Get Serious!

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Ok ya'll...I belong to another photography forum and this morning ... like most people who grab their morning coffee and paper...I grab my morning "green tea" and take to the computer. I feel this wakes me up...not so much the coffee, but the reading.

I opened up the other photography forum, and see this post started by a member. Wow I was inspired and a little depressed all at once - inspired because he is such a wonderful and talented photographer (and he has paid his dues), but depressed, because like most business, it does take money to make money (something I believe we all might struggle with). Some of us here do it as a hobby, while some of us have websites, business cards, and all the other things we need to make our business thrive.

After reading his great piece, I contacted him by PM and asked if I could post this on this forum...he glady said yes! I was happy I could share it with my Cafe' buddies. It really is a great write-up. Incidently, I told him I could easily see this post in a photography magazine. It's long, but worth the read.


Get Serious!
by Fuzzy Duenkel

When I started in photography, I had a 35mm camera, a 50mm lens and, well, that was it. For my first few weddings, I borrowed a flash that I had no clue how to use. Those were the days when a photographer could start a business with a $150 investment and a yellow pages ad.
The brides and grooms who hired me to photograph their weddings must have been idiots! Cheap idiots. I made mistakes that were irreversible because of my ineptitude, inexperience, and ignorance. Years later, I pleaded with prospective wedding couples grooms not to trust an amateur, as I used to be, because it was too risky.

Anyway, times have changed when one week's salary was all it took to start a photography business. Now at the bare minimum, you need at least a $1500camera, at least $1500 in lenses, and at least a $2000 computer. Of course, most seasoned pros probably have ten times that much invested in equipment alone. And that's just the beginning. There's continuous education, endlessly learning new software, building a website and blogs, negotiating the mazes of marketing, the high costs of an appropriate business facility, as well as business and health insurance. This list goes on and on. It takes a LOT of commitment. It’s easy to get into this business, but the hard to STAY in! Many established professionals have said that if they knew then what they’d have to learn now... they’d never have gotten into the business.

Couple all of that with the fact that 80% of all business fail the first year, and 80% of those remaining will fail in the following 5 years. Add to that the avalanche of newcomers entering the business fighting for the same dollars as you. Ask your self why you’re considering becomeing a photographer. Now ask yourself how many others are thinking exactly the same thing. And let’s not even discuss the declining economy. Does any of this concern you? It should!

Most businesses don’t turn a profit until after about 5 years. So if you're waiting for a customer to pay you so you can buy a monitor calibrator, or your spouse to let you buy Photoshop, or tax refund to pay for a seminar... you’re not ready to be in business!
I am often asked my opinion on what equipment to buy. I’m more than happy to help anyone that I can. But when I get questions from new photographers about a monitor, computer, camera, lens or whatever, and the questions start with, "I don't have a lot of money", I'm sorry, but that is not one of your options.

This has become a very capital intensive profession. Compared to the simple film days ten years ago, a digital photography business requires a LOT of money. These days you MUST plan on investing thousands of dollars right out of the gate. And then there’s the never-ending process of updating ($$$$) both hardware and software. If that isn’t something you are willing to do, you’re handcuffing your business, and your chances for success.
No, you don't have to get everything at once. You can build the business as profit allows you to purchase accessory equipment. But when it comes to buying decisions, buying cheap equipment is NOT an appropriate choice. If photography is to be your profession, you MUST have professional equipment. That means pro lenses, not "kit" lenses. That means pro monitors, not monitors from X-Mart. That means pro cameras, not cameras that have a "running man" or a flower as its program presets.
Obviously, you don’t need the most expensive or very best. But you need equipment that won’t get in your way or have to sell to upgrade for pro gear. It’s far better to buy right than to buy twice.

