5 Career Ending Mistakes - Photography Business

We all want to thrive in our photography profession.  And most of us are on the right path.  However, I’ve learned a lot over the past 10+ years in business and through one-on-one mentoring, mistakes that are repeated over and over. The top 5 I've decided to share here.   I’ve faced some of them myself and knowing what lies ahead for those new to the business will help you overcome or deter you from making these mistakes too.  So here we go: 

1)   Seeking the approval of other photographers.  You so badly want to acceptance of your peers, that’s completely understandable.  But your focus should be on your art, your business services and the things you are doing to better your business.  Approval, so to speak, from others will come naturally and honestly, it isn't that important, what's important is how we treat and provide for our clients.   I know we all want to be liked but you’ll be liked for the creativity you put into your work.  Don’t worry if you post a photo and you don’t get accolades from those you admire, if you’re happy with your work and your clients are pleased, that’s what’s important. 

2)   You’ve lost your passion.  Why did you start your business?  Because you were loved photography.  Once it becomes a business, don’t lose site of your passion.  When the thirst is gone, the creativity, the desire to create and work more fizzles out.  Keep that feeling alive.  But how?  With the number of clients, blog posts, accounting, website updating, etc., where’s there time to focus on this as a passion?  I struggled for years wondering how keep my creative fires lit.  The one thing I learned is you HAVE to force yourself to photograph for you at least once a month if not more often.  Go for a drive and photograph your favorite landscapes, your favorite busy city scenes, or bring your kids and they can be your subjects.  You need that outlet so carve that time for yourself. 

3)   Being a ‘yes’ person.  You’ve been asked to photograph your friends birthday party, another friend’s graduation and your room mate from college wants you to photograph her wedding – but you don’t even do event photography.  I used to be so afraid to say no.  I didn’t want to let others down and it killed me to say no.  But one year I almost walked away from this business because I didn’t know how to say no.  Now if someone wants me to photograph a graduation, a birth or a party I make it clear I don’t do event photography.  Or if someone wants me to squeeze them in but I’m booked, I’ve learned to say “sorry, I can’t.”  - 99% of the time, they understand.  It’s so hard to turn things down but it’s critical for your sanity, your family and your time.  You can’t make up important family time…but you can make up sessions or photographing someone else at a later date.  I still feel bad saying no but I do it and it’s been a ‘business changer’ for me. 

4)    A difficult client is ruining you.  In this business you’re going to at some point work with a difficult and rather demanding client.  It’s inevitable.  And since this is your own business that you put your heart and soul into, it hurts even worse when a client asks for things above and beyond what you provide or is simply unsatisfied.  I’ve been there and it stings.  Again, out of fear that I couldn’t make everyone happy, I almost left this industry years ago.  But my husband talked me out of it and taught me to have thicker skin when it came to business.   So know that EVERYONE in this industry (and in every industry for that matter) will have a client they can’t please or who wants more.  It’s part of the job…the unfortunate part of having a business and providing a service.  But you’re worth more.  You have clients that love you, you have talent and you have passion.  Don’t give up because of a client who can’t be pleased.

5)   Copycat.   Be original.  If you see work you like and a concept you love spin it your own way. We all admire other artist work and that’s healthy and normal. But it’s painful for the original artist to get bombarded with copycat images.  Even though photographers are plentiful, we’re a fairly close community and we have each other’s backs.  I’ve had numerous personal experiences on exact concepts being used (not a single element was changed – not one!).   Those photographers are no longer in business.  So be original.  Admire concepts you like, but don’t copy them.  Spin them differently and make them your own.  

We’ll all face bumps in the road running our own business, that’s part of growth and learning.  Hopefully some of these ‘mistakes’ seen in our industry will prevent future mistakes for you.  Keep photographing.  Keep creating.  And keep the passion.


‘Why Are Your 4x6’s Twenty-five Dollars?’

