I’ve been in the photography industry for over a decade and have shot full time for about the same. I still receive questions on whether or not one can make a living doing this.
Simply put, yes, you can make a good living as a photographer and the purpose of this post is so that I may share with you how I was able to make that happen. Before diving in, a short background on my entry to this field.
& The Random Cowboy Hat Man
When I began my photography venture I had no formal training, my dream was to attend The Brooks Institute of Photography in Santa Barbara, but, it was too expensive. I’m not sure I fully realized that one can make a living in this field (your ‘job’ is taking photos and you want me to believe you can pay your bills, buy a car or a house (or both!?) – no way). I suppose the reason I wanted to attend Brooks was for the technical aspects of the industry.
Always considering myself an artist I have expressed that through an array of mediums. Painting, drawing, sculpting and even played the cello along with the flute. Also, I’d rather not recall my memories of school choir. Photography seemed like a natural next move to experiment with. Little did I know it would end up engulfing my life and leading me down this journey!
My first camera was the Olympus FE-360, a whopping 8MP point and shoot, that my aunt Rosa put on her BestBuy card after I had begged and promised to pay her back. Which I couldn’t afford to but mama Garcia saved the days (gracias ma).
I photographed everything.
Ant beds, trees, power lines, ketchup bottles, salsa bottles, chairs, trampolines, water jugs, tires, random houses – you name it, I was capturing it.
After photographing inanimate objects for some time, I decided to start photographing, you guessed it, people. I remember dressing up my sister and cousin in some wonky outfit, doing their make up (“make up” used very loosely – all I did was draw a red line across their lips. That’s art … right?) and took some images that I can forever use to haunt their lives 😉 Later I began to publicly share my work on … Myspace. The images were showcased next to, what I’m sure were, obnoxious glittery font words reading “Welcome to My Page” while Greenday automatically played. Yikes.
Then came a day when I decided to friend request a random man, wearing a cowboy hat. Turns out that random cowboy hat wearing guy, was a local modeling agent. I had no idea that would be the start to everything.
Bye, Bye days of shooting ketchup bottles and family members dressed as teenage hookers.
Topics of Discussion
These guidelines are all personal strategies I have implemented over the years that have lead to me making over 6 figures a year as a freelance photographer.
altering your mindset
defining your brand
a foundation, diversifying + your troops
seo is king
What + How You Think
Your mindset plays such a vital role with anything you do in life, which is why this tops the list.
People tend to have a negative mindset, it’s a safety mechanism for not wanting to get hurt or fail. At the end of the day you will not be able to take action. Worse, you may not even want to act. If you cannot and are not willing to change a negative, pessimistic mindset you will be your own greatest roadblock.
Why act when you believe you’re destined to fail? Better to ‘stay’ safe and complacent.
To succeed, picture yourself succeeding. Put yourself in the shoes of the future, successful you. Who is that person?
Looking back, I don’t ever remember telling myself I would fail going into this. I knew it would work. How? I had no clue. I just knew. I knew I would be successful. Was I afraid at times? Sure, who isn’t. But I believed I would make it work. Changing your mindset starts internally with oneself but is also heavily influenced by those close to you. Friends and family. Take a look at the top 5 people you hang around with. Who are they? Motivated go getters? Do they lift you up & support your ambitions?
Or, are they (as they like to be called) “realistic”? Sure your aspirations may sound dandy and all but you’ll never do it they say. You don’t have the resources. Be realistic they say. Get a “secure” job (with benefits), why would you want to risk it?
Are these “friends” people your future, successful you would associate with? If not, boot them out. Sure, you may have been friends with them since kids (I knew I was) but these types of people will hold you back. You don’t want to be held back by an external source, it’s hard battling it internally as it is.
You want to be lifted as you take off!
I’m lucky I discovered this at an early age and while The Secret didn’t necessarily alter my thinking from a negative state to positive one, what it did do was solidify that 1) a positive mindset is needed to achieve bigger things and 2) all energy drainers need to exit left.
It’s that simple.
