The Business of Photography

Are you an artist and dreaming of a career in the photographic arts? Like any career choice, money plays a very important role in this decision-making process. Depending on your pay structure, your salary can drive you to never want to make another picture ever again, or can give you the boost to that of the likes of Annie Leibovitz, Richard Avedon, or Ansel Adams. As we take time to explore the successful business models and how you can make money as a photographer I like to focus on some of the other not so fun topics like expenses and marketing. Over the next several weeks we will be posting articles related to establishing your photography/videography business and explore niches and ideas that are out there so you can make the best decisions for your business.

Before we get to in depth on how photographers make money, we should explore how photographers spend money. The cost of doing business for any successful company is expensive. I am sure you have heard the age old adage, “You have to spend money to make money!” Well in the photographic world, this is more important than most think. 

Let’s explore the cost of doing business by separating the various expenses (overhead) into two categories, Operational and Marketing. For this article we will discuss the operational expenses and next weeks blog will cover the marketing expenses.

Monthly Operation Expenses of Photography

Included in your overhead are expenses that must continue in order for you to work. For example, if you are a studio photographer the cost of the studio is lumped into your monthly overhead. If you are a location shooter, the cost of fuel, vehicle maintenance, permits, fees, etc should be lumped into your overhead. If you are both, well then you get to include both! Here are a few examples of monthly overhead expenses into which we currently invest. This is not a complete list and is only an example of what you can expect when creating your company:

  1. Office/Studio Monthly Rent – You spend the majority of time working in your office. For some this is a corner of the living room, garage, or space in the kitchen at home and for others this is a physical office location where you drive to everyday. Make your office, YOUR Office! No matter where it is, it becomes a tax item when certain conditions apply. Refer to an accountant for what qualifies. 
  2. Online storage (Microsoft OneDrive, Dropbox, iCloud) – Need a server? We all do. Whether you use an online server or lan-server you want to ensure you are backing up your work. The last thing you want to do is drop an external hard drive that has a year’s worth of work on it and not be able to recover any of it….Ya happened to us. Now we back up everything on a hard drive and then again on a cloud based server. I recommend finding a server that is compatible with your operating system, but not one that is native only. DropBox is an example of a cloud server that allows for users from Apple IOS and PC to access.
  3. Proof Delivery Service – We currently use Shootproof.com and absolutely love it. ShootProof allows us to upload the finished jpegs, deliver to the client a custom link, allows the client to favorite images, share the link with family and friends, and best of all, allows the client and anyone with the link to make online orders. You can assign a partnering printer with ShootProof so that you can stay hands off or have all orders come directly to you for fulfillment. 
  4. Photo Editing Software – Lightroom/Photoshop are probably the most widely used and known. Lightroom acts as a light editing software but mainly as a photo organization software. Capture One is another commonly used program. Depending on your skills and abilities, one of these may be easier to use than the other. What I have found out is, if you ever contract with larger organizations, Capture One tends to be the program of choice. Start doing your youtube videos to learn the software sooner than later.
  5. Equipment Insurance – Just last week I had a drone go down to the bottom of a pool. With my insurance, I am just paying a copay for the replacement of the drone. Without insurance, well I would have to pay full price for another unit. 
  6. Liability Insurance – What happens if a model gets hurt while on a  shoot with you. Even worse, if you said, hey get on that rock and he/she breaks a leg. You can be held liable for the injury and have to pay damages. Let’s also not forget that time you “lost” a clients images. You can be held liable for not delivering images and emotional damages that resulted in the lost images. Having a good liability insurance plan really will help you in the long run.
  7. Utilities – Water, Gas, Electricity and Internet are all needed to keep the lights on and customers coming through the door. These costs add up and there is really no way around it. 
  8. Subscriptions – Yes subscriptions! Professional development has become a taxable factor in your career. Magazines, professional organizations like PPA or online photo sites can be considered overhead, as long as you are using these for the refinement of your craft or for the purposes of your business.
  9. Gear and upkeep – Our gear is not cheap and because of this we spend a lot of money on maintenance and upkeep. Having a maintenance plan allows for you understand the “down to the penny” cost of maintaining your gear and always being ready for the next gig.
  10. Client Management System – Perhaps one of the most important pieces, yet one most people do not invest into until they are knee-deep in clients. If you do not have one get one. Today. Even if you do not yet have any clients, the sooner you have your system the easier it is to manage your past, current, and future client. If you already have a handful of clients, get your system today, yes it will take some time to enter them and organize everything, but the longer you wait the more time it will take!

Stay tuned for our next blog – Nickels and Dimes – Making Money as a Photographer