“I want to be a pro.”
Don’t pretend like that thought hasn’t come across your mind at all. Many of us as photographers have always wanted to go pro. It’s in gear marketing, it’s part of the aspirations of many in the photo community, and it’s ingrained in so many tutorials that are all across the web. So what does being a pro mean? Being a professional photographer means that the large majority of your income is from photography. This means that you shoot for a living and if you’re not shooting then you probably can’t pay rent, put food on the table, etc. Is this you? Probably not.
But then let’s start to break that down a bit more: you could aspire to be a semi-professional photographer. This means that anywhere from around 40-50% of your income is from photography. The rest of the money may come from your full time job. Being the semi-professional photographer is a much more attainable ideal to strive for than relying entirely on photography for all of your income. No matter how good you are, you need to consider a couple of very big factors at play here.
In this current year of 2014, the average photographer is a:
– Photographer: quite obviously, they need to shoot!
– Light technician: the majority of professional photographers talk about light and know how to work with it whether it’s all natural or being made artificially
– Photo Editor: many, many photographers edit their own images. If they don’t edit them themselves, then they ship it off to someone that also does retouching.
– Customer service rep: Don’t think for a second that no one that pays for images doesn’t want things done exactly the way that they want–nor that they won’t try to offer their input.
– Networker: Professional photographers spend lots of time networking with other people that they can collaborate with in the industry. Sometimes it’s other photographers. At other times it’s art buyers, magazine editors, business owners that need photos done, event planners, actors, actresses, models, etc. Yes, this sounds like lots of fun: but it also sometimes gets expensive both in time value and resources.
– Social Media specialist: Many photographers run their own social media account pages and try to find ways to have their fans engaged and to attract new clientele. Think about it: every time that they update they need to figure out a way to get someone to leave the convenience of their news feed and click into the content that they’re delivering into it.
– Blogger: Every professional photographer has a blog with its own specific audience that it caters to. More content needs to be developed here to give potential clients more of an idea of the type of person that they’re working with.
– Marketing genius: A photographer needs to be able to market their work. You may think that their work is absolute crap, but an art buyer may totally eat it up. In the end, the photographer needs to market to those people.
– Salesman: Getting the right price for services, post image sales, and more needs to be done. Plus they need to keep records of all this stuff when they pay quarterly taxes.
– Image thief tracker: Photographers need to be able to track their images online to see if their work has been stolen or not.
Most of the time, the photographer isn’t even shooting. Picking up the camera? That’s the easy part! But try putting lots of work into posing a subject, location scouting, concept development, studio setup, etc. But if you want to become a professional photographer, you need to do all of these things.
The alternative: get a team to help you out.
But then another big problem occurs: you’re then a responsible business owner who is then in charge of taking 1099 or W9 forms from employees and you’re responsible for getting their invoices, paying them, delivering tax forms to them once a year, etc. So what that means going even further is that you and your team need to be able to bring in enough income together to be able to support all of you and still put money aside for the company to be able to sustain itself.
Can you do that?
No, that’s the wrong question.
Do you want to do that?
Now also consider this: the average tax rate for a business owner in New York is around 47%. 30% goes to the Federal Government while 17% goes to the State Government. But all of this first takes into consideration all that you’ve spent–and even then you only get some of that money back, not all of it.
So if you’re a photographer in what is arguably the center of the photo world (NYC) then you need to be able to pull in lots, and lots of money. And in order to do that, you’re going to be out there hustling and negotiating, trying to make sales, developing concepts, etc. Then you need to set the according goal for yourself of being able to bring in enough money to be able to support you and your company, and then ensuring that you bring in double that amount.
Now, we can get to our initial question: can you do that?