How do you turn photography into a business?
If you want to turn photography into a business you need to study business more than you need to study photography. Most photographers don’t know shit about a business plan and couldn’t market their way out of a paper bag. In fact, almost all the working photographers I know (myself included) got lucky and were able to first build devoted audiences for their work before going into business. Even our crude attempts at marketing have been at least moderately successful. The most successful photos I know are the ones that have that business background. So if you want to turn your photography into a business, I say go for it! It’s a challenging but incredibly rewarding way to spend your days. Just FYI you will probably find that you end up working a lot harder and for longer days than you would at a 9-5.
As for what to shoot, all I can advise is to shoot your passion. As my friend John would say: shoot what makes your heart sing. When you find that niche that you are passionate and excited about, that passion shows through in your photos, and that’s what makes people excited about your photography. When other people get excited about your photography, that’s when amazing things start to happen. That’s exactly what happened for me in the past and what I’m sure will continue to happen in the future. Spread your love and it will come back to you in wonderful ways. In the meantime, I can guarantee that will also help you get the practice you want, and it will help develop your skills and style.
?I’d also advise that even though you may be incredibly excited to dive in to making your photography a business, and are pumped to start earning money, and motivated by a sense of urgency, don’t be afraid to give it ?the ?time? it needs to develop?. Even though we are in the era of Instagram and ?”?overnight?”? celebrities, it takes time, dedication, and commitment to build a career. So keep your head down and march along?.?
It’s also totally normal to feel overwhelmed and paralyzed. I often spend so long trying to figure out the perfect course of action that I forget to move at all. What I’ve learned is that you can never make a perfect decision, simply because you never have complete information. Instead, the best course is to take the info you have and just start moving. Try something, try anything. Stick to it and iterate: Figure out what you’re doing well and how you can do it better. Figure out what’s not working and get rid of it. It’s a work in progress. The most important thing is to start moving.
In the meantime, think of the worst case scenario. This is something that helped me when I was making the transition from corporate life to freelance. I thought: well, really what’s the worst that could happen? I completely lose all the money I’ve saved from my corporate job and have to go live with my mom again? Or I have to swallow my pride and ask my company for my old job back? Maybe so, but at least I will know that I tried. Knowing those kinds of worst case scenarios made it easier to accept the risk and take the plunge. Granted, I realized our situations might be totally different. But I bet if you think through the worst case situation you’ll see that it’s not really that bad, and hopefully that will help you step forward.
I’d recommend taking as many business and marketing classes as possible, as that will give you a huge advantage over other photographers when starting your business. Get a book called “Best Business Practices for Photographers.”
For starting a photography business the best advice I can give you is to work hard every day and expect things to take longer than you want. Define your goals and create a concrete plan to get there. It took about 4 years from when I left my engineering job until I was supporting myself 100% with photography. I was earning money right away doing art festivals but it wasn’t enough to live on and so I had to get part-time jobs, unemployment from the government, and I just about maxed-out my credit cards. But then, landscape and nature are a very different and difficult type of photo business to start on because you don’t have clients contracting you to take pictures like you would with weddings or portraits. With landscapes, you have to take the pictures and then try to find someone to buy them. What kind of business do you want to start? If it’s landscapes and nature then I’d recommend creating a diversity of options: try selling prints to local people (farmer’s markets or art festivals), local businesses, local hospitals. Try selling
calendars, greeting cards, posters, anything you can think of. Try assisting other local photographers with their workshops or classes. Start a YouTube channel and make a vlog about your adventures. Try making a podcast about what it’s like to be a photographer. For this kind of business you need diversity, because it’s likely that you will only earn a little money from each revenue stream, but together it’s enough.
If you’re planning to start a portrait or wedding biz it’s a different story altogether. You need a solid portfolio, a great website, a good business plan, know how to price, shoot, edit, package, and sell products. It’s a lot but in some ways it’s easier because once you find clients then you will be earning money. Again, I would recommend assisting an established pro, as they can give you incredible insights into how they make their business work.
As far as marketing to companies, I really haven’t done very much of that at all. I’ve only worked with one company to create photos for them. But if you want to go that route I would recommend getting signed on to an agency (if you Google something like Instagram influencer agency you can find a lot). They will help connect the clients to you to get the right gigs. In terms of general marketing to build an audience it takes a loooooong time. You have to be consistent, patient, and only show your best work to the world. I started sharing my photos online in 2007 and it took about 2-3 years of sharing my best stuff consistently to build any kind of an audience.
I’m not trying to be discouraging, because if you can build a career as a photographer it’s extraordinarily rewarding and fun. But in my experience there’s no such thing as overnight success, and no such thing as a magic bullet. Instead, you are putting the pieces together every day, one small part at a time.