A couple of weeks ago, I was having a conversation with one of my photographer friends/mentors. He’s been in the business for a long time and I respect his opinion. He’s very passionate about photography and photography education. We were talking about how tough our chosen industry is and he said to me, “I’d rather go out of business doing no work at all, then go out of business working my tail off.” The comment made me pause for a moment, but then I had to agree with him.
The truth is, I’m frustrated. I’m frustrated with the lack of business sense I see in the people who are becoming professional photographers. With a lot of them getting into the business, because they think it’s a “glamorous” profession. After all, you get to spend all your time photographing, right? Wrong. Running a photography business, is the same as running any small business, you have expenses. In order to be able to make a decent living, you need to charge for your talents.
I recently saw an ad for someone charging $25 for a 15 minute themed mini session. This session included a location with props and 4-5 retouched images. At the outset, this looks like a pretty good income. Let’s say you did 15 sessions in one day, $375 for 3.75 hours of work = $100/hour! Eric and I got to talking about this type of business model and started to break it down a little more. Here’s what we found:
We based the following numbers on a yearly income of $40,000.
In one month, this is what you would need to do:
Photograph 134 sessions. That’s 9 days with 15 sessions each. If you did these sessions back to back that’s 3.75 hours a day.
Retouch 670 images. If you average 15 minutes per image, that’s 167.5 hours or 21 – 8 hour days.
This works out to an average work week of just over 50 hours and you’re making $16.52 per hour. Not bad, right?
Well, let’s break it down even further. Since you’re also running a business, you have several expenses to consider.
*Income Taxes – $300/month
*Utilities (phone, Internet, heat, electricity, etc.) – $200/month
*Education – $50/month
*Equipment purchases or repairs – $100/month
*Software Upgrades – $65/month
*Website Costs – $10/month
*Advertising/Marketing costs – $75/month
*Gas/Vehicle expenses – $150/month
Total – $950/ month (and I’m low balling a bunch of these numbers!). If you deduct that from your monthly income of $3333/month, that brings you down to $2383/month or $11.81/hour… and you’re working 201.75 hours per month. If you ask me, this a far cry from $93.75/hour!
This income also doesn’t take into account the time that you need to spend networking and marketing your business. This can be anything from attending networking meetings, to promoting yourself on social media sites such as Facebook or Twitter. Let’s assume this takes an hour of your time per day, so you need to add another 30 hours to the hours you put in a month.
Then there’s the time spent responding to emails and phone calls from your clients. Add another 60 hours per month.
You also have your setup and take down time, each of the days that you’re photographing. So add another 9 hours to your monthly total.
You’re now up to working 300.75 hours a month or 75.19 hours per week and your hourly rate has just dropped to $7.92. If you want to cram this work week into just 5 days, so that you have two days to spend with your friends and family… you’ll be working 15 hour days! Don’t get me wrong, I’m happy to work long hours to meet deadlines and often do, but to work 15 hour days, 5 days a week for an extended period of time, would leave me with very little energy on the 2 days off I’ve allotted, never mind being able to take some down time to recharge the creative battery!
If you’ve read this far, you may be wondering what is the point of this rant. The point is, as artists, we need to value our talent and not give it away. We need to see that we’re not competing against each other for business, but we’re competing against a new TV, a trip to Disney Land or new clothes. Every person who comes to you for a price inquiry, is making a decision on what to do or not to do with their disposable income. If we don’t put value on what we’re able to create for someone, no one will.
To me, the scariest thing about this particular photography business model, is that you’re not taking business away from the more expensive photography studios, you’re taking business away from places like Walmart and Sears. Who announced in April, that they’ve closed their doors. They simply couldn’t compete.
My words of wisdom for the new professional photographers that are entering the business. Take a business class. Yes, your photography skills are important but being able to survive in this industry for more than a year or two, without burning yourself out, means that you need to understand the numbers! You need to understand how to make money doing something you love to do. You need to understand that what we do, has incredible value.
Happy Wednesday 🙂