12 business tips every photographer should know

With more people than ever viewing freelancing as a long-term career path, we ask the experts how they combine creative skills and business expertise to cultivate a successful photography practice.

A few weeks ago, the Houston-based commercial/advertising photographer Nathan Lindstrom gave some advice to an assistant who was thinking about shooting full-time. The way he saw it, there were two ways to enter the industry: you can work on staff for someone else, or you can shoot freelance and work for yourself. To do the first one, you need to be a great photographer. To do the second, you need to be a great photographer and a fantastic business person.

Image by Nathan Lindstrom

“To run a successful freelance business or studio, you are going to be the marketing department, the sales department, the accounting department, the legal department, the customer service department, HR, and IT,” Nathan tells us. “After all that, then you get to be the photographer. For a minute. Then you have to go back to running the business.”

While some genres require more business acumen than others, Nathan’s experience isn’t unusual. According to a 2019-2020 survey from the UK company Your Wedding Photographer, the average professional in that industry spends just 4% of their time taking photos; the rest is allocated to editing, culling, business and admin duties, and communication.

In 2020, with more people than ever viewing freelancing as a long-term career path, we took the opportunity to ask the experts about how they navigate a challenging market and combine their creative skills and business expertise to foster a successful photography practice. Read on for their best tips.

Image by Sarah Lim 1. Charge what you’re worth

“Know what you’re worth, and don’t be afraid to ask for it,” the Texas-based photographer Sarah Lim urges. “Educate yourself about industry pricing so that you’ll be confident enough to hear ‘no’ when a client cannot or will not pay you a fair rate. It’s a tough industry, and hearing ‘no’ can be hard. But your time and unique talents are valuable assets, so take that into consideration when creating bids.

“Don’t be afraid to openly discuss bids and pricing among others within the community. It’s how we hold the industry, the clients, and ourselves accountable to ensure the viability of the profession. And it’s especially important for helping to close the wage gap for women and persons of colour.

“Most importantly, advocate for yourself. Educate your clients. Because at the end of the day, no matter how much you love your job, it’s a job. You’ve got to eat, and talent alone doesn’t pay the bills.”

2. Find a mentor

“My most important business tip is to get as much experience as you can,” the wedding photographer Rebecca Yale says. “Learn from other photographers. Assisting, second-shooting, interning, or taking part in educational workshops or mentoring programs is an essential part of being a successful business because there are so many things that you don’t know you don’t know, and by the time you realise you should have known, it’s too late! Finding a mentor is the best investment you can make as you grow your business because you get to learn from their experience. It was invaluable to me when I was starting.”

Image by Rebecca Yale

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