When I balk at spending many thousands of dollars for a camera body, I remember that I spent that much in 2002 for a 6 megapixel camera that was useless above ISO 200. So now I give my credit card to a vendor at a convention, never look back. (Always buy equipment from convention vendors! They deserve our business.)
Someone asked me a while back which zoom lens to buy. I told him that every portrait photographer MUST have a 70-200 f2.8 zoom. He hesitated, saying he didn't know if he could afford it. I replied, "You can't afford NOT to have that lens. We're talking about the tools of your trade, and a tool you'll use and make money with everyday!" Since then he's repeated that story to others, and thanked me for that valuable advice.

So don't expect sympathy from me when asking my opinions of what equipment to buy. There's only ONE answer. Buy the BEST you can afford. If you can't afford it, then you have two less desirable options... borrow the money or get out of the business.

Borrow? Isn’t starting a business in hock is a dangerous concept, especially given the slim chances your business will survive? Yes, because if your business doesn’t work out, you’ll be saddled with a business loan in addition to any other non-business liabilities you might have, such as a mortgage, loan for the gas-guzzling SUV, furniture purchased for no money down, credit card debt, and so on.

So why not slowly buy needed equipment when you can afford it? Well, in today’s fast-paced marketplace, trying to accumulate essential equipment slowly as profit allows it means you’ll waste valuable time and delay success. As the old sayings go... "time is money" and "it takes money to make money". Intelligent and conservative borrowing can indeed grow your business.

A small loan can be an appropriate strategy, but it MUST be reasonable. You don’t buy every new gimmick a speaker sells, nor do you buy every lens, nor the top-of-the-line camera. However there are basic "tools" every professional can’t be without. A fast computer, a calibrated high quality monitor, a pro camera, pro lenses and pro lighting gear are some of the basic essentials. You MUST have those to begin your business. And even more important than that, you must have talent and education. One is free, the other is expensive.

There are far too many people getting still trying to get into this business on a shoestring. The days when that was a feasible business model are long gone. Many of us old-timers incrementally upgraded our equipment to professional quality as profit allowed. But that era disappeared when digital capture took our industry by storm. It seems today newbies expect to be overnight successes with fame and fortune, without realizing the COSTS of getting there!

They get started because they like to take pretty pictures. But newcomers don't yet have the skills to take reliably good images, don't know how to run a business, and don’t know how to market so their business grows. They don't make the huge investment necessary to acquire skills to survive in a crowded market where everyone with a digital camera is suddenly a professional.

Another thing a loan might do for you... help you to honestly evaluate your legitimacy in this business. Before you put that financial chain around your neck, you’d better think long and hard as to whether you have what it takes to make it. Ask yourself why any person would come to you for their wedding or portraits. If the best or only answer is that you can do it cheaper than the studio down the street, don’t even think about becoming a photographer.
Ideally, the following is the way you SHOULD start your business: Instead of borrowing, wait a few years and SAVE UP for all the equipment you’ll need. Use that time to take as many classes as you can and practice with your present camera. Become proficient at creating reliably decent images. Learn lighting. Take seminars in business and marketing. And THEN, when you have the skills, business plan, and money to purchase professional equipment, hang out your shingle. You'll be far less likely to be among the 96% that fail in the first five years.

I'm serious. This profession is getting far too crowded to permit those who are only half-hearted about their intentions for success. There will always be one year wonders... people coming and going with lower prices than yours. What will it take for yours to be one of the 4% who succeed?
If that scares any of you, TURN BACK NOW!
Only the serious will survive.
 
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That is serious food for thought. Or is he trying to scare me away:biggrin:. See how my mind works:tongue:. Thanks for posting Seneca, good advice here. It has cost me thousands to get to where I am, and I'
m still a long way from where I would like to be, knowledge wise.
Tim
 
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Interesting read. Thanks for posting. I just consider photography a hobby and it's hard to stay current with advances in cameras and computers. I just bought a 22 inch monitor and discovered my ancient 4 year old computer would not support it even with an additional video card. I hate to buy another computer since it will be worth half when you walk out the door. I'll just keep what I have as an internet cruiser and pick up a used mac when someone else upgrades.

