The Hunting Photographer

We live in an age where everybody is able to get their 15 minutes of fame. The internet has changed the way the world works. We all have our smart phones, tablets etc. and thanks to YouTube, everyone can now have the world as an audience.

This also means that there is a lot of traffic and a lot of people out there claiming their fame.

According to me (and this is personal) fame is very relative. I strongly believe that we as photographers are just artists and not “rock stars” although sometimes you do get that feeling :-)

If I see how many emails I get during a week about the topic, “how can I become famous?” I always think… “what are they after?” If you think being a working photographer means driving Ferraris with beautiful super models drinking champagne (and I don’t promote drinking and driving here) well… you can’t be more wrong. Most photographers I know are incredibly hard working people that sometimes can hardly make ends meet. We also drive a 6 year old car and are happy when we end up with profit at the end of the year. On the other hand I would not trade it in the world for a desk job (and I don’t mean anything negative about people doing that work).

So what’s the idea behind this blogpost?

Well, it’s very simple. Most of the people I talk to now a days are incredibly focused on being “famous,” doing the stuff that they think will bring them boatloads of money and appearing on the cover of Vogue magazine. But when you ask further, it’s often very clear that they have just started out in photography, sometimes shooting less than a year, and already thinking about quitting their day job and starting a career in photography.

Let’s first look at this by a simple example.

Now, remember I’m doing this for my country (the Netherlands), so rates and taxes might differ from your area.

When we look online, we see several photographers offering photo shoots for a little over $100.00 (and often even much less but let’s be reasonable). This sounds like a good deal, and let’s be honest… If you do 10 shoots a week, that’s a cool $1,000.00 you earn and this means $4,000.00 a month… Wow that’s awesome…

What people often forget is that a lot of this “quick cash” is eaten up by taxes. For us in the Netherlands, we have 21% VAT, and after this you can give up between 31-40% to income tax, meaning roughly half of what you make is gone like “that.”

Now we also have to take into account that one has to upgrade/maintain gear, rent a studio, eat, pay insurance, pay for your house, do advertising, pay telephone bills, etc. etc. The costs are huge.

When working for a boss this is often not so obvious, all insurances are paid (like medical in the Netherlands), you are building up a pension and because you work for a boss you don’t have to worry about business things like when you get sick, are being sued etc.

So the first thing you have to realize is that if you want to be a professional photographer you have to charge… and I mean charge.

A portrait session for $100.00 just won’t cut it. We did a quick calculation here and ended up with at least $199.00 for a session of one hour, taking into account that you also have to retouch the images, store the images and give the people something to drink. This is on the low side. However we are forced to the low side because in our home town, portrait sessions are already offered for (believe it or not) $15.00 in which people get 1 hour studio time and have to buy the prints, but they do get Facebook versions… Now I hear you say, “well that photographer won’t survive.” But that’s the problem, he does…. simply because he has a day job and does photography in his free time which is also great for his clients because they can come on Sunday, in the weekends and during the evenings……

Don’t get me wrong, I strongly believe there is still a great market for photography. But as a photographer you have to be different. Deliver something that is unique, know your social media because this is where now a days everything happens, but most of all have passion for your trade and learn your trade.

When you understand what you’re doing you can create unique looks that actually differentiate you from your competition. Make sure you have a professional looking studio which is a totally different appearance from a living room that is being transformed into a studio while you are being sniffed by the large family dog.

Create something that others don’t offer and ask a normal premium price for it. Start using your clients as your advertising, make them enthusiastic about the product, and maybe start actions where they can earn prints by bringing in friends and family.

As you can see, being a photographer almost sounds like running a “normal,” “everyday” business. But I believe that there is no normal business, every business is unique.

If you are prepared to work 24/7 or be flexible, then being a photographer can happen for you. However don’t hunt for the “famous” part. Build your business, and most of all start building your network, because when you want to be on the cover of a magazine it’s often not about the quality of your work but about the people you know. Trust me when I tell you that if you want to survive on magazine work only… You will probably starve to death.

But the most important thing I can tell you, and I mean this from the bottom of my heart, NEVER and I really mean NEVER hunt for something. Just let it happen. Be the best photographer you can, enjoy what you’re doing, but don’t quit your day job and jump in without a bungee cord. Always have a backup plan, and if that means working 40 hours for a boss and 20-30 hours as a photographer, well so be it. In my opinion working as a photographer should not feel like work. We are image makers, story tellers and as soon as something feels like work you will lose that creativity and fun.

Hunting for something can ruin your creativity and fun and that’s the worst thing you can do for your business. I’ve witnessed a lot of photographers try so hard to get to their goal that they were losing the fun in their work. If something did not work out they would be angry, feel let down and disappointed, and slowly but surely start hating photography and losing their interest.

My story is very simple.

I was brought up in a family of photographers, all hobby non-professional shooters, but they loved everything about it. My grandparents had their own darkroom, and I was brought up learning the fun in photography.

When I grew up I wanted to be a vet, but couldn’t due to some allergies they found. So I started my own business, stopped photography for a while and picked it up again to shoot nature, birds and sports all in good fun. Totally by accident I ended up with model photography and fell in love with photographing people. I slowly built up my skills and portfolio while still running the computer store with Annewiek (my wife). After 10 years (actually 2013) we sold the computer store to focus 100% on photography. Yes you did read this correctly, it took me 10 years to build up a foundation that I trusted enough to quit my “day job.”

In all that time I did set goals for myself, but never unrealistic, and if something didn’t work out I really didn’t care. I shot for fun and I taught for fun. Even today it’s the same way. We weekly teach workshops in our studio and if sometimes we don’t sell out the workshops (I always teach small groups ranging from 5-8 people) I will not cancel the workshop, I will teach as soon as we have 2 people in the group for the very simple reason I love what I’m doing and whatever happens next… Well, we will see. I do of course have some wishes and goals but I will not really hunt for them because I know that I will lose focus on the things that are important… the here and now.

Create art and set reasonable goals, but never lose your passion for the art called photography. And if you don’t become rich and famous, at least you will have a passion for life called photography. And trust me, you will see if you show that passion to people I would not be surprised if you are getting much further than you would ever dream.

You can see more of Frank’s work at FrankDoorhof.com, and connect with him on Facebook, Twitter, and Google+.