows this and other IRS red flags, such as the home office space and company car, and can advise accordingly.
Turbotax for small businesses will do a lot of this stuff for you, if you're in the "I make a few bucks but not enough to hire an account" category. It can handle depreciation and the like, figure out what schedule is best to use, etc. It's specifically designed for small businesses and sole proprietors, with an excellent "interview" approach that asks you questions and makes choices based on which answer you choose.

Here's a bit more on assets from Turbotax:
https://turbotax.intuit.com/tax-tips/small-business-taxes/depreciation-of-business-assets/L4OStLQEL

Disclaimer, I'm not an accountant, and I don't even play one on TV. Consult a tax professional if you have any concerns.
 


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