Cheers

Ted:smile:
 
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Thanks for posting this Seneca. As you know, I am just starting out and it's frustrating.

However, I know a person that started from nothing and today has a Hasselblad H3D ($25K) he bought with his own money, supports his family, and is now making a book.
My very own brother! Unfortunately, we don't live in the same country but we still email each other about this and that. And we're related after all so I'm hoping I got what he has.
 
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After 20 years of Wedding Photography,I sold every thing (all film) Now I take Digital pictures for my own enjoyment.I also started with next to nothing and built up over the years.I wouldn't want to compete in todays market.I agree that you must master your craft before you ask someone to pay you.
 
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After 20 years of Wedding Photography,I sold every thing (all film) Now I take Digital pictures for my own enjoyment.I also started with next to nothing and built up over the years.I wouldn't want to compete in todays market.I agree that you must master your craft before you ask someone to pay you.

It also takes a lot of creativeness to be in this business too...something that I struggle with. But I'm learning by going to lots of photography classes. You're so right about mastering this craft. Those words are right on!
 
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Just because you can take great shots,means nothing if you can't run the bussiness end,and deal with people.I've had to do so many things on the fly,it would boggle your mind.(fix dresses,help groom with tux,announce the wedding party and take there picture at the same time.it's a endless list at what you have to do to get the job done.) Also remember your the last to get Paid,after they have blown all the picture money on there Honeymoon.
 
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Seneca :


I think that this has some decent advice, all in all. But it's also pretty important to know that wedding photography is only a part of the field. There are a lot of photographers not shooting wedding or glamour but still make their living nonetheless.

I don't shoot weddings, but I do use the camera in my "day job" all of the time for documentation. This can range from simple shots to ensure that the specific conditions are documented through full blown accident investigations with in-depth forensic photography. I've had periods where I've shot hundreds of gigabytes in a period of several weeks on an accident site, and trust me, these photos had a lot more riding on them than irate words from a newly married couple !

I started on the digital side with a Canon D100 Digital Elph, and hit some technical barriers quickly, especially with respect to wide angle shooting in industrial facilities where the distance to subject just wouldn't allow for the shots. I worked with about every digital stitching software package available at the time, but the sheer optical constraint of the camera couldn't be
successfully overcome. That led me towards DSLRs, and more specifically, to the D100. The D100 was an exceptionally astute investment, because almost everyone else in my field was still working with Sony Mavicas or Polaroids or older film cameras, and the D100 had all of the advantages of the SLR platform, and the digital benefits rolled in.

For all its "faults", the D100 was close enough to the leading edge of technology and utility for its time. That quality and utility led me to understand,


The distinction of being the best available far outweighs the annoyances to the photographer of not being perfect when the customer sees the product.


Lenses have been and are the key element for a competent DSLR to work well. I initially started with an 18-35mm to improve on wide angle work, but even that eventually was insufficient, and I moved into the 12-24mm, which is today a mainstay for me (I shot 12GB+ on the assignment that I just returned from on Saturday using the 12-24mm). No regrets on the 18-35mm purchase - it paid for itself in less than a month and the 12-24mm wasn't available when I bought the 18-35mm - but the essential lesson was (and is),


Always upgrade to the best available gear when the financial condition of one's company allows for it.


To that point, the 12-24mm paid for itself faster than the 18-35mm had, and the price point for the 12-24mm was roughly twice that of the 18-35mm. Note also the part of the comment about "when the financial condition of your company allows for it". For example, I haven't and don't plan to get a D3 for my business because I can buy (almost) three D300s for the same money. Cameras get graunched on assignment - I once had a mass of rubble at a fire investigation scene fall on my Canon AE-1 (and me) - and need to be replaced or fixed. That costs money.

