The following is catered towards wedding photography, mainly because of all the photography industries out there, it’s most feasible to make a living shooting weddings. There are definitely those who are financially successful doing commercial, fine art, or landscape work. But the truth is, they are few and far between.
In addition, I will be making some generalizations based on my experiences and my knowledge of the industry. Like everything else in life, there are exceptions to the norm.
A few years ago, whenever someone would tell me, I want to become a wedding photographer too!, in my naïveté I would immediately exclaim Yea! Go for it! But nowadays, my responses are not quite as enthusiastic. On one hand, I still want to say, You HAVE to pursue your dreams! On the other hand, I also want to say …
10 reasons NOT to become a professional photographer
1. Running a photography business has little to do with photography. If you think you should go pro just because you love photography and friends say good things about your pictures, think again. Being a photography professional has little to do with actual photography. Sure, you’ll shoot your weddings on the weekends, and there’s always editing to do. But ever consider how much of your life you’re going to end up devoting to emails, contracts, client meetings, advertising, troubleshooting, networking, researching? You are the human resources, IT, admin, marketing, sales, and accounting departments all wrapped up in one. And those responsibilities can be a rather significant part of your job. How much experience have you had running a business?
2. You can earn more working full time at Starbucks. It is true that there are some ridiculously rich wedding photographers out there — they live in mansions, drive Ferraris, live a rock star lifestyle. But according to US Bureau of Labor Statistics, in 2008 the average professional photographer earned $26,170. If you worked full time at Starbucks, you would be making about $35k/year. You’ve also heard about their awesome benefits, right? The truth is, many among the new generation of professional photographers are able to do what they do because they still living at home, or have a S.O. or spouse who is working full time helping to pay most of the bills. Do you ever plan on raising a family or buying a home? Good luck with that on your $26k income!
3. Your workweek is almost twice as long as the average person’s. When you have a full load, expect to be working at least 60-80 hours per week. Do you know who else works long hours like that? Doctors and lawyers. Guess how much they make?
4. Weekends are work days. Ask any wedding photographer, and they’ll tell you about all the birthdays, parties, baby showers, movies, (friends’) weddings, graduations, dinners, and trips they have missed out on. When the rest of the world is out relaxing and sleeping in and hanging out and having fun, you’ll be waking up at 7 in the morning to shoot someone else’s happy day.
5. You get to pay for your own health insurance. Forget about company benefits. As a professional photographer, you get no health insurance, no 401k, no paid vacation, no sick days, no paternity/maternity leave, no subsidized higher education, nada.
6. You get to pay for your own equipment! You thought camera equipment as a novice was expensive? Wait till you get to the pro level! And add in equipment insurance, business insurance, workshops, laptop upgrades, desktop upgrades, program upgrades, studio rental (unless you work from home), album and print samples, etc. Sure, they’re all business write-offs. But they’re also all money out of your pocket.
7. It’s easy to book jobs if you’re only charging $2-3k/wedding. If you’re excited because an engaged friend of yours is willing to pay you $2500 to shoot their wedding, and you think that this is a sign you should go pro, keep in mind that booking at $2-3k is a piece of cake for any half-decent photographer. The question is, how much do you need in order to earn a living? Do you realistically think you can one day stop budgeting like a college student if you only charge $2500? According to a recent CNN report, the average federal government employee earns about $116k/year in wages and benefits. They generally don’t get fired even if incompetent, clock out everyday at 5pm, and are entitled to hefty pensions when they retire at 55. How much do you want to be compensated for your 80 hour weeks? $50k without health benefits? $60k with no P.T.O.? Then you need to be booking at a minimum 15-20 weddings/year, and charging at least $4-5k each. How many years do you think it’ll take you to ramp up from charging $2k to charging 2.5x that amount? Most do not think about how difficult it is to scale up.
8. The immigrants weekend warriors are coming to take over your job! These people work during the day as accountants, engineers, IT professionals, etc, and during the weekend, they shoot weddings. Because they already have a stable income, most of them are content charging $2k/wedding. (You’re probably currently one of these yourself.) But if you want to make this a full-time job, how do you expect to compete against an exponentially growing number of people who are delivering a service virtually for free?
9. Most people cannot tell the difference between great and average photography. I don’t think I really need to explain this point, right? But here is the significance of this statement: if the average couple cannot see the difference between your work and Uncle Bob’s weekend shooting, why should they pay you more? To them, your prices are just overinflated. Not only are weekend warriors and novice photographers competing with price–they are also competing with perceived quality. Such is the nature of the industry you are thinking about making a career of.
10. Most never make it. Of the photographers I know who started out around the same time I did, the majority of them are either still struggling to make ends meet, or are seeking another career path. And every week, countless “established” photography studios are going out of business. Most likely, you’d just end up becoming another statistic.
Wasn’t quite the rosy picture you expected, huh? I know that many of us photographers often give off the sense that ours is a glamorous lifestyle. We travel to exotic locations, do what we love, are part of the happiest days of people’s lives, are among beautiful people, get to be our own boss. But that’s only one side of the coin. There’s a good reason why we don’t talk about all these other things. I urge you — before making plans to turn your interest into a career, count your costs. If being a professional photographer was as fun and easy as most people think it is, then everybody would try to become one. Which, I suppose, would explain the sudden glut in the supply of wedding photographers — along with the subsequent (albeit smaller) exodus from the industry. However difficult you think it is to become a successful wedding photographer — it’s likely even harder than that, and there are many things I have also left off this list. Is any of this giving you pause yet?
Or after reading all that, are you even more resolute in becoming a professional wedding photographer? Then perhaps — just perhaps — you have what it takes. If you have been following my blog and facebook for awhile, then you know how much I freaking love my job! And trust me, the benefits faaaar outweigh the drawbacks I talk about above — at least in my experience. At a later date, I’ll be posting the real answer to “What should I do to become a professional photographer?”
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p.p.s. If this is your first time reading my blog, I just want to put it out there that I’m not saying all this to discourage new competition or anything like that! I’m all for the free market, and my philosophy is “Go big, or go home!” Several dozen photographers have told me that I’ve been an inspiration for them to jump into the industry, and I am currently also personally mentoring a handful of local photographers — so much for equipping my competition! =P This post was written to encourage people to think seriously about their plans before betting the whole house.
p.p.p.s. Looks like this entry is getting reposted around the web. Feel free to chime in anytime! Would love to hear what you have to say. :)
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