Some random thoughts on going “pro”

by DaniGirl on February 21, 2011 · 7 comments

in Mothership Photography

I‘ve been really shy about unveiling my Motherhip Photography site, and even more shy about taking on the label of “pro” photographer. I’ve got a huge insecurity complex and am so grateful that if any of you snorted with surprise and derision at the idea of me going pro then at least you had the decency to keep it to yourself. (Yeesh, needy much?)

Some of the things that make me hesitate to assume the mantle of “pro” photographer (see, I can’t even discuss it without the air quotes around the word “pro”) include the fact that I don’t have a huge amount of expensive gear, have very little interest in doing studio work, and don’t have any real plans to drop my day job for a career as a photographer. For those reasons, I don’t think I’ll ever be able to lose the self-conscious shrug and apologetic quotes every time I call myself a “pro”.

Technically, though, since I’ve received commissions and compensation for my work, I suppose I should just get over myself and own the word “pro”. It’s just a word!

The main reason I decided to put up a website and make things more official is simply because I love — really and truly love — photography and the idea of finding reasons to do it more often simply makes my heart soar with excitement. I love the idea of meeting new people and having the honour of capturing the things they value in life, preserving moments in imagery that they will hopefully treasure for years to come. It’s a very romantic notion, I know. It’s a damn good thing I’m not in this for the money!

And so when some casual conversations turned into queries about rates and packages, it seemed like a good idea to get it all out there in the open. But the more I looked into it, the more I realized that there is so much more to a photography business than I ever imagined. Contracts, packages, insurance, overhead, marketing, accounting… yikes! On the weekend I read a really excellent article that talks about the money side of professional wedding and portrait photography. My jaw dropped when I realized that on a $200 session fee, a photographer is really only pocketing $60 after taxes, equipment, overhead and other costs. When you figure there’s an hour or two for a shoot, not to mention travel time, another four to six obsessive hours to select, edit and process images, and who knows how long in meeting with clients, prepping and processing print orders and other tasks, it all breaks down to less than $10 an hour. It was a real eye-opener, and confirmed for me that I really am doing this for love and not money!

I’m lucky enough that I don’t need to do this, I want to do this, and that’s making a huge difference in how I’m valuing myself and my work. I don’t want to be popular, I want to be good. I don’t want to be rich, I want to be happy. And so I’ve decided that if I am going to do this, I will do it right: professional printing and packages, professional rates, professional contracts, professional behaviour, professional expectations, professional results. And I’ll consider the whole thing a huge success if I can book five or ten sessions this year.

In a roundabout way, this venture has reminded me how lucky I am. I’ve always been selective and particular about how I market and monetize the blog, and I’m choosing to approach the photography business in the same way. I’m just so incredibly lucky to have the opportunity to have so many things in my life that make me happy AND give me a few extra dollars for the boys’ future bail college funds on the side.

šŸ˜‰


{ 7 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Amy @ Muddy Boots February 21, 2011 at 12:00 pm

You know, Dani, even after “working” for most of a year -and being pretty darn busy by the time summer rolled around- I still hesitate to use the ‘p’ word. Do I love photography? YES! Do I think I’m pretty decent at what I do? Well… yesssss… *said with that same awkward hesitation*

I know some great photographers who are self-admitted gear heads. Who had more thousands of dollars in awesome equipment than I’ll ever hope (or, frankly, need) to own. And, while flipping through my “portfolio” (ha! there are the quotes again!), asked what I shoot with and were visibly surprised when I told them a d40.

Since then I’ve upgraded to a d90, but I don’t think it’s changed how or what I shoot. I think it’s all about having a good eye, loving what you do and having passion and talent for it.

You have all.

(But, you know, it’s just one more blog/site to keep on top of, eh? I’ve been trying to update my photography blog for the last few nights… I hadn’t posted for 6-7 months! Soooo much work. Must not let things slide again for so long.)

2 Danielle February 21, 2011 at 1:23 pm

“Image quality is not the product of a machine, but of the person who directs the machine, and there are no limits to imagination and expression.” ~ Ansel Adams

I think SO many photographers get wrapped up in getting MORE and BETTER gear, but like the quote above says, its really not the equipment you use that makes a good photographer – its whether or not you know how to use what you have! šŸ˜‰

The thing I most admire about your approach Dani is that you’ve done your research. I am always surprised at how many people go into business and have NO IDEA what it costs to even attempt to run a profitable one. I think most just turn a blind eye and charge what they want to charge in hopes of being busier or more popular. So I think its great that you are wanting to build your business in a way that will not only good for you in the long term, but also good for the industry as a whole. It will take some time and patience to build up your clientele (I’m still doing it!), but eventually you’ll get there and be glad you stuck it out. šŸ™‚

LOL…and the whole “Pro” thing will get easier too. For me, it came with confidence…and lots of practice. Now it just rolls off. You’ll get there! šŸ˜‰

3 Paula February 21, 2011 at 3:20 pm

Your photographic work is exceptional and any time you have the opportunity to do what you absolutely love is a wonderful thing. Making a little bit of extra money while doing so is a bonus. Good luck with your new venture.

4 Coco February 21, 2011 at 5:08 pm

Your love of photography shows in every shot you take. I wish you much success in this endeavour.

5 Kate February 22, 2011 at 5:18 pm

To my mind, photographer is the important word to own, not pro. I define a professional as someone who earns at least 50% of their living from photography. And how you earn your living is becoming increasingly irrelevant.

6 Mary @ Parenthood February 22, 2011 at 8:52 pm

I agree with Kate. Professional photographer makes me think of the sears portrait types. They may get paid for what they do, but the end results are often not art by any stretch of the imagination. Whereas “art” is what I’d call a lot of your work. If I could take pictures in your league, I’d call myself a photographic artist or something.

7 Laura February 23, 2011 at 3:58 pm

Kate’s comment made me laugh. Sears pictures come to mind when I hear the word “professional photos”. Dani you are so talented and your photographs are always beautiful…and unique. The new Mothership website, your talent, research and caring most certainly makes you a professional. I am excited to see where this new venture takes you. Congratulations! šŸ™‚

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