Have a passion for photography and are thinking of turning it into a full-time profession? That’s an admirable and ambitious goal, and while it sounds exciting, the reality is that running a photography business is very different from pursuing photography as a hobby.
Many photographers learn the hard way when they run into obstacles and many end up failing. I’ve made all of these mistakes myself and I want to save you time, energy, and potentially your business altogether by walking through 5 common mistakes that photographers make when turning their photography hobby into a profession.
Mistake #1: Setting the Wrong Expectations
Yes, photography may be your passion and your work may be top-notch. Your own friends and family may even be asking why you haven’t taken the leap yet. The freedom to create what you want whenever you want is the best part of any creative endeavor… as a hobby.
Once photography becomes your career, you are providing a service, not just art. Your clients have expectations and needs that are on you as the photographer being paid to fulfill. The reality is that you will lose much of the freedom to create as you please. Clients hire based on what they’ve seen you already create and they expect you to replicate your style that you’ve developed and sold them on. Only the highly established names in photography are given complete creative freedom, and even that is rare.
If you enjoy just taking photographs, you may consider keeping it as a hobby. A passion doesn’t always have to become a profession. You can simply take photographs for your own enjoyment, and that’s completely okay.
Mistake #2: Lacking a Focus
You’re all in your photography business but you love so many types of photography. You’re the jack of all trades, taking pictures of everything from weddings and engagements to commercial and street. However, in order to succeed, I highly recommend you focus on and specialize in one genre.
Think about it. The industry is packed with incredibly talented photographers who spend their careers pursuing very specific niches. When you spread yourself across multiple genres, you’re likely not spending enough time to become great at any single one. Clients want the best and to be the best, you’ll want to invest the amount of time to get there. Whether it be wedding, food, fashion, or even cars, become exceptional and outcompete your competition.
Mistake #3: Not Understanding Your Audience
Knowing what your audience and target market wants and values is crucial if you’re going to be selling them your service. Take a Jewish-Orthodox couple for example. Their desired wedding photographs will differ greatly from a young adventure couple who want a wild destination wedding in Bali. The way you approach each couple will need to be completely different.
More broadly speaking, you shouldn’t present editorial fashion if you’re trying to book a couple for engagement photos. In the same way, your commercial car photographs will be irrelevant to a family looking for their portraits. Take the time to understand to a tee what your audience wants and craft your message to be their solution.
Mistake #4: Getting Lost in the Technical
When we fixate on the technical aspects of photography, we tend to lean on it when things go wrong. In addition, we end up trying to sell our services by boasting the technical features of our cameras and work. This is called “feature selling” and examples are showing off our expensive gear or our signature bokeh style. Not to worry though, we’ve all done it.
When we do this, we lose our ability to connect to our clients emotionally. They can’t relate because they don’t see photography the same way we do as photographers. Your clients aren’t there for the highest megapixel camera or your lighting technique. They’re there for something different and that’s our very last topic:
Mistake #5: Not Knowing Your Product
Nowadays, anybody can take a photo, so saying that’s what you’re providing will not be enough. In fact, what you’re selling is your ability to translate your client’s values into a photograph that they can then use.
An advertiser is looking for a way to visually express their brand’s message. Likewise, your wedding clients are looking for their memories captured and hung on the wall to remember. The photograph and your technical abilities are simply the means to get there.
I hope you enjoyed this article and video on the 5 mistakes photographers make when transitioning photography from a hobby to a career. Keeping these mistakes in mind and avoiding them can save you tons of time and energy when building your own business.
I’ve made all of these mistakes myself so rest assured, these are coming purely from experience. Photography as a profession is highly fulfilling but understanding the unique challenges that come with it is crucial for success.
P.S. For a complete course on the business of photography, check out the Photography Business Training System over on SLR Lounge Premium. Here, we dive into every aspect of building a successful business around photography. We’ve followed this model when building Lin & Jirsa into a 7 figure business, and in the course, we spill all the secrets to how you can do the same yourself. Thanks for joining us and we’ll see you next time!
About the author: Pye Jirsa is a wedding photographer based in Southern California and the co-founder of SLR Lounge. The opinions expressed in this article are solely those of the author. You can find more of Jirsa’s work on Instagram.
Image credits: Header photo licensed from Depositphotos