Will shoot for money!
July 3, 2008 11:52 AM   Subscribe

Tips for finding well-paying photography gigs?

I started photography as a hobby in 2002. I've been taking a lot of pictures with my point-and-shoot digital and film SLR camera. I got a digital SLR last May. Since then, I've been taking tons of pictures, sometimes over a 100 a day. My confidence has been increasing, and I'm now interested in taking some paid photo gigs.

The problem is that I don't even know how to start. What kind of businesses should I contact? What kind of individuals should I contact? How? Email? Phone? Craigslist? Word of mouth?
posted by sixcolors to Work & Money (12 answers total) 23 users marked this as a favorite
This book is a good place to start.
posted by occidental at 11:57 AM on July 3, 2008

Interesting coincidence...I just finished listening to this TWIP podcast on selling and publishing photos.
posted by jaimev at 11:59 AM on July 3, 2008

As an unknown with no professional experience, I would think word of mouth among your network is your best first target. Somebody that knows you, or trusts somebody that knows you, is most likely to give you your first paying gig. You might also look into doing a couple of pro bono shoots for worthy organizations to help build your portfolio. I assume you have a web site with your portfolio and contact info? If you have pictures from a wedding or something that are worthy use them to start your portfolio. The fact that you took them on your own and nobody paid you isn't particularly relevant.

You also probably want to think about where you want to specialize. Digital cameras have turned everybody into a wanna be pro, so being a generalist is going to make your life more difficult IMO. Focus on what you like to shoot, or what you are good at, and start networking for opportunities.
posted by COD at 12:12 PM on July 3, 2008

Response by poster: Lets narrow the scope a little bit.

I have the most interest in doing photo services for local small businesses. What kind of small businesses have a demand for photographers?

I'm also interested in shooting portrait photography.
posted by sixcolors at 12:15 PM on July 3, 2008

Oh, boy, do I have a business idea for you. Ally yourself with small business web developers / web designers. Often, these guys _need_ decent photos, and they never seem to have them. If you can prepare a price list that will help the businesses know what to expect -- so that they can budget based on what they do know -- you'll be golden.

Also, a lot of artists need professional-quality photos of their work, whether for their own web sites or online galleries.
posted by amtho at 12:36 PM on July 3, 2008

Try local ad agencies. I work at a midsize agency, and we spend (although some of our graphic designers would prefer "waste") a fair bit of time doing in-house product shots to get just the right angle of a package, or to get the right bundle of products for a company that offers too many to fit in a shot, or for aesthetic reasons, or for a particular special. I'm reasonably certain that if there was a local photog with lots of talent that we could call on to handle these things, we'd be happy to hire him/her: it wouldn't pay tons, but not peanuts, either.

We outsource to professional photographers for anything involving models or bigger than can fit in our closet "studio," but these are serious professionals, with 100 GB cameras and lights that cost more than my house.

Also try local papers: not major dailies, but borough-based or small-town weeklies. They can give you a lot of high-volume last-minute work, which can add up, and will also give you a rep and a portfolio. In fact, the local photographer our agency uses whenever possible started out as a freelance shutterbug for the local paper and worked his way into a very successful business by running his own studio and doing exemplary work on the side... often, the subjects of his photos for the paper would contact him later for contract work.

That's the encouraging part. The discouraging part is that as somebody that works with professional photographers, they're generally people that have spent decades honing their craft. They have studios, dedicated workspaces, specialized lighting equipment. They have invested in years of professional education and literally hundreds of thousands of dollars in gear. Which is not to say that you need all these things to be a professional photographer, but the gulf in people's minds between "professional photographer" and "very, very talented person" might be wider than you think.

Apprenticing for a good local photographer might be of use -- it's not as glamourous as being The Photographer, but it'll let you see how successful photographers set up a studio and run a business.
posted by Shepherd at 12:45 PM on July 3, 2008

Hoo boy. I AM a professional photographer, and I ask myself this question all the time.