This question comes up a lot; most of the time it’s implied and written all over a potential client’s face.  That price seems crazy to those not in the industry.  Why would a click of a camera button and then a 4x6 piece of photo paper cost $25.00?  It's not comprehendible to some people and that’s okay.  If you’re prices look like this or are higher (mine are really not that high compared to many other photographers) I’m sure you get inquires from those who don’t understand the value of professional photography or who are used to seeing prices listed at Walmart, PicturePeople, and other walk-in photo shops.  There’s nothing wrong with any of those places but their target market is NOT your target market.   You’re not a franchise. You don’t operate as a large corporation.  You’re a small, one-person (commonly) operation.  You have to wear every hat in your business and that takes time, money and talent.  

I know some of  you who are photographers are saying '$25 for a 4x6 is giving your services away'.  When coupled with the rest of my pricing, packages, etc. and with my average sales, it's actually not.  So before you judge either way, take into account your market saturation, economy and spending trends in your area.  All of these have to be considered as well.  My hope in posting this is that you'll be confident with your prices as a photographer and if a client or consumer of photography reads this, maybe they'll understand a little more behind the madness of our pricing methodology. :) 

But wow, $25 is still a lot for a 4x6?  How can that even be justified you might think?  Sure it’s art, but it’s a piece of paper and ink.  That’s just ripping clients off. 

This is where so many struggle…pricing.   How are you going to stay in business if you just charged four times the cost to print the image from your lab (a common misconception)?  So if my lab charges $1.25 for a 4x6 print and I charge my client $5 for a 4x6, isn’t that fair?  If you want to stay in business, if you value your art and have proven to have talent then, no it’s not a fair price.  It’s giving your work away and it’s costing you money and time (a lot of it), as well as talent when you charge those prices.  This is how many photographers end up getting burned out and realize they are just loosing money in this industry, so they ultimately leave this profession.

The reality is, this is a job.  There are expenses that many clients don’t realize.

Here’s just one simple scenario of the time and money that goes into photo-shoot start to finish.

So a rough estimate of the amount of time spent on this client is 7-12 hours. 

That’s a lot of time!  Also, I didn’t even take into consideration business expenses.  Many of these are not a ‘one-time purchase’ you have to upgrade and update these often to stay ahead in this ever-changing industry.


So let’s do a quick and dirty calculation – again this is a rough so please bare with me.  My husband said this is where my accounting brain is going to confuse people so hang in there.  I tried to simplify :) 

Say your client wanted a 4x6.  Let’s look at some of the variables that went into making that 4x6. I’m not including shooting time or editing time (both should really be considered when setting your prices).

Let’s say you only want to make $11 per hour.  Note:  that’s ($11x8hr work day)=$88/day x 5 days a week=$440/week x 52 weeks out of the year= $22,880 per year. (that’s nearing poverty level so supporting your family and contributing to your families income is very nominal and nearly impossible at this amount).

So a 4x6 print minus all the correspondence, editing, scouting, shooting and babysitter fees (which really should be taken into consideration when you’re creating your pricing but I’m not in this example for simplicity) takes you:  64 minutes minimum.  So that’s  ($11 (your hourly labor costs)/60 minutes= 18cents a minute)  $.18x 64 min (the time it took you to do peccary work to create that 4x6) = $11.52 

But consider your cost of goods sold  {COGS}.  The PPA recommends that your COGS should be 35% of your revenue for that particular product.  So in order to find out the recommended price based on this, you need to times your COGS by 2.85 (which is 100/35) . 

Your COGS for the 4x6 is $1.25+$11.52 + business expenses allocated but not represented here = $12.77.  Take $12.77 and multiply 2.85 and you get : $36  So a 4x6 print really should be around $36 if I want to make just below poverty level and support my family or contribute to my families income.  And I only charge $25!!  How are you going to stay in business when you’re the poverty level with your earnings?  That doesn’t even touch your business expenses.   NO wonder so many photographers leave the industry! 

And digital files!  I’ll delve into those in a later post but those should be priced higher than your prints.  #crazyright? #itsreal

So next time a client quibbles over your prices, have confidence in knowing where your numbers are coming from.  Not every client is for you and you are not for every client.  Rejection will happen but it’s just steering you into your appropriate target market, so try not to take it personally. 

