How Professional Photographers Actually Spend Their Time

Image by Varina Patel

All images in this piece were used with permission from their owners.

It’s the dream of every aspiring photographer: go out there and get paid to do cool things like photographing for a campaign. In this mirage, photographers pretty much do nothing but shoot and the income just flows freely.

Unfortunately, the reality couldn’t be any further from this dream. Modern photographers are indeed shooting less as the market has evolved over time. Photographers are indeed business people that self creative services, and that’s tougher to do than you could possibly think.

We talked to a number of professional photographers about how they actually spend their time. And the realities may surprise you.

“Life if good. Just got off the plane from Japan and trying to keep my eyes open. Here’re the answers to your questions but it’s difficult to break this down in terms of percentages. All of these elements are a BIG part of the process, and these days emails, blogging and social media are daily parts of the picture. Sadly shooting is only a small percentage. the networking is constant as well and maybe the single biggest factor to working. I’m old school and do better with phone calls and in-person meetings. They seem to get a better response than just an email alone. I met a new client last week in Japan and it came from an email I sent. That led to a meeting and now I’m going back for a job next month.

Travel is a big part of my life. I rarely shoot in LA actually and thinking of moving for that reason. The weather is great, but my work here is just okay. I spend more time traveling and I don’t mind that but I’m thinking of a different base these days. Billing and finance management are weekly elements and always part of any business.”

Matthew Jordan Smith: Commercial and Editorial Photographer

“Unsurprisingly, I spend a lot more time organizing and connecting with individuals and getting my content out there once created than creating the content itself. The process of shooting takes up surprisingly little time… it’s all the steps it takes to get there that takes forever!”

40%- Emails
20%- Social Media
15%- Networking
14%- Blogging

1%- Shooting
5%- Editing

5%- Phone Calls
2%- Billing
3%- Finance Management

Um… 9 months out of the year… how does that calculate?- Travel”

Benjamin Von Wong: Commercial and Editorial Photographer

“That’s definitely an interesting question, Chris. You’re right, there’s a whole lot more to being a pro photographer than just shooting. It takes motivation and a willingness to learn new skills – but I really love the challenge of building and maintaining a photography business. I’d say I spend only a small fraction of my travel time actually taking pictures. Here’s how I’d break it down…

Shooting – actually shooting photos and videos “on location” – about 20%
Editing – 20%
Phone Calls – 5%
Emails – including our mailing list – 5%
Networking – 3%
Blogging – 5%
Social Media – mostly marketing and staying connected with our clients – 5% (it used to be more than that, but I’m spending less time on social media lately)
Travel – Time spent on location or traveling from one location to another, but not actually shooting – 30% (travel is very time consuming – but I can’t complain!)
Billing – all our billing is automatic – but it takes time to get the system set up for new products and to handle occasional issues that come up – 2%
Finance Management – 5%

I actually feel pretty lucky. I get to spend a pretty large percentage of my time on location, rather than worrying about managing finances, networking, and marketing… but that’s only true because we’ve spent a lot of time creating products, automating processes, and building websites that handle the back-end work without too much intervention on our parts. It’s a whole lot of work, but it pays off. 🙂 Building a strong “foundation” for our business took time and quite a lot of experimentation over several years. But now, it means we can focus on photography when we’re on location, and on family when we’re home. And that’s what we were working for all along. :)”

Varina Patel: Landscape photographer

“Good question…Probably more like this… sorry for adding the extras but planning and prep plus studio management take a good amount of time. The amount of actual shooting time is relatively small but that’s in part down to all the planning. Time management is an essential part of running any small business. I know a lot of people can spend all month just sorting out their website.

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– Shooting 15%
– Editing 5%
– Phone Calls 10%
– Emails 10%
– Networking (marketing)…… I don’t network as much 5%
– Blogging 2%
– Social Media 3%
– Travel 10%
– Billing 5%
– Finance Management 10%

Total: 75%

Extras: Studio management: 10%
Planning and prep: 15%”

Howard Shooter: Food photographer

That’s a hard question to answer because it really depends what’s on my plate for any given week. When I’ve got a big shoot I’m 90% shooting, editing (often with travel thrown in). I might have time for a few social media posts if I’m lucky but if I haven’t scheduled any blog posts they’re not going to happen. Once the shoot is over and the client’s selects are in, I may have a day or two of post production, during which I’m much more likely to take “breaks” to answer emails or post on social media – simply because I need a break from post in order to stay fresh. If I’m speaking at a conference or seminar that also takes over my day – along with the networking since 90% of the networking I do is at conferences. If I’m writing a book, I’m 100% focused 24-hours on writing and answering any questions my editor or production might have (I wrote that in case my editor reads this an wonders why I’m answering emails instead of working on my book). I realize that was probably only about 5% of an ideal response to your question – but it’s an honest one.

= Brian Smith: Commercial, Celebrity and Editorial Photographer

– Shooting – 10% (and that’s being generous)
– Editing – 10%
– Phone Calls – 1%
– Emails – 20%
– Networking – 5%
– Blogging – 4%
– Social Media – 25%
– Travel – 25%
– Billing – 0% (Business Management Team does this)
– Finance Management – 0% (Business Management Team does this)

Jeremy Cowart: Editorial and Commercial Photographer