Determine how serious you are. Do you REALLY want to be a pro photographer, or do you just want to play around with it? You MUST decide your level of commitment, because it takes a lot of it. Unless you are lucky (and luck has something to do with it), you will be working your ass off if you want what could be considered a well-paying gig. The photogs I know with well-paying gigs have been working their asses off for 30 years to get those gigs. Say hello to your competition.

Many many many businesses are cutting back on the use of professionals, small and large businesses alike. Many would rather do it themselves to save money, and many get their photos for free on sites like Flickr. It's hurting the business. Say hello to the other side of your competition.

To put a fine point on it, businesses want photos, they just want them for free/cheap. You have to work hard to convince them to pay you.

If you want to shoot freelance for a newspaper, large or small, get in line. Not only do most papers have a long list of freelancers to call, most are cutting back on such expenses. Again, you might get lucky, but make sure you consider the reality, and don't count on it for too much, and certainly don't count on it to be well-paying (I think our freelancers get about $80 per photo, and they don't get mileage reimbursement.)

Shoot a lot. Way more than 100 a day. You have to get to be very, very good. That involves shooting a lot more than you already do. There are no shortcuts.

Practice shooting portraits, if that's what you want to do. Most people who say they're photographers love shooting flowers and puppies, but you have to get used to shooting a stranger, someone who reacts to you, someone you have to make happy.

Do a google search for portrait photographers in your area. Find the website of one who has a style you'd like. Call and ask them to look at your portfolio (you do have a portfolio, right?) Be prepared for a harsh critique.

Read this book.

Read this book.

Read this book.

But nothing in that book will matter if you aren't a good photographer. Get to that place first.
posted by girlmightlive at 1:19 PM on July 3, 2008 [5 favorites]

I've been a professional photographer for over 30 years, and my first reaction to your question was "Let me know when you find out!"

It's never been easy to make a living in this field, and the profound changes that digital photography has brought, while really neat, have made it far harder to survive from a business perspective.

Despite my years of experience and my studio and SUV full of high end equipment, 99 per cent of the reason I'm still around is because I sell peace of mind. When a potential client is deciding whether to use me or to go with someone relatively untested, I'm going to get that job almost every time.

So, as you formulate your plan to make money in photography, realize that no matter where or what your market is, there'll be somebody out there like me with whom you'll be competing for clients.

A lot of newcomers fail to realize this, and I'm not saying it's right or wrong, but that's the way it is.

Good luck to you!
posted by imjustsaying at 12:29 AM on July 4, 2008

A couple of additional considerations, while I think of them...

Let's assume you're a talented photographer and shoot great pictures.

Especially if you want to concentrate on work for local small businesses, is your ability such that:

...you can shoot great pictures under insanely tight deadlines?

...you can shoot great pictures within considerable time constraints?

...you can shoot great pictures in inadequate space or otherwise lousy working conditions?

...you can shoot great pictures while two or three or four other people who are shoulder to shoulder with you all telling you how to do it?

...you can shoot a great picture of a CEO, company president, or other individual who doesn't want his or her photo taken?

...you can shoot great pictures which meet specific requirements for a design layout (making provisions for copy or other insets to be dropped into or over specific areas of the images, etc.)?

...you can shoot great pictures of a product prototype and have sufficient retouching skills or other resources to make the scratched up, dented, and otherwise nasty looking item look pristine?

...you can shoot great pictures when a critical piece of your gear stops working mid-shoot? In other words, do you have sufficient backup equipment with you and ready to put into service immediately?

I don't put these out there to be negative at all. They're just realities and I confront at least one of them on practically every shoot I do.
posted by imjustsaying at 1:02 AM on July 4, 2008 [2 favorites]

Very good advice above.

One thing not mentioned is stock photography. Try putting your photos on sites like Alamy and Photoshelter. There's no guarantee you'll make any money, but you can't make anything if your photos aren't up there.
posted by Magnakai at 1:32 AM on July 4, 2008

In depth discussion at Ars Technica on the same subject.
posted by Brian Puccio at 6:15 AM on July 4, 2008

honestly word of mouth is your best bet. If you put out quality work, the business will come to you.
posted by Evroccck at 1:53 PM on September 22, 2008

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