Obviously there are so many other factors to calculate when determining your prices and I excluded many just for time, clarity and sanity sake. There are numerous pricing guides available on the market.  One can be found here:  ‘The Photographer’s Pricing System: Get paid what you’re worth for portraits and weddings’ written by a dear friend of mine Alicia Caine.   Design Aglow offers a pricing guide that can be found here.  And there are so many others that go deeper into cost and pricing analysis. 

4 Things Nobody Warned Me About Starting My Own Photography Business

When I left my corporate career and began my own photography business I knew it wouldn’t be easy. That was 12 years ago.   Back then; there was a real lack of resources for photographers and small businesses, so I began a little naive except for my business background and major. I was so skeptical from the start because this was fun for me.  Now it was a JOB.  It was real.  I had clients to please, taxes to pay and deadlines to meet.   There were days I wondered if this was the right path for me - moments of doubt and uncertainty.  The 4 things below,  I wish I knew before starting my business.  Would knowing these have changed my mind about delving into this profession?  No way!  But I would’ve been better prepared and had the confidence to know that what I was going through was all very normal.  So maybe this will help you if you’re thinking about entering this industry.  Or if you’ve been in business as a photographer for a while, but have self-doubt, this might make you realize that you’re not alone and your doubts and concerns are all very normal.  

1)   It’s a lonely business -  I know, it sounds weird since many photographers photograph people and if you’re around people, how can it be lonely?  Well, photographing is just a tiny portion of your job as a photographer. When I interact with people during my session, I get into ‘creative mode’ and I’m not interacting in a way that fuels me.  I interact in a way to accomplish what I need to get the shots and the trust of my clients.  I delve into their needs and properly communicating what I need to make it the best session for both of us.  So it’s not necessarily interaction that feeds your social needs.   In fact it’s interaction that drains you because you’re ‘ON’ and in the moment with your clients.  Typically during sessions with busy children I’m on a high with the interaction (I need to be silly, instructive, demonstrative, etc. for my little clients who need to gain my trust) but after the session I’m spent.  It’s rewarding but it’s lonely because it lacks the calm, but deep interaction that sometime we desire and need.  

2)   You will constantly critique and question your work  - Some days you’re content and feel like you have control and understanding of every aspect of your business.  Then there are days you question your work, your business structure, your pricing, etc.  This is all very normal.  Without questioning these things, we can’t advance and better our business.  It’s the constant evaluation and never ending learning that keeps businesses fresh and up to date.  But with that, unfortunately, comes doubt and self-destruction when it comes to our own creative efforts.  And since most of us are a one-man (or one- woman) operation, it’s even harder to convince yourself that you can do it. 

3)   You will run into creative slumps – this will happen.  Don’t fret.  It’s totally normal and part of the creative process.  There are high’s and lows so you just need to be prepared in the event you hit a slump.  I’ll be expanding on this in a later post.  But for now, I urge you not to give up during these slumps.  It’s very easy to just throw in the towel and say ‘I’m tapped out, I’m just not cut out for this’.  But DON’T give up.  There are methods of climbing out and advancing your creative juices.  Every artist falls into these dark moments but I assure you, there are ways to make those moments brief. 

4)   The learning NEVER ends.  Once you think you know most of what you need to succeed and advance in this profession, you soon realize that you have to so much more to learn.  You will never truly ‘master photography’.  It’s constantly changing so you need to constantly be learning and altering your business model according to these rapid changes.  So research and staying connected with the latest trends, equipment, software, client interests, etc. is all on you.  You have to be self-motivated.  You don’t have a boss alerting you to changes in the market place.  You have to stay abreast of these changes and ‘YOU’ have to determine how it affects your art and your business and make the changes necessary. 

I’ve mentored many photographers that have found these to be the biggest shockers when it comes to their art and operating their own business.  They are surprised and relieved when I tell them this is all very normal and expected.  It’s just part of the business, you take the good with the bad.  Photography is a wonderful art and business to be in, but like every businesses, there are challenges that go with it.  You’re not alone if you’ve experienced any or all of these.  I hope this helps some of you.