Some interesting coffee discussions with associates have occurred lately. In no particular order here are 10 professional photographer myths that surfaced over a few cups of java.
NOTE: Click on images to enlarge. Photographs have been added to act as visual breaks.
Myth #1: Professional photographers own the latest, high-end camera gear.
While some pros may have recently made investments in new, high end gear, the majority use equipment that is far from being current. For example, the professional wedding photographer that my daughter hired for her wedding did a superb job. She brought three camera bodies with her. Two Canon full-frame cameras… one about 3 years old. The other one about 5. Her third camera was a Nikon D300 that was likely 10 years old or more at that time. Professional photographers view their camera equipment as depreciating business assets. The purpose of owning it is to generate revenue and profit. They use what makes them profitable. They don’t waste money by changing gear frequently… or buying gear that they don’t really need.
Myth #2: Professional photography is a growing career choice.
No doubt there are exponentially more people trying to make money with photography. When I did a search on Google for ‘photography services’ I got 7,060,000,000 results in 0.56 seconds. Yeah… that’s right… 7.06 BILLION results. Then I narrowed my search to just wedding photography services and found 464 MILLION results were generated in 0.35 seconds. Pure logic tells us that with so many people chasing the ‘professional photography rainbow’ very few of them are actually making any decent money with photography. On a purely anecdotal basis, I’m aware of a lot more professional photographers leaving the business than new people joining it. After most ‘pro wannabees’ do a few inexpensive projects for friends and associates their pipeline dries up. That’s when the hard reality of being a professional photographer stares them in the face. If you can’t sell, you won’t eat. That’s not a myth.
Myth #3: All you need is a great website to display your work to market yourself as a professional photographer.
Look at the Google search stats in Myth #2. It is doubtful that anyone will even find your website, let alone hire you because of it. That’s not to say that a good website isn’t helpful. It can be… but usually as a place to showcase your work to a prospective client after the initial marketing contact has been made. Although it is a subset of Myth #3, I could have added the belief many folks have that it is easy to get business, to our list of professional photographer myths.
Myth #4: Professional photographers set their own schedule.
They do if they don’t want to make much money. Otherwise, they most often work to the schedule required by their clients. That could mean lots of evenings and weekends, especially for wedding photographers. Doing the on-site work is only the start of the process. After that there are many hours in the office/studio working to finish a project to meet a client deadline. The reality can be long 16 to 20 hour days to meet deadlines, not the perceived time freedom contained in this professional photographer myth.
Myth #5: Professional photographers are generalists and can handle any assignment.
Most successful professional photographers have a primary focus that took years for them to learn. It forms their bread and butter business. They may take some assignments outside of that expertise from time to time, but only if their gear is suitable and they are totally confident that they can handle the work. A professional photographer is only as good as their last assignment. Many pros would not risk their reputation taking work that they are not confident that they can handle to a high professional standard.
Myth #6: Clients expect professional photographers to have big, expensive camera gear.
To some degree that was the case 15 or 20 years ago… not so much now. Clients are more focused on the end result that is produced. As long as the images or video meets their needs, most clients couldn’t care less what gear was used to create it. If you are planning to buy some ‘big expensive gear’ so you can look the part… it’s best to save your money.
Myth #7: Being a professional photographer is glamorous.
Tell that to the folks who toil behind cameras taking Little League team photographs. Or school pictures. Or an endless stream of product shots for a catalogue. Or the professional wedding photographers who have to deal with ‘bridezillas’ day in and day out. Sure, professional photographers do have to travel from time to time when on assignment. This certainly is no holiday. They face the added pressure of delivering the work the client wants… with no chance of a ‘do over’ if the shoot doesn’t go well. If the photographer screws up… any ‘do over’ costs are often at their expense. Lawsuits are not uncommon when a special event like a wedding is messed up.
Myth #8: If you love photography, you’ll make a great professional photographer.
Being a professional photographer has little to do with following your own creative passions with photography. It is all about creating images for your client that meets their specific needs. In some ways creating images for clients is the easiest part of being a professional photographer. The hard part is continually finding new clients and project opportunities, and looking after the nuts and bolts of the business. Keeping project time logs. Sending out invoices. Collecting money owed. Making sure government tax filings are current. Keeping your equipment properly maintained and serviceable. Professional photography is often more about running the business than doing the assignments.
Myth #9: People love my social media postings, so I have the talent to be a professional photographer.
The number of ‘likes’ your photographs generate are meaningless. They may make you feel good, but that doesn’t pay the bills or indicate you could be a successful professional photographer. Your talent is only of commercial value when someone is willing to pay you for your work. What you enjoy photographing on a personal basis may have nothing to do with what clients may be willing to purchase. Unless you can demonstrate your skill with specific subject matter that is of interest to a prospective client, it will be a challenge to sell yourself and get some paid work.
Myth #10: Professional photographers make a lot of money.
Some do, many don’t. The market is glutted with people trying to make a buck with their cameras. Far too often it results in a ‘race to the bottom’ in terms of the rates that are charged. Much of the photography market has been commoditized. The professional photographers who make very good money are the ones that have an incredible level of expertise in their specific niche… and have some business acumen. Their clients are willing to pay for that expertise because they are confident that they will get the quality images/videos they need. Every time, and on time, from that pro. And, the pro is knowledgeable enough to understand the value of their work. That combination can create sufficient income for a comfortable lifestyle. Stratospheric incomes are enjoyed by a very select few.
So, there you have it… 10 professional photographer myths. At least the ones that coffee chats recently helped identify. If you have any additional ones to share, feel free to comment!
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