Photography: A Hobby or a Business?


Even with high-end digital cameras and the very best photo editing software packages―some combinations of which can easily eclipse $10,000―just to get started, many aspiring photographers don’t really understand what’s involved with getting a photography business up and running. And for the sake of this article, let’s talk about people providing family photography―pictures of families, children, pets, etc. Commercial photography is an entirely different beast, and not really applicable to the points we’re making.
Because of the magic of technology, and the fact that most people seem to like the idea of making money from taking pictures, we’ve seen a dramatic rise in the number of professional and pseudo-professional family photography services popping up around the country.
In many instances, young stay-at-home moms are looking for ways to fill the creative and professional voids that were created when they left their careers to stay home with the kids. In addition to being drawn to the idea of professional photography, many young moms quickly realize that there are numerous other moms out there who are willing to pay to have someone take pictures of their families. Once this snowball starts rolling, it can pick up momentum pretty fast. The added impact of keeping up with the Joneses also cannot be underestimated and, before you know it, you’re seeing young families paying hundreds and possibly thousands of dollars for a CD containing a few dozen images of their newborn babies and toddlers.
Watching such scenarios unfold, or actually being a paying client of a photographer, can lead one to the conclusion that there is quite a bit of money to be made in photography. And, perhaps more importantly, it seems so easy to do. Take some pictures, clean them up in Photoshop and bam!, there’s a few hundred dollars―possibly much more―coming your way. All of it can be done from the comfort of your own home, presumably in the little bit of free time you can devote to it, and you get all the challenges and rewards of running a small business where you’re the boss and the employee. Good stuff, right?
Actually, it can be good stuff. It’s just that getting from the initial urge to be a photographer to the point where you’re making any significant money from your efforts is likely to take a little longer than you might expect. First and foremost, photographers need to establish a portfolio of their work in order to attract new clients or at least to convince any potential clients that their work is worthy of paying more than what you’d have to pay at Sears, or some other department store, for family photos.
Portfolio building takes time, as does learning the nuances of photo editing and understanding how to make your so-so pictures look near-perfect every time. Once the decision has been made to build a portfolio, many aspiring photographers find a great deal of interest among friends and family to offer themselves as photo subjects―as long as the photographer is working for free. Of course, even portfolio-building clients will pay for any prints that they order, but there is minimal mark-up, if any at all. There will be an inordinate amount of time devoted to working for free for as many people as you can find, in the hopes that they, or the people that see your work for them, might some day call and agree to pay you for your photography services.
If you’re fortunate enough to land a few paying clients, you need to establish your fee schedule, which should be commensurate with your qualifications and equipment. There are vast online photography communities that can help you with this process, as well as offering support for new photographers who are trying to turn their hobbies into businesses. Ultimately, turning a photography hobby into a business is probably best for far fewer people than are currently trying to accomplish that goal. It’s possible, but it’s a labor of love, and it can be more frustrating than rewarding. Sometimes, it’s best to just enjoy the hobby of photography and take pictures for others when you have the time and the desire to do so.

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