But, if my bread-and-butter shooting would change, I would re-evaluate that decision on the D3 or any other gear or software, which brings me to the next point,


Periodically take a sufficient time to evaluate what is the bread-and-butter work one does, and make hard harsh decisions about what is needed, and more importantly, what is not.


We all know about the people who didn't transition over from film to digital - that's an easy lesson - but what about the need to look overall at the time factors to use a given camera or lens, or the post-processing, or, for that matter, if adding post-processing makes the product so much better. Or even the reverse case...

In the case of one industrial accident investigation that I worked on, the need for quick return of shots from the high-hazard, restricted access accident scene meant that I shot RAW+JPEG, the team looked at the JPEGs immediately on my return, and then I processed only very specific shots to get maximum resolution, sharpness, and colour balance. JPEG was more than enough for the team to review the findings from the scene, and processing RAW shots simply wasn't time effective on a site where time was literally money (the site was wholly shut down while we were investigating, and with the lost production costs, I could have bought multiple new D3s for every ten minutes extra that we took in the review). I knew that the photos might end up in court, and so I wanted the best possible shots for me to defend in the stand, but the time constraints were weighing extraordinarily on the client, leading me to need a split approach for two objectives. The first day, I wasn't as cognizant of that as I should have been.

And that brought me to a different understanding. I talked at length with my client about what we gaining and not gaining from the approach of the work I had undertaken at the end of the first day, and I learned that there were several things I wasn't doing well enough or needed to do a lot better, teaching me,


Listen to the customers on what they want, no matter how irritating the complaint or how difficult the answer may be, because a dissatisfied customer is ultimately a lost customer.


I actually went out and purchased the very best desktop computer and monitor available that evening on my own credit card, and installed it in the command centre for the work we were doing. Eventually, I purchased another one just as a workstation for another person to review data and case information. We ended up working many weeks on this large industrial loss, but the client was extraordinarily pleased with the results, and I gained not only some solid money for the work, but also the benefit of that client strongly recommending me to other companies.

In another case, I received a series of contracts from a client because a competitor wouldn't print materials in the size the customer asked for. It meant buying a new printer (not perhaps today's high end printers, but still a pretty big expenditure), but that printer was multiply paid for by the first contract, and I then received five more projects in that area. The competitor company bean-counters and IT dweebs flatly refused to do what the customer asked for. Their loss, my (very substantial) gain. Sometimes one can't meet the demands of the customer, but just ignoring them or reflexively deciding not to meet them is foolish.

The post copied at the top of the thread addresses a goodly number of issues about getting into the business. Successfully staying in business is another matter, IMO, and it's not just seeing how other people flop in their efforts as lessons, but carefully assessing what works and what needs to change to continue working. Which brings me to the last comment that I've learned to live by...


Anyone can learn from failure, it takes serious discipline to learn from success.




YMMV, as the saying goes... :wink:




John P.
 
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I agree with that post a bit and I also disagree. Though I've only been in business for 2 years I started with a D70, kit lens, and a 50mm. Total investment of maybe $1k. I started out small and I was able to upgrade to pro glass and D200 within the year. My business isn't huge by any means but it's where I want it right now. I keep my over to nearly nothing the way I have set everything up. I don't have a studio so there's no rent. Aside from gear (which there is still more to buy) the only steady bills I have are my web hosting ($5/mo.), blog ($5/mo.), offsite data storage ($4/mo.), and insurance.
You can have a successful business without dropping tens of thousands.
 
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Seneca :


I think that this has some decent advice, all in all. But it's also pretty important to know that wedding photography is only a part of the field. There are a lot of photographers not shooting wedding or glamour but still make their living nonetheless.

John P.

