Saturday, February 02, 2013

Seven Reasons Not to Become a Freelance Professional Photographer

Nikon D4, 28-300mm, ISO 400, ƒ/6.3, 1/100–4 Alienbee B1600s hung in the ceiling on 1/4 power and barebulb

7) Not a self-starter—In your first year or so you will be getting up with no photo shoots on your schedule. You must be able to fill your day with something that will be productive. If you are someone that takes initiative and rarely needs someone to tell you what you should be doing at work, then you might make it as a professional photographer.

6) Procrastinator—You may know what you need to do each day, but you can easily get distracted and not stay on task. If you have seen the movie “UP” then you will recognize the comment—Squirrel.  I know a good number of former photographers who just didn’t get around to doing what they should have been working on and now they are no longer working professional photographers.

Nikon D4, 70-200mm, ISO 6400, ƒ/2.8, 1/100–Marc Broussard
5) Hate rejection—If you get easily discouraged then you do not want to go into business for yourself—in any field. Just because your family and friends think you are a great photographer is not the same as everyone lining up to pay you to take photos. If you have people lining up and begging you to shoot things for money—then this is way different and makes you the only person I know to be in that situation. Successful photographers are only selling to 5 – 10% of those people they have contacted. 90 – 95% of the time they are rejected.

4) Poor Negotiator—For the most part photography is not so cookie cutter. This is very true for the commercial photographer. Each job is different from the rest and requires you to price differently. Due to this there tends to be a lot of negotiating with clients. Sometimes this may sound harsh when someone is trying to get you to lower your price.

Nikon D4, Sigma 120-300mm ƒ/2.8 DG OS HSM S, 2X, ISO 10000, ƒ/4, 1/2000
3) Do not like taking direction—many “artists” tend to think they know better what they need to create. Unless you are going to be a “fine art photographer” then you will need to execute other people’s ideas. You will need to learn how to bend to keep a client and get paid.

2) Do not like sitting at a computer for long periods—You will need to spend time editing your work for sure, but you will spend a lot of time connecting with people through emails, website, blogs, creating printed materials and searching the web for clients to name just a few of the things you will need to be doing on a computer.

Nikon D4, 85mm ƒ/1.4, ISO 200, ƒ/1.4, 1/80
1) No business skills—You need to understand pricing of your services that will help you make a profit for the long haul is not easy to do. You also have to be a risk taker in running your own business. Almost nothing is a sure bet and you will have to put money behind ideas that may or may not work. You also need to know how to market yourself to the world.

Now you don’t have to be good at all these things, but they all must be done to remain a professional photographer. You can outsource some of these, but the outsourcing will cost more than if you did them yourself. At a certain point in your growth of your brand you will find it necessary to outsource some of this to grow your business.

You might think of more things to add to this list--but freelancing full-time is not for the faint of heart.


Anne said...

Enjoyed reading it, hope you dont mind i linked to it from my website!

Stanley Leary said...

Glad you liked it Anne.

D. Saunders said...

Direct, to-the-point, "brutal", and above all, 100% TRUE, Stanley! You said a mouthful!

I used to be speechless when a photo student would ask what camera, what lens, etc. does it takes to become a professional photographer. Such innocence! :-)

Stanley Leary said...


Thanks. I teach students a great deal about business practices and after a while I realized I was saying the same speech. This is just one of the talks I give.

Leigh Mosley said...

sonshakExcellent synopsis for beginners in the field. Just as true today as it was when I started shooting 47 years ago.

Englebright Photography said...

Thanks for this. Those 7 reasons describe a couple of successful commercial photographers I worked for. They succeeded because of their talent and in spite of themselves.

Todd Mizener said...

Well done.

Allen Pearson said...

Very well said. Am thinking of going in that direction- great advice to consider. Am going to share this with my readers.

IGOR Photography said...

Great article, I agree 100% with all the qualities that a professional photographer needs to have.

Anonymous said...

Reality check. It's a heck of a lot more hustle than just shooting photographs. Shooting images is the easy part.

Sherrlyn Visual Media Photography said...

Well written. Do you mind if I post it to my notes here?

Stanley Leary said...


Please post with a link back to the blog.

Kim - Liv Life said...

Indeed! I think you've hit the nail on the head. The business part has done in a few friends of mine, and the negotiating is my great weakness...

Anonymous said...

Is all lost when most of these points have been true?


Stanley Leary said...

Is all lost when most of these points have been true?

No. You just cannot continue to fail over the long haul. Again you don't have to do all of them yourself, you can outsource.

My recommendation is to realize to be successful you need to 1) have good solid product consistently, 2) you need to deliver more than you promise, 2nd mile service and 3) WOW them. You need to connect with people way beyond your product.

Just think of the TV show Cheers, the people came back to the bar regularly because of friendships on top of the food and good service.

Nicholas said...

Hi Stanley
Great words there of wisdom. I have been self employed for as long as I can remember and have only recently got back in to photography. The way you have to structure your day and find this work and get yourself out there are the same in all freelance occupations and we should never tire of being reminded that's how it is and to strive harder.

David Stembridge said...

yeah, awesome tips, there's so much more than just clicking a shutter... thanks Stanley!