Pro photography – pick your areas of work with care

Why not being a photographic  ‘Jack of All Trades’ is a good thing…

Some time ago, when I was planning how Northlight images was going to work as a business  I looked at what it was that I wanted to do, to create a profitable business.

Important amongst those considerations were also the sorts of work I didn’t want to cover.

bird in tree

I may be a professional photographer, I may like taking pictures in my garden, that does NOT make me a professional nature photographer…

Four immediate reasons stood out:

  1. There’s no money in it – remember that the success of your business is about making a profit
  2. I don’t have the skills – consider learning them
  3. I don’t have the equipment – are you sure, or is this just an excuse to buy more kit. Reconsider with attention to 1 and 2
  4. I have no real interest in the subject – if the subject doesn’t at least strike up a bit of my photographic curiosity, then am I going to give my best?

Number (1) ruled out what was a big interest of mine at the time, landscape photography – it could be (and is) an important part of building up my reputation and technical skills (printing for example), but the number of people making a good living are few and far between. [Note that I’m in the UK – markets vary by location. See my articles ‘Will it sell‘ and ‘Will they sell‘]

Number (4) ruled out wedding photography – sorry, but I just have no interest in capturing people’s ‘special day’ yet alone the hoards along for the free drink. Be honest with yourself during this ‘pre-business’ planning. I know how special it is for people (I got married myself for the first time on my 50th birthday) – if you’re going to do this sort of work well, then you owe it to the clients to be enthusiastic.

I also ruled out portrait work, since although I don’t have a studio (3), dealing with the public doesn’t interest me (4).

Commercial and industrial work would benefit from my previous engineering and business management experience. It’s profitable and I had (or could easily get) the relevant equipment and skills.

This set a key direction for my planned business.

One area that I initially targeted was editorial/PR work for companies. Whilst this continues to this day, it’s been overtaken by more technical areas as my experience and expertise (and equipment) levels have risen.

Looking at reasons for the relative decline of editorial work, I note that it doesn’t pay well (1) as more people do their own photography, and taking shots of people handing over giant cheques just feels a bit too much like weddings (4) …

Over the years I’ve expanded our photography into more technical areas, as I realised that:

  1. There are a lot of competent photographers out there (see ‘Too many photographers? – expanding your market’)
  2. A lot of photographers don’t have a deep technical understanding of the subject
  3. I’m rather good at it [Get over those feelings that your work is just ‘OK’ – if someone says your work is good, take it on board]

Our product photography work has moved more to location based work (big stuff) and I’ve expanded our product photography training, so that I’m now much more likely to be teaching people how to do their own product photography than be doing much of the traditional studio pack shot work.

Considerations like those above should be part of your regular business planning. These are hard times, but fortune will favour those with the right business skills.

Remember that professional photography is at least 80% business, 20% photography – if you want it the other way round then you’re unlikely to have a long term profitable business.

This article is one of my series of short articles relating to The Business of Photography – I hope you found your self asking some questions about your own business (current or future) – the important thing is to give honest answers and act on them…

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  • http://www.ConnieAndersonPhotography.com Connie Anderson

    Thanks for those thoughts. Well put together and useful!

  • Michael Robbins

    Another good article on the business side of photography. The rest of the website is also very impressive (you are aware of course that you are giving away hard earned advice to prospective competitors) However, please keep up the excellent writing, it has made a impact on me. I would certainly attend one of your courses if I lived in the UK, alas, I only visit periodically.

    • http://www.northlight-images.co.uk Keith

      Thanks, glad you enjoyed it – I take the attitude that I benefit more in the long term from sharing info than holding on to it ;-)