Wednesday, September 9, 2009
Am I ready to be a pro?
Well I guess that all depends on whether you have a groovy enough hat or not? :) Just to show that not all travel photographers are as handsome as Clint Eastwood in the Bridges of Madison County, or as stylish as....actually scratch that thought - I don't know any stylish travel photographers!
I was actually going to title this post 'Am I good enough to be a pro?' but changed the title for the reasons I'm about to give.
My post on Monday was a bit realistic (negative?) about the current state of the travel photography industry but I didn't mean to rain on everybody's parade. If travel photography is in your blood then I believe there are ways to make it pay and there are some important things you need.
The first is clients. I know it sounds obvious but how many of us, myself included, jump into exciting new careers without the slightest thought about where your money is going to come from.
I would hate to tell you (or my wife!) how much money I lost in my first year of business because I jumped in with both feet without the slightest inkling of where my money was going to come from. I'd sold some pics, written a couple of articles and thought I'd just become the next Bob Krist. Yeah right.
So before you think of chucking in the day job you need to know exactly who is going to license your pictures, how much they usually pay, and how many of them you're going to need to help support this addictive lifestyle. Now if you're young, single and living at home with Mum and Dad you're going to need less clients than if you're married with a couple of kids and a mortgage. But here's the point - no matter what life situation you're in you need to make enough money to live on. And you're going to want to move out of home one day. :)
And to figure that out you need to work out how much you need. So you need to know how much your business is costing you every year to keep running. Equipment, insurance, advertising, web hosting etc etc is all business overhead you need to factor in. Then you need to work out how much you need to live on and add that to your total. Then add money for taxes and a profit. And when you've got a total you need to divide that by 365 to work out how much you need to make per day.
That's right - you're going to work 365 days a year without a break right? Wrong. In fact here's the rub with travel stock photography. You don't usually get paid to travel. You get paid when people license your pictures. So that 3 weeks you took off to get some great pictures of Antarctica? Unless you were on assignment (and in this day and age that's highly unlikely!) that was unpaid time and now you have to make that back selling pictures. And even if you were on assignment, you're not going to get paid for the two weeks it takes you to edit and caption all those pictures. There's lots of unpaid down time in photography.
On average you should work on a couple of days of photography a week. What? That's less than I shoot now! You better believe it. The rest of your time is spent marketing, meeting clients, cataloguing, keywording, organising. So you have to take that yearly total you worked out and divide it by about 100 - assuming you want some time off. Then you'll get a pretty high figure that you need to make per day photographing to keep your doors open.
And that's probably the most important thing to consider before you decide to make the decision to go pro. Can you find enough clients to feed you? Remember that the more your clients are willing to pay the more money you'll make. The more you hold on to the rights of your images the more money you'll make. The more you insist on getting paid every time your picture gets used - you guessed it, the more money you'll make.
But what about the images you say? I often see that question on forums. Am I good enough to turn pro? Only the market can tell you that. If people are willing to pay you money for your pictures then you're good enough to license images. There will always be a market for images of varying qualities. The trick is to be good enough on the photographic side as well as the business side to be able to work for the clients who will let you have a life that doesn't involve eating baked beans on toast every night for the rest of your life.
For a great read on the business of Photography I would thoroughly recommend Tim Zimberoff's book photography: Focus on Profit. The world doesn't need more great trvel photographers who don't know the value of their own work. It needs great travel photographers who know how to run a business and succeed based on their ability to make a profit and treat this fantastic profession like the career it is.