My 5 Rules of Life as a Professional Photographer

As someone who makes 100% of his income from photography, I understand how precarious and perhaps unstable this profession can be. Spending thousands of dollars on gear is easier than ever, and with such a low entry point, everyone wants to be a photographer. It’s not easy, and here are some rules I’ve come up with to stay in the industry.

cut down the costs

This is a great business tip in general. Since your income is not stable as a photographer, you can easily have periods of not making money. At the same time, there is an ongoing obligation to spend. Such payments can include subscriptions, rent, marketing costs, etc. The worst thing for most creators is the number of subscriptions you have to sign up for. While I understand the business decision to turn software into a subscription service, it simply doesn’t do justice to smaller creators who may not even have the budget. For example, I can’t use Photoshop without the budget for it. The same applies to Capture One and virtually any other software. Honestly, the subscription model is a plague that does nothing for users but make them pay a ridiculous amount of money if they need the software. Another thing that I cut down on is heating as well as utilities. There’s no reason for the studio to heat up when I’m not shooting there. The same goes for subscriptions like Netflix, HBO, etc. I really didn’t have time to watch movies in the first place and when I did, it was with friends who had a subscription. The fewer subscriptions, the better. The less the cost, the better.

Help people up the ladder

One of the best and worst things about working in such an easy-to-enter industry is the number of newcomers. Everyone wants to try this fun and seemingly easy job. Besides the fact that it’s not as easy and fun, you should still encourage people to give it a try. Don’t be one of those super-protective creators who don’t share the setup they’ve used or which ideas work better. I don’t have any secrets about my technique. Anyone can message me and ask a photography related question and will definitely get a full answer. I don’t have a secret setting or secret sauce. As someone who paid a lot of money to rent a studio when I first started, I now offer my space to aspiring creators for free.

I was really fortunate to have worked with a world-class retoucher not too long ago. He has given me more than anyone, I have learned more than I ever could have understood from this person and I will forever be grateful for the opportunity to start my career.

The more you help, the more help you will get.

The cost of running a business is not an excuse to be reckless with money

It may be an obvious one, but I still see a lot of photographers spend thousands of dollars on equipment they don’t really need and justify it as a business expense. I mean, sure, buying two identical bodies that can do 99% of the work is a price. But replacing perfectly good cameras with something better because the camera marketing team told you so is not an expense, but an unnecessary expense. This is why the best camera is the one you have, not the one in the store. After testing different cameras, I came to the conclusion that the photographer is really the photographer and not the camera. The lesson learned is that taking risks with money cannot be justified. The only time cost of running a business is justification when you can’t get your job done without it. For example, I bought a background support system, because without it I couldn’t use my scrolls. However, I didn’t buy a set of auto poles, super clamps and other things to do the same job. The bare minimum is usually enough. However, I won’t skimp on the quality of what I’m getting. While I own Profoto, I own the appropriate bare minimum in their lineup, not the flagship lights. Most of it is bought used anyway.

Be true to yourself, refuse if necessary

Almost everything is for sale if the price is right. There are two types of projects that I do: money projects and passion projects. A dairy project is something I’m not proud of, don’t want to sign on, and in general, would rather forget about it. The driving force for doing these projects is money, nothing else. But, you must be able to sell yourself for a high value. If the quantity is not good enough, just refuse. There are other times when no amount of money can get you to take on a project. You must be able to say no to such jobs without hesitation. The more you can be true to yourself, the better. I wish I had turned down more projects.

Remember why you started this

It’s easy to get caught up in a petty play. In fact, there’s always some drama between someone you know. It’s inevitable, especially if it’s fashion or any other industry where people work together more. There have been countless times when I felt like giving up, just doing what people my age do and following the simpler, more traditional corporate path. Because really, I’m alone. I don’t have a creative family for me to work with, quite the opposite in fact. If I don’t believe in myself, who else will? The reason I take pictures is not to have petty arguments or worry about who hates who. I took the photo because it felt right. Trust me, when you feel like giving up, the most learned happens.

Bonus Rule: Don’t Buy Coffee at Starbucks

This may seem like a stupid business rule to include, but you’d be surprised how expensive it is to get a flat white shirt every day for a month. Starbucks coffee is not only garbage but also expensive. Owning a coffee machine and making your own coffee is a lot cheaper and wiser (and more satisfying). The marking, even on espresso, is ridiculous. Sure, cafes have become hubs for freelancers, but again, there’s nothing romantic about being a freelancer in an all-white coffee shop. If anything, it’s distracting and counterproductive. Instead, have an office or at least a quiet and conducive space for work.

Stop thinking

So here are some rules that I apply in my photography business. Condensed in one sentence, it sounds like this: don’t spend money foolishly, be nice to people and be good to yourself. Sure, that’s oversimplified, but it’s the essence.

What are some rules that you use in your photography? Let us know in the comments section!


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