I hesitated posting this because I didn't want people here to think that I was "washing away their dreams". Those were not my intentions. I am a case-in-point-type-of-gal...I have started my business with not a lot of cash...and I'm doing pretty good. Have I broken even with all the equipment i have bought over the years? ... I think so (but it has cost me some money too) - but I am also disciplined enough to carry on with my dream. I hope I didn't offend anyone here with that post...if I have...I am truly sorry. I have dreams too...I just thought it was some good sound advice...I am a "brutally honest person"...and sometimes I just need to hear the facts to make me even more "charged up!". I want people to know that photography is not just taking images - it's a craft...it's a profession...and I truly...even after all these years...I love it.

Thanks for your comments.
 
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ETA: The other day I was watching the news and this woman was telling the media that she was only able to carry out certain things...she went back to get her box of photos... - wow that made me cry...:frown:
 
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I hesitated posting this because I didn't want people here to think that I was "washing away their dreams". Those were not my intentions. I am a case-in-point-type-of-gal...I have started my business with not a lot of cash...and I'm doing pretty good. Have I broken even with all the equipment i have bought over the years? ...Probably not - but I'm disciplined enough to carry on with my dream. I hope I didn't offend anyone here with that post...if I have...I am truly sorry. I have dreams too...I just thought it was some good sound advice...I am a "brutally honest person"...and sometimes I just need to hear the facts to make me even more "charged up!".

Seneca :


Please, don't take my post as a repudiation of your initial (very good) posting. There was nothing wrong with what was proposed there, and a great deal of useful information. I think a lot of people have friends and family telling them that they should turn pro and do photography full-time without understanding all of the implications of that decision. Your post is a welcome and necessary item for such people to read and ponder carefully.

Aside from pointing out that wedding photography isn't the only area that having a business in applies to (not exactly news for the photo-journalists or industrial photogs here), my post was more along the lines of, "Once you get started, there's a continuing effort required" kinda thing.

I do think that it's important for folks to understand that being a full-time photographer is a business, and that business principles apply to having that business start and continue successfully. People who are doing this part-time, with a full time job to continue to support them outside of their photography, have additional options, and that's all to the good, but it's not the same situation. A dearth of gigs for a part-time photographer isn't crippling to cashflow as it is to a full-time photographer.

And one big shoot, unless it's for about the top of the food-chain in sales to big magazines, agencies, or sponsors of some kind (and it might not be enough at that), simply won't support a person for a year, let alone a person and a family. Continuing gigs are what make for bread-and-butter on the table every day.

I'm lucky, in that not all of my work revolves around my photography. It's a vital and essential element of my work, especially on those forensic cases, but it's not the whole of my work, thank goodness. I can have a month of relatively little photography (maybe 5 - 10GB of shots for the month), and then hit a case like the one I mentioned where I shoot hundreds of gigabytes of photos in a couple or three weeks.

There's obviously a vast and wide spectrum of situations for people doing photography for money, and your post is a valuable contribution to people considering this field.



John P.
 
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The advice offered is spot on. I don't make money with my photography. However, I do run my own IT consulting business.

After many years as a Dilbert-like cubicle denizen, comfy in the corporate womb, I bailed out (got an early retirement offer I could not refuse). Since then I have done well on my own for three reasons, all emphasized in the OP's attached article.

1. When I started my business I already knew my "craft". On the job training is only feasible when someone else is paying the bills.
2. I understood how to run a business. Much of my work the last few years in corporate America was spent in business development activities.
3. I had sufficient cash resources to fund my business' startup and to pay my bills without needing income from business activities.

The toughest part about being on your own is finding the next job. There is an extremely challenging balancing act involved in giving your very best, most professional effort to the current client/job while simultaneously seeking the next client/job.

To circle back to the specific topic of this thread, there are lots of good photographers. Assuming that you have "good enough" skills and equipment, it will be the best business-person who wins.
 
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To circle back to the specific topic of this thread, there are lots of good photographers. Assuming that you have "good enough" skills and equipment, it will be the best business-person who wins.

Doug :


Excellent comment and exactly on-point for this discussion !



John P.
 
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