Part Time or Full Time Photographer: Consider Your Options

Making the decision to pursue your passion professionally is something that people often think about for many years before they actually make a move. A lot of things have to line up just right-timing, financial circumstances, confidence and the ability to take a big risk.

Some people enter photography full time as the opportunity presents itself, while others “stick a toe in the water” and see if they can start making some money while holding down their 9-5. If you are at the place where you know in your heart you are ready to give it a shot, you want to carefully consider the best approach. Here are some things to consider:

Diving Right In

  • There are very few full time photography jobs out there, and if you do find one, the pay is peanuts and the competition is stiff. If you are going to become a full time photographer, these are two things you’ll need to get to pretty quickly.
  • Most people going into photography full time start their own businesses.
  • Financial support-do you have a partner who can support you financially while you get a new business off the ground?
  • The lead time from starting a photography business to actually having an income can be anywhere from a few months to 12-24 months.
  • Focus needs to be more on the business development than developing your photography skills in the beginning.
  • Early success is definitely possible, but it takes the right combination of incredible raw talent and marketing abilities to get your work in front of someone who can help you with your career (like a photo editor).

Dipping a Toe into the Pool

  • This is the safest way to get started in photography, as you can support yourself with a 9-5 while building up your portfolio and business at your own pace.
  • This is a great way to explore different types of photography
  • You can upgrade equipment as you learn, so the investment isn’t so big in the beginning
  • Easy to start a blog or a smugmug site to showcase your portfolio or sell photos online
  • Develop your photography skills over time while learning about different business models.
  • Expect to put in a lot of weekend and evening hours while you study your craft and study the business of photography.
  • There are more opportunities for paid part time gigs-start with craigslist.org

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{ 4 comments… read them below or add one }

Catherine Pfau April 5, 2013 at 3:21 pm

I am interested in getting your newsletter.

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Susan C. Brundett July 25, 2011 at 2:01 pm

I’ve been photographing weddings for friends and family for the past 9 months. I’m really starting to think about doing this full time. How can I prepare to make a move to full time?

Susan

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Lara White July 25, 2011 at 2:12 pm

Susan,

a few things you’d want to consider:

-the cash flow-how you collect payments will determine your cash flow, and its really important to consider this in your photography business. for example-our payment policy:

1/3 at time of booking
1/3 at 120 days out
1/3 30 days prior

So when you begin booking for the next season-you will only get that initial payment this year. You really need to take this into consideration with both how you structure your photography payments and how your personal finances will be affected. There’s no consistent paychecks in wedding photography. It’s a feast or famine mentality. Fall & winter tend to be minimal payments coming in, while spring and summer is when you collect those final payments from brides.

So before you quit your day job, you want to ensure you have enough money set aside to cover your business expenses as well as living expenses.

I’d consider that you plan out when you go into full time photography very carefully. Once you start to feel like it might be getting closer, I would plan to work your 9-5 up until the start of the wedding season, as the fall and winter are typically the slow season for most photographers, so probably easier to handle more things on your plate. Good luck with your photography business!

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Lara White September 28, 2011 at 9:33 pm

Hi Susan,

I would advise that you think very carefully about the right time to make a move to full time. I would recommend looking for work as a second shooter to gain experience working with other photographers and build up your portfolio. You want to consider what type of services you want to offer-weddings, pets, maternity, etc. and then look at a pricing structure that supports your income needs. For example, let’s say you need to earn $5,000 per month (take home pay) in order to go full time. What does that look like in bookings? Is that going to be 2 weddings per month or 5 weddings per month? What kind of an average booking rate, and how many weddings will you need to make that goal? You also have to factor in costs for equipment, marketing, insurance, brochures, sample albums, wall prints, products, etc. All those costs need to be added in as well.

With weddings, payments are typically made over the course of 6-12 months, so even though you might book 5-10 weddings in your first year, you’ll only see a portion of those payments if the weddings take place the following year. It’s a lot to think about!

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