It’s the dream of many amateur photographers. A chance to walk into the boss’s office, announce that you’re leaving and head home to a studio in the garage, an SUV full of camera equipment and a diary full of high-paying bookings.
No more commuting. No more begging for a pay rise. Just all the freedom you could want in a job you’ve always considered a hobby.
Sounds easy, doesn’t it? Of course, there are a few things you have to consider…
What Will You Shoot?
The first is what you’ll be shooting.
It’s unlikely that the day after you fire your boss, you’ll get a call from the commissioning editor of National Geographic asking if you’d like to fly to the Serengeti to photograph some migrating wildebeest. Photojournalism too requires experience and contacts. And fine art photography is perhaps the hardest specialty of all to break into.
For most work-from-home photographers then, the largest source of jobs is likely to event and portrait photography. You might be dreaming of being paid large sums to shoot beautiful sunsets, but it’s more likely you’ll be spending your days bribing children to sit still and your evenings corralling relatives into a straight line so that you can shoot the formals.
That doesn’t mean you won’t also be doing the personal projects that keep your pulse racing. But your bread-and-butter is likely to be brides and babies.
Spreading the Word
And you’ll have to find them.
Perhaps the biggest challenge new photographers face is building up their client list. Websites take time to launch and skill to attract users. Advertising costs money and requires an understanding of your market. And you can’t make use of references until you’ve collected a critical mass of satisfied clients.
Kayla Renckly, a stay-at-home mom and part-time photographer told us:
I have found it difficult to market myself and find work… Word of mouth seems to be the most effective [method]. The problem is getting the first customer and making them happy so they tell everyone they know.
For Kayla, and for many new photographers, first jobs are often favors for friends and family — a good way to build experience and create a portfolio, but clearly something to do before you have that chat with your employer.
Only with time, some investment, a large stack of business cards and plenty of encouragement to spread the word do client lists start building up and work start flowing in by itself. (Although there are plenty of things that you can do to enlarge that trickle).
So How Much Will This Cost?
One of the most important aspects of bringing in clients will be the price you charge. Kayla described setting her fee as her “biggest headache.”
I don’t want to be the lowest price and seen as a commodity like Walmart or something, yet I don’t want to price myself out of the market. Once I have that nailed down I believe everything else will fall into place.
She’s not wrong. New photographers often feel uncomfortable charging the same price as an established photographer who is less likely to make mistakes and knows how to squeeze more out of an event. But low prices make photographers look low quality, undervalue skills and fail to take the full cost of a shoot into account.
(The best solution might be to price at around the same level as competitors but offer discounts to friends brought by other friends. You’d appear to be offering market rates but you’d also be encouraging those first referrals while building up experience without doing it at the expense of the client.)
How Long Will It Take?
And finally, time will be a factor too. New photographers often underestimate the amount of time they’ll spend at the computer after the shoot. (Kayla reports that she now expects “to spend about as many hours processing and retouching photos as I spent taking them.”)
That’s time that needs to be factored into the price, and also into a schedule that would include marketing, website building, bookkeeping, learning new skills… and often, looking after the kids too.
None of this means that you can’t tell the boss that you’ve decided to swap your desk for a camera. But it does mean that you shouldn’t expect success to happen right away and you should be ready to work hard, struggle at the beginning and tackle a bunch of new challenges from marketing to scheduling.
Thinking of becoming a work-at-home pro? Shuttermom is a good place to find support and the Professional Photographers of America can be useful too. And tell us what you’ve found hardest about striking out on your own.
[tags] photography business, freelance photography, work from home photographer [/tags]