How to Start a Part-Time Career in Photography

How to Start a Part-Time Career in Photography

Photography isn’t an all-or-nothing venture; you can be a part-time photographer and do quite well for yourself while maintaining a full-time job. Here’s how to do it.

Be Realistic

If you’re wondering whether to become a full-time or part-time photographer, you already have your answer. Being a full-time photographer takes an immense amount of dedication and frankly, a love for the craft that transcends any need for a career that offers more financial predictability and stability.

If you don’t feel that overwhelming need, part-time is probably the place for you, and there’s absolutely nothing wrong with that. Being a part-time photographer can be a great way to make money from something you love while still maintaining the security of another job, particularly if you’re well established there. Furthermore, it allows you the flexibility to take on as much or as little work as you’d like without feeling like you have to take every job that comes your way.

Keep It Legal

Part-time or full-time, it doesn’t matter in the eyes of the government. If you’re taking money from people for your services, you need to be sure you’re following all the proper tax codes. Liability insurance is something you should strongly consider as well, especially if you’re working with people in any capacity. Though you might be able to keep your own books and the like, it might serve you well to sit down for a consultation session with a CPA and/or a lawyer to help you get the ball rolling initially.

Be Smart About Your Expenses

For a full-time photographer, a $5,000 body and high-level lights might be a justifiable purchase because they’re used every day, and they genuinely make the photographer’s job easier enough that the time savings help to offset the cost. But it’s different when you’re part-time. That $5,000 body might eat everything you’ve made the last six months