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 awesomeâ¦

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 doesâ¦. 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 eveningsâ¦â¦

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+.

About The Author

39 Comments

  1. Frank, love your latest book! So glad to see someone of your caliber remind us all that great photography is more than a business model and a trade show speaking slot.

    • Thanks Matt
      Indeed as soon as the passion is gone it’s all over I think. I enjoy every day to the fullest. We all work very very hard but I always say that I never feel like working. The feedback from people alone can give you so much energy. Add the creative part and wow ;)

      • I absolutely agree with this. I’m still doing my day job but maybe spending 10-15 hours a week on photography. I’ve just started running workshops and really love it..but I have no intention of quitting my day job any time soon, as I know the pressure of surviving on photography would ruin the fun for me.

      • In that case keep the day job and enjoy the photography. Best of both worlds ;)

  2. I’ve been doing this for a living for 40 years and couldn’t agree more. Well said Frank. I would add, that what works in one city maynot work in another city, provence, state, country or continent.

  3. Thanks Frank, wise words indeed :)

  4. Great post Frank, and thanks for being that big meter advocate, I use mine a lot now! It was fun meeting you at PSW, isn’t it awesome we have this organization that brings us all together!

  5. Well said Frank. especially about what is going on in our country…
    But attention to quality, detail, perfection and attention to our craft we will always remain a cut above the others… who treat it as a sideline…

  6. I hear so many photogrhers saying they want to “go pro” with unrealistic expectations. They really need to read this. Great article!

  7. This was a terrific guest blog, Frank. While photography will always be just a hobby for me, it’s interesting to me to read about all that goes into such a career. Kudos to anyone that is successful at making photography their sole source of income! I hope to see you at one of your classes at Photoshop World in April!
    –John

  8. Thanks for this article – so true – and not only in photography but many other careers as well. I think we have to love what we do and give time to those things we are passionate about and gifted in. Sometimes we will get notice and praise for it. Other times it seems that no one sees, our joy is singular, yet we can know that we have the smile of God and that our dance is for Him and Him alone.

    • Correct. If it’s noticed it’s great. If not at least we enjoyed it.
      I always say that we’re on this world a short time. Try to make a lasting impression with your work or by inspiring others.

      And sometimes we think it isn’t noticed at once. But it could very well be noticed later on. And that can be a good thing or a bad thing. So always be nice ;)

  9. Great advice Frank – hope to see you back in the UK to hold some workshops again soon.

  10. I feel SO much more okay with being a hobbyist now <3 Thank you, Frank. I often find that when I do something I really love, and turn out to be able to do it well, there is pressure to do it for money. People see my work and ask me for rates and business cards and I have to say, "well, I do not have rates and I work full-time for a corporation… do you want that card?" I just want to shoot because I like to shoot. If that turns into a job later, sure, that's okay, but I don't want it to get in the way of how I make art.

  11. Good one, Frank! The reality of being an artist is rarely as glamorous as people think it is. Anytime anyone asks me what I do and I tell them I’m a graphic designer, they get all “Oh wow thats awesome you must have fun all day long” …I usually stare at them then raise an eyebrow…”ah yeah sure its just all rainbows and sunshine” While I do enjoy the work its far from fun all day long.

    Most people have no clue that being the “Creative One” isn’t like turning a faucet on and off. Creatives most certainly have their ups and downs and we’re most certainly not rich and few of us are famous or ever will be. I just try to be as good at my job as I can be. Do justice to the message, story or idea that is on the table. If we were all famous, none of us would be.

  12. Great post, Frank! Thank you!

  13. There is little doubt you have an eye, imagination and skills to make really great images Frank.

    But if I may be so bold to say… as much of a talent as you are behind the lens, you excel and inspire people with the way you teach and speak equally as well if not, better.

    I’ve been exposed to so much by your writing and video classes that I wouldn’t know where to begin. Just the application and use of my light meter alone! Coming from the 80’s and the film days, digital uses, and translates those meter readings in subtle, but important ways.. YOU have shown me that path and working knowledge. To say nothing of the humility in which you carry and apply your messages, and yourself..

    Annewiek and you are a true team and I think I can speak for a majority of people in saying we’re all pretty happy things have gone your way. Thanks to both of you for all the video production, images, and blog work you do for….. free, for all of us. And a big thanks goes out to Scott for having the ‘where-with-all’ and ‘guts’ to put it all on the line and start Kelby.

    It in itself has brought SO much into all of our lives. THANKS SCOTT.

  14. A wonderful and authentic guest blog post! Reading this is like sitting in a coffee shop or living room having a real discussion about life as well as photography. Thank you for putting it so simply and genuinely. I so enjoy watching your work and your book is a terrific. Great assortment of images you posted with the blog…also, I really like the image of you…your happiness in your work shows in your image. All the best!

  15. Frank, excellent post. I admire you and your work very much, and love your tutorials and your method of teaching.

    A note about the “becoming famous” issue. I think many photographers take notice of the likes of some out there that have become famous, and see the kind of money they are making because of their fame. I recently saw a blog entry of one such famous photographer who had sold out a Photography Trip/Workshop in less than 24 hours at 20,000 dollars a pop, and the 20,000 dollars didn’t even include the flights to the destination. With money like that, who wouldn’t want to be famous?

    • Well I know that for that kind of money I would have a problem with the “urge” to full fill that commitment…. with all due respect to the photographer but for that kind of money you better be offering something that no-one else does and that will help ALL participants earn that back.

      We charge for our workshops between 200-400 dollars for a full day in very small groups (max of 8-10) sounds also like a lot of money but I pay all facilities, models, MUA and I have to pay my travel from that. With these kind of prices I think it’s available for everyone and I can give a real value for money.

      Believe me I would love to teach one workshop for 20.000 pop per person, I will will even throw in flights and hotel stays and a diner, but I think I would feel so “guilty” that I would need a LOT of other things to bring balance back to my karma :D Unless of course in this workshop you are shooting a real supermodel…. well even then…… :D

      • Totally agree, Frank. Your workshops are very reasonably priced…enough to make a nice profit for you, yet affordable to most and people know they would get their money’s worth from a workshop from you. :) I would love to attend one of your workshops.

        I guess when said photographer has millions of followers, why NOT ask for 20,000 dollars a pop? All he needs is ten souls out of millions, and he is golden….and he booked enough takers in less than a day (I don’t know how many)… hence the desire of so many to become famous like him…he is the new model for making money in photography taking full advantage of social media and the world wide web. A marketing genius.

  16. Thank you for your excellent and insightful Post Frank, you were right on the money with this one.
    Since I am a hobbiyst (spare time photographer and desciple of the strobist – little pun here), reading about the cost of doing business always is insightfull for me.
    However, this post should also go on “Money Magazine” or any other magazine that potential clients might read – they need to be educated as well as the novice pro shooter.
    And a note on the side: Although I live only half an hour away from Venlo, my dutch really sucks (I was born in the south of Germany), and I would looove to attend a workshop of yours. However, you state on your site that all workshops in the Netherlands will be held in dutch. Mmmh. And the foreign workshops would be a little to far for me to commute.
    Any idea of holding workshops in english somewhere near? (I might not be the only non- dutch- speaking potential workshop client in Germany/ France/ AnywhereOutsideNetherlands)
    Mike

  17. I’m so far behind…… JUST read this today.
    Frank, you’ve been a photography hero of mine since the first day I came across your images, and all this post has done is solidify that for me. Your book is wonderful, this post was fabulous (and so true), and your images continually rock! Very happy for you, and very thankful for all of your valuable tips, instruction, and information!

Leave a Reply

Close