11th May2013

The Most Honest Advice You’re Gonna Get

by Christine
Image: Simon Howden / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image: Simon Howden / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Not sure if ur willing to give me any tips but any suggestions would be great im gonna do some photography on the side to make some extra money and a better camera just starting this up im having trouble deciding prices on pics if u could give me some ideas that would be great
Its something I love to do


Dear Emmy Lou,

May I call you Emmy Lou? I don’t know your name since one wasn’t provided to me, so I’ll just call you Emmy Lou. That’s my cat’s name, but she won’t mind.

So, Emmy Lou, I think you need advice. And the advice I’m going to give you is not the advice you want to receive. But, it’s going to be the most honest advice you’re gonna get.

My advice to you is to forget it. Do not pursue photography as a career, even if it’s part time, on the side or on weekends.

If you want to take lots of pics with your camera and pursue photography as a hobby, that’s wonderful. Go for it and have a great time.

But honestly, Emmy, I don’t think you have what it takes to make money the right way from photography. And I’m certainly not going to encourage you to do it any way but the right way.

First of all, you wrote a professional photographer a letter using bad English, grammar, punctuation and spelling. This alone tells me that you probably weren’t a very good student and your writing and communication skills are probably not very good. It’s okay if you’re not perfect, but when you’re a photographer, you have to know how to write things very well. You have to communicate with your clients in emails and in advertisements, contracts, invoices and anything you post on the web. You can’t do that in the manner you used above.

Being a photographer isn’t just about taking pictures. You have to be a good student at a LOT of different things.

Seriously, there is no way to make money at this business unless you’re good at a lot of other things besides photography. You need to be able to set up a web site and write all of the content. You have to learn how to handle accounting stuff that will drive you crazy. You’ll have to keep track of every penny you spend and every mile you drive in your car. You’ll have to juggle your family schedule around your photography jobs and trust me, you will be working long after the rest of your family has gone to bed. You will have to be scheduler, accountant, driver, web master, advertising rep, marketing person and retoucher. You will have to pay for, and then learn some of the most expensive and difficult software I’ve ever come across. You will have to file legal documents, buy insurance and pay taxes.

Being a photographer is expensive and it takes up a lot of time. Before you go into business you will have to study and practice a lot. You will have to go to classes, and those aren’t cheap. I know there’s stuff on the internet, free webinars & stuff like that. Do not be fooled! You cannot learn to become a great photographer from the internet. Honest. And these days, even the greatest photographers are having trouble making ends meet.

Before you go in business, you will need to spend a lot of money. Don’t be tempted to do photography for people until you have the right equipment. You’ve already admitted you need a better camera, why in the world would you be wanting to set prices on pics at this point? What you need depends on what you are trying to do, but rest assured, you will have to spend thousands and thousands of dollars before you even start worrying about prices.

Before you go into business you will have to be a VERY GOOD photographer. Please don’t be fooled by your friends and family who will tell you very nice things about your photography. Of course they will say nice things. They love you. But for the most part, folks do not have natural talent and it must be developed and honed with lots of work. Please don’t think you’re the exception to the rule. If you were, you would have known it by now, and would have been plucked from mediocrity and placed into the public eye by someone greater than yourself.

Also, don’t be thrilled with the compliments you receive on your photographs of flowers and sunsets. As someone told me recently “Mother Nature’s parents don’t pay very well.” A love of nature photography does not necessarily translate well to earning a living. It also doesn’t mean you’ll be able to take good photographs of people, and people are what you need to know how to photograph well. They are more likely to be your clients than the rare calendar company who buys 12 nice nature photographs a year, you know?

And don’t be fooled by photographers who travel around and tell you how wonderful it is to be a photographer. They have lots of city tours and sell CDs and have a huge fan page on Facebook, right? Stop and think for a minute. If photography is such a great career for them, why are they traveling around like this and selling stuff?

You may have heard the advice to put your best foot forward. I’m sorry, Emmy Lou, but you did not put your best foot forward, and what little you did put forth was not enough to convince me that you are serious enough about photography to give it the time and attention it needs and deserves to become an income source for you.

That was pretty harsh, huh? I’m sorry about that. I just don’t know how else to say it in a manner that isn’t going to give you false hope.

The truth of it is, photography looks really easy, but it isn’t. It’s hard and expensive and unless you are the very best photographer you can be and constantly work hard, you won’t have much of a chance of being successful.

You go right ahead and try to prove me wrong, but I’m going to predict that if you decide to go ahead and go into business, you will start taking photos for money before you’re ready and you’ll sell them for somewhere in the $35-$50 range. You won’t get a business license or pay taxes. You’ll most likely get some clients, it seems like all folks in your situation do, but in the end, after working too hard for too little, you will understand why I’m saying what I am.

So, save yourself a lot of time, money, heartache and headache. Keep it as a hobby. Period. Don’t take money. Ever.

 Christine’s Final Thoughts:

At first, I thought this letter was a joke. And I laughed. And then I got pissed. And then I was just sad.

I think these days we need to be a lot more honest with some of the new folks out there. This is a freaking hard industry to earn a living from. And the waves of folks pinning their hopes on photography as the easy road to fame and riches with minimal effort has got to stop. Stop blowing smoke up people’s asses and start telling the truth. There’s not really a tactful, PC way of telling this truth. That’s not permission to be mean, it’s permission to be honest, with care. Most of the time, you’re probably going to be right, but if you inspire someone to prove you wrong, how bad is that really gonna be?

20 Responses to “The Most Honest Advice You’re Gonna Get”

  • Thank you for this input. I thought I was the only one that felt this way. So the writer of this blog offers work shops, yet she tells this person NOT to go into photography. Christine has won numerous awards IN OHIO!!! I love photography, I love having my camera with me and I love sharing what I see through the lens with everyone. Not everyone sees the same things. I've done family portrait shoots, weddings, senoir portraits and most of all nature and landscapes. I see a lot of people complaining about "how hard" being a photographer is. It's called a job, and if you don't like it then get another job. I make money "on the side" with my camera and I'm damn good at it. I shoot with a Canon EOS 70D just so you know. How do I know I am good at it, because my customers are happy with the final product, and as far as a business goes isn't that the only thing that matters? I would NEVER look to the public for any form of acceptance. If my PAYING customers are happy then that makes me happy. If you could Christine please point me in the direction to where I can see some of your pictures that have been printed…NATIONALLY!! And not on WOOTNESS.NET either. To me your rant sounds like someone who is afraid of competition, someone might come along that is better than you.

  • You’re right. Sometimes what we want to hear and what we need to hear are two different things.

    Emmy Lou is probably pissed right now as well, but more so because you gave her straight advice as opposed to blowing sunshine up her skirt. A lot of new photographers leave the industry pissed off after a couple of years, wishing someone had told them up-front how hard it would be to make this fly.

    And reading the comments here just completely made my day. 😀

  • Keesha Hervey

    Yes, this was harsh. It was also 100% correct. I've seen way to many people invest a great deal of money only to realize they were not cut out for this kind of work.

  • Curtis Cogdill

    WOW, WOW, WOW, what an amazing response. Just kidding what an awful response. You call yourself professional, that was a pretty childish response. You belittled this person's serious question, and then blasted them in a public forum. For a website that is here to help people start a photo business, that was horrible advice to stay out of the business. Way to scare off all potential clients.

    Now back to your response.

    First: Yes, it was a poorly written question. But look again, you know nothing about this person who asked the question. I have a feeling that English is that persons second language (maybe they don't even live in this country. This is the internet it reaches around the world.) Even if English is this person's first language then give them a little credit for asking for help from a website that is for starting a photography business….

    This person asked you one question: Price? Most small business owners are not economists or accountants. They are "doers". They figure it out as they go. I know it took me a few years to really figure out my business. So asking advice on setting a price is not such a horrible question to ask.

    You assume that this person wants to instantly have a highly successful business, where money rains from the sky. This person said some extra money on the side.. this person could be happy with an extra $100 for all we know… I do realize photographers hear this kind of thing a lot, "oh I take great instagram photos, I want to be a photographer." I get it you are bitter and tired of it. But don't take it out on someone who may actually be very good and could have a potential to be very successful with some hard work.

    Really only successful photographers have lots of training. How ignorant are you? I am very happy for you that you got your Doctorate in Photography, it has paid off for you writing some crappy blog. Go tell tell Bill Gates he should have gotten more education. I have seen some very highly educated and well trained photographers fail, and some that are self taught have great success. Great photographers are great because they work hard at it. Sometimes they have the technical training, and sometimes they just have a great eye.
    Fun fact for you. The average net worth of billionaires who dropped out of college, $9.4 billion, is approximately triple that of billionaires with Ph.D.s, $3.2 billion.

    Telling it like it really is… Yes, running your own business (not just a photography business) is hard, you do have to wear many hats. But it is not up to you to judge this person based of there question. Give them real advice. Tell them to get experience by working for free. Find a person to shadow and learn from, get some business classes. Learn these program. Send them to a website that they can get tutorials. Work hard don't give up…

    "Being a photographer is expensive and it takes up a lot of time" No kidding it is called a job.. that's what jobs do, they take up a lot of time.. And it is a business yes it is expensive, that is why they call them expenses… ALL PART OF Business. If this person really wants to pursue a business they will figure them out on their own. Again not your place to judge.

    So I skimmed through some of your other blog post and found this….
    There comes a time, in your photographic career, when you go from the “asker” to the “askee.” Gradually, your skill level increases and your final product improves until you are perceived to be a knowledgeable resource. My advice to you, if you have reached a point where being the "asked" is to much of a bother… get a new job… and well hopefully if you have questions at what ever your new career path is… I hope they give you some good helpful advice.

  • It's not the camera that makes the photographer. Anyone who thinks classes and other study doesn't matter is kidding themselves.

    There is no substitute for a properly exposed image. No amount of Photoshop work can make up for a lousy image to begin with. Lens flare isn't artistic or cool. It's the mark of a rank amateur. And anyone who explains it away by saying that's "their style" is just blowing smoke.

    These rookies don't use strobe lighting indoors or outside on location because they can't. But they won't say that. What they will say is it's not "their style." If they're honest, they should say, "sorry, but I'm just a hack." But you'd have to be smart enough to realize that. They are not.

    Photoshop actions to accentuate poor exposures is like putting lipstick on a pig. I can spot that technique a mile away.

    All of this is the result of what I call the "Wal-Mart" effect. People don't care if it's good. They only want cheap. It's a race to the bottom on price. Take pictures for someone… run some Photoshop actions and charge them $100 for the file and send them on their way. Good posing? What's that? Moreover, who cares?

    You get what you pay for. In the end, classes DO matter. Reading books DOES matter.

    Studying the masters of photography, painting, drawing and the other art meduims DOES matter. Drawing your inspiration from masters is legit. Drawing your inspiration from Pinterest is not. That's just aping other hacks.

    • I personally feel you are making far too many generalizations.

      Shortly after purchasing my first DSLR, I purchased my strobes. All of the other photographers that I followed (online) that worked in the same "genre" of photography as me had basically the same light setup, so obviously I did the same. I read a couple of forum/blog posts about them when I started using them, but that's it. I pretty much would set one up, see how it looked, move it around, switch modifiers, adjust the power…and sometimes I'd try adding the second one in. By doing it this way, I surely wasn't learning about what would be "technically" correct, or the "proper" way of lighting someone, but I was able to find what I liked and what would work best for not only my style (I know, you hate that word), but also for the industry I was working in and what was marketable.

      I eventually started getting impatient and annoyed with worrying about setting stuff up and moving it around on location, so I decided I was just going to start shooting natural light instead and try to make as good of use of it as possible. So I then spent time figuring out the best way (for me) to do so.

      My portfolio right now is completely natural light, except for 3 shots lit with a Speedlite (two on-camera, one off), 1 with strobes, and 1 shot lit with two iPhones and the flashlight app. If you check out my website, I'm sure you'll love my "light" section – lots of flare for you! Oh, and I sell Photoshop actions too, if you're interested.

  • Photography is a difficult business, even for those I know, with incredible talent..
    Taking pictures and making pictures are two totally different activities.. Making pictures is exponentially harder. Capturing an image of a subject in front of an unusual background is quite easy. Understanding and controlling posing, lighting, and composition which flatters the subject against that same background is something else again. (All while conversing intelligently with that subject, no less).
    Someone would have to prove to me that those skills can be learned from the internet or a program speaker.

  • Kevin Newsome

    Very well said Christine. Sadly, the truth is very underrated these days, and to dispense honesty in the PC world is to be labeled a bully. Well, bully for you! I love it.

  • As an owner of a small portrait studio, I can share that this advice is more accurate than someone looking to get into photography wants to hear. It takes marketing, bussiness, people, tax, legal, and other skills well beyond just your photographic skills to succeed. Not impossible, but not the fun romantic occupation some think it is either.

  • This may be harsh, yes, but it's very honest and it's what more people need to do when an excited new SLR-owner comes to them for advice. Good work.

  • Honesty. How refreshing…

  • You had me until you said that an aspiring photographer has to take classes, and that photographers can't learn just from the internet. Aside from my personal practicing and trial & error, I learned everything that I know about photography from the internet – I've never taken a class, gone to a workshop/seminar, or read an actual photography book. I started doing photography full-time just six months after buying my first camera, and that was 5 years ago (at the age of 22).

    I loved everything about the rest of this, though. Totally spot on.

    • Dear Sara, I just read your comments. I was curious, so I looked at your website. Perhaps you should take some classes and read some books.

    • To continue to grow and challenge yourself you will want to take some sort of class, online class or workshop were you can get honest critiques from your peers and not all "it's beautiful". Some of the hardest critiques are the ones that challenge you to think outside of what you do and push you to go farther.

  • well said…an honestly!

  • Truth, Christine. Glad you did this.

  • More young and some older people need to read this. Everyday I see photos on facebook with comments that say they are great but they are just run of the mill photos. They need to study the masters before they cn do their on thing.

  • Good job. Tell 'em again and again.

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