Startup Costs: $2,000 - $10,000
Home Based: Can be operated from home.
Franchises Available? Yes
Online Operation? Yes
There are a number of reasons why the internet has breathed new life into the photography industry. Email has made it a snap to send pictures to publishers, editors, copywriters, marketers and designers around the globe in a matter of seconds. Second, billions of images are needed to fill the now more than four billion (and climbing) web pages, never mind the millions of print publications, media companies, retailers, marketers, organizations, government agencies and others who need new visual content every day. There’s simply never been a better time to monetize this skill.
Ask the Expert: Margaret Pattillo, Owner of Margaret Pattillo Photography
What is the first step to getting started in the photography industry?
It really is to simply start taking photographs! Learn how to use a DSLR camera in manual mode. Evaluate the way light hits objects and explore composition techniques. This art form is a competitive field, and a low-paying one when first starting out, so you must really love it. They say your first 10,000 photographs will be your worst, and I found this to be true, but those shots will fuel learning of the fundamentals.
If you want to continue, the next step would be to go find an established photographer who you can assist, and with whom you can develop a mentor/mentee relationship. You won’t be the one taking the photos yet, but you’ll learn what it’s like to be on set and what it takes to execute a shoot, which is invaluable expertise you cannot acquire just by reading.
Is the industry growing?
It certainly is, especially with the rise of social media. Content generation is at the forefront, and new types of content and its millions of creators have opened opportunity floodgates for more and unique photographers.
What are the current trends in photography and what type of person is a great fit to try this?
One trend is that film is resurfacing, which makes it easier to break into the field. With the revival of this older technology, focus is more than ever on the talent operating the camera, not the camera itself. You can take a stunning image with a $20 camera and a horrible one with a $5,000 camera. Natural imagery with limited editing is also trending. People are tired of the overly retouched flawless people they are accustomed to seeing in advertising; they want to see real people in campaigns now.
A sociable person with an insatiable drive, a creative touch and a love for photography, of course, would be ideal. I’ll stress again the need to adore the craft, because this is an art, and your love (or not) will show through the images. Bear in mind that those who operate their own businesses in this field are responsible for acquiring clients, for operating expenses, branding, marketing, and everything else involved with operations.
How much money can a person expect to make in the first year and in five years?
I would say, unfortunately, don’t expect to make much at all in the first year. You have no experience and probably have yet to develop a style, and there will always be people out there who will work cheap, or even free, just for the experience. As you gain expertise and confidence, benefits you’ll find from being featured in reputable publications exist more in branding and marketing rather than in the immediately financial, as the pay range is usually in the hundreds.
In five years, you will find that individuals and small businesses will pay a few hundred dollars, while big brands typically pay a few thousand, and eventually you will find ones that will pay tens of thousands of dollars for a seasoned and established professional. The time and experience it takes to land high-paying jobs are why you need to truly love this profession, because you will not be an overnight success. You may not even find true success within a few years. This is a long, arduous and rewarding endeavor that yes, can eventually take you around the world and give you the freedom to do what you love day to day, but patience and perseverance are key.
In terms of revenue streams, you can also contract with publishers, or post your photos on any one of the many stock photography services online, where people can browse the selection and purchase the images they need. You are paid a one-time fee, or a royalty each time the image is downloaded, depending on your agreement with the image broker.
What kind of experience/training do you need?
You don’t need any formal training. The internet puts everything you need to know — from taking a photo to retouching — at your fingertips, but you will need experience, since any jobs you procure are based on your portfolio of work.
What do you wish you’d known when you were starting out?
I think the most important thing to know is that success depends first on who you know; your level of talent is actually secondary in the beginning.
Who are your customers?
My clients range from small businesses to international publishers, celebrities to world- renowned brands. Most new clientele comes from word-of-mouth and social media.
Are there any resources you recommend that were extremely valuable in getting your business off the ground?
I would encourage diving into social media. YouTube and TikTok are great for learning new tricks and techniques with both photography and retouching, Instagram is wonderful to connect with new people in your area, perhaps a model or an editor, and Facebook is also a great resource to find photography- or model-centric groups of people who are willing to collaborate with you to help elevate everyone’s portfolio.