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I'm a Cairns, far north Queensland, Australia professional photographer specialising in travel, editorial and environmental portraiture.

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.


Mark said...

Hi Paul,

Love your blog and your work. These types of posts are very helpful.

One minor correction: It's actually Tom Zimberoff, not Tim (in case anyone was searching for it).

David duChemin's upcoming book "Vision Mongers" is also highly recommended.


Paul Dymond said...

Oops, you're right Mark. It is Tom. My finger must have slipped from the i to the o - well that's my excuse and I'm sticking to it. :)

I'm looking forward to David's new book. Have you had a sneak preview?

Mark said...

I've seen portions of it. Tom's book looks like it gets into the nitty gritty of running the business, while David's talks about making the leap to pro. Different, but complementary.

Paul Dymond said...

Yes there's always two sides to that jump. There's the emotional part of you that is so thoroughly thrilled at the prospect of being able to make a living at what you love. And then there's the other part of you that needs to take care of business.

Kind of like the technical and emotional sides of the craft of photography. You can't have one without the other and expect to do it for the long run.

I certainly wouldn't discourage anyone from trying their hand at it but think that all the enthusiasm needs to be tempered with a dose of reality.

Mark said...

I agree. That's why posts like this are so valuable. It's difficult to get the insight into the business otherwise.

Paul Dymond said...

Thankyou so much for the feedback Mark, it really means a lot. I believe that part of the problem the industry finds itself in at the moment is because established pros weren't prepared to help aspiring pros find their feet. So by writing this little blog I hope to contribute to the continuing survival of an industry that I love with a passion.

Graham said...

G'day Paul,
Mate I have been a fan of your work for some time but have only just thismorning stumbled upon your Blog. As such, id like to thank you for just causing me to waste an hour of my "paid" work time!

Some really great, informative and down to earth topics here, especially this one.

I have just gone full time as a travel and feature photographer this year. Im starting small, keeping things realistic and slowly getting there. It was great to have a sort of validation to my way of thinking that working as a photographer is 30% taking pictures and 70% running a business!

You have yourself a firm blog fan moving forward mate!


Paul Dymond said...

Hi there Graham,

wow you have me blushing at my keyboard here. :) Thankyou so much for the comments and I'm glad you enjoyed the blog. And remember that time spent 'learning' is always work time as far as the family knows!

Congratulations on the move to full time travel and feature photography. It's a fantastic line of work to be involved in - especially when you love it.

I had a look at your site and you've got some lovely work. Love the colours in the Cable Beach stuff.

Anyway thankyou for logging in and keep in touch. Oh and if there's anything you want me to blog about just drop me a line.