More Than Photographs
Your ‘personal style’ needs to show in your work. We get it. What isn’t as obvious is how that ‘style’ should transcend into every other aspect of your business.
The layout and presentation of your website, how you correspond via email, the type of paper you for your business cards, interacting with clients on a shoot. I’ll take it a step further and say even the aromas you choose to use in your studio are important. Down to the hand towels you have in the studio restroom! Call me crazy.
Not only do I believe you should infuse your style into all these aspects of your business, but have been told time after time by clients on how they pick up on these subtleties.
All of this, packaged together, creates your brand. It sets a perceived value on you and your work.
We as humans are an interesting bunch. We intake all this data and instantly make a judgment on whether we should invest in your services. Your perceived value is why someone will pay $2,000+ for a portrait session offered by you as opposed to $100 from another local.
So … who are you and your business and how are you wanting your clients to perceive you? You must put all these pieces together and create that persona. Does your website read FreeWebsite.MyName.com or worse, are you sending clients to your Facebook gallery to showcase your work?
All of this, piece by piece, makes up the perceived value a client sees in your business.
Now, please don’t think I’m implying that just because you have 100% Premium Long-Staple Combed Cotton towels in your studio restroom that you can now expect to make over 6 figures in photography – don’t be ludicrous. 😉
But as with this tired analogy, why do some pay $1000 for a phone?
Because of the brand the company has created and the perceived value that comes with it.
The Importance of Diversifying + Having Troops
Building a solid foundation for your business to stand on is essential. It’s essential to have an array of channels (streams) that are continuously driving prospects to you. Do not put all your eggs in one basket and rely on 1-2 channels to feed your business. You need more!
10, 15, 20+ channels feeding your business.
Examples of these channels include: relationships with other businesses who cater to what you photograph (have more than one). Your #instafamous friend who constantly promotes your work. Youtube, Facebook Ads, and mailers that drive people to your site.
Caution on the side of safety and be constantly increasing your streams. I don’t believe you can have too many and the more streams you have, the stronger your foundation.
My lack of diversifying kept me from hitting 6 figures sooner. I remember telling myself that I was a fashion photographer and only that. I wouldn’t shoot anything else and may of even thought little of others who did. Shame on me! I was looking at it all wrong.
Don’t be a jack of all trades but master of none either. Have 2-3 specialities that you enjoy to shoot and that possibly mesh together. Nowadays my main 3 markets are commercial advertising, fashion based portraiture and headshots. I enjoy shooting all 3 and feel as if I learn something from each one that I can then take back and apply to the others.
Having a “I won’t shoot / work with anyone other than …” mindset is not correct. Especially when starting out (speaking from experience here).
*Other forms of diversifying can include the selling of products / courses and affiliate marketing – which may be discussed down the road.
Your troops are those you’ve worked with, delivered past their expectations, and are on the ground passing your name to those in need. In short, they are doing the selling for you and your business.
All for free. Ding, ding!
Word of mouth is one of the most powerful forces that can drive business to you. One is more likely to book with you if their long-time friend did and does nothing but rave about their experience.
Rinse and repeat.
Clients are looking for a photographer just like you, but …
Do they know you’re out there?
When you Google “Fashion photographers in Dallas” or “Actor headshots in Dallas” who do you see on the first page? This is who prospective clients see when they are looking for someone to hire. Your job is to be front and center the instant customers signal interest and this is a key way to do that.
Stats vary but in generally 90% of people do not go past page 1 of the search results and 50% do not go past the first 3 results on page 1.
See the importance?
There’s plenty of information out there to build your knowledge on SEO. Do your due diligence with this and keep up with the ever changing trends.
Although there may be other factors out there to consider when attempting to reach over 6 figures a year, I know that these 4 guidelines have had a major impact in my career and helping me achieve those number that, quite frankly, I never thought possible.
My career is still in its infant stages and I find that very exciting. I will keep applying these guidelines going forward as they have proven to me they work. My hope is that there may be tiny nuggets of information here that you can take, start applying, and help you reach a 6 figure plus salary.