How Viable is it Being a Professional Photographer?
Whilst being both stuck in its ways and simultaneously forever changing, photography is indeed a strange profession. The majority of the profession work in a very different way to the old guard who still reign at the top.
The world looks on as the UK braces herself for Brexit. Professional photographer, Scott Choucino, says: “After the final vote to state that we were going to leave the EU, I didn’t take a single paying photograph for three months, and for the three months to follow, work was very slow, low budget, and generally a bit off. With the actual mass evacuation of the EU imminent, there are going to be a lot of changes for us photographers.
“While sitting in my garden, enjoying the sunshine with a slight sense of foreboding after the Brexit vote, I quickly realized that I needed to diversify my income streams,” he says. At least in the short-term, Scott came to realise that it may not be future proof to rely on photography alone. With advertising being the first to put a short-term stop to spending it could be indicative that a short-term financial crash has a reasonably high probability of happening.
We believe that, despite these machinations, you can 100% make a living from photography in 2019. Here is what to consider: there is an entirely new form of photography commonly being commissioned, thanks to platforms like Instagram, which shows how the industry is booming. For the required work there is big money and big news when it comes to social media campaigns.
The advice, from photographers such as Scott, is to not feel the need to reduce your asking price- it may be where you sit in the pecking order- but your day rate shouldn’t change in 2019. But it’s also good to look at the alternative revenues that can add to your income.
Workshops are the way that photography is learned so teaching is definitely one option. Scott says: “I have run workshops for years; before photography, I taught in schools and I was a sports coach, so it is something that I enjoy doing, and I think the enjoyment is key. I don’t really buy into “to be a professional photographer, you have to only make money from photography.” Times have changed. I now classify myself as someone who doesn’t have to go into the office 9-5 as well as being a photographer.” This can be facilitated through a selection of revenue streams. Teaching might look something like this: once a month run a small, affordable, and hopefully fun workshop from your photography studio. It needn’t be a big production, but try to keep it to information that you can’t find free of charge online. There is also the option to offer 1-2-1 mentoring to photographers who are looking to make a living from photography. All this can be kept very affordable. The market may not be suitable to make teaching your main income but it can be a small chunk of change each month that perhaps covers a few bills and eases the stress of the haphazard income that photography can create. Scott says: “I really enjoy doing it. I don’t think anything will work if you don’t truly love what you do.”
Even though you are not going to make a living selling for Shutter Stock the additional revenue stream is beneficial. There is a plethora of YouTubers who prescribe making money from selling stock and there are many articles about it. The industry standard rate is usually about 50% commission but you’d have to turn over all the rights to your archive to an agency in order for them to be sold to publications.
No matter what kind of photographer your are you’ll always be looking for backgrounds, props, and cool items related to your work. Scott says: “I am fortunate enough to have a pretty big studio compared to most photographers, and with this comes a lot of warehouse storage space. So, I now rent out my props, and I have started producing backgrounds for sale. As before, I love painting, crafting, and building backgrounds, and one of my favorite pastimes is to scour charity shops for cool props. So, with a quick website build, I was up and running. Again, I don’t expect to make big bucks from this, but it is a great way to offset a few more bills during the financial uncertainty while doing something I enjoy.”
This is the main reason we are here, let’s admit it. Shooting alone can make you enough money to make a living so you’re going to want to perfect it by always practicing it. The other bits aren’t as necessary but we highlight them for their added security and bringing variety to your work. Scott says: “I average about a client a week in terms of big shoots, with a few smaller jobs thrown in-between. I live a pretty basic life with very low overheads, and I enjoy pretty simple things, so this style of working affords me a great balance between commercial work and allowing me the time to continue to work on personal projects in-between the bread-winning jobs.”
Over the past decade there hasn’t really been any noticeable great change in the industry. Some clients will expect a lot of work for little money whilst some clients will pay you more; it’s just knowing what you want to be doing and sticking with it. But you can’t complain about not having any high-paying clients if you’re doing loads of cheap work in desperation. Scott adds: “Big campaigns are never given to the cheap photographers: if you want to change, you have to start by saying no to the cheaper work and focusing your time on the bigger jobs.” It’s about trying to find people who appreciate photography rather than getting down about the abundance of people who do not necessarily appreciate it. There are plenty of good photographers out there who need good photography to help sell their brand. Scott continues: “in the commercial world there is still a great path into professional photography with the option to craft a long-term career in your niche.”
It is still as viable as ever to become a professional photographer; there may be more photographers out there, but the top end of the profession has also upped its game, which makes the masses at the entrance point the same as your uncle with a point-and-shoot and some pharmacy film back in the 90s. Having a fun and profitable business in photography boils down to talent and having the right contacts. Scott says: “the additional revenue streams that are now open to us are great for those like me who want to future-proof their business or perhaps be more fussy about the clients they say yes and no to.” You will find that you only really have to shoot the commercial jobs that really suit you when these side hustles and passive incomes begin to work in your favour and you know you’ve got most of your overheads covered. There is no shame in taking revenue from outside of photography to make your life happier and easier.
Words by Elijah (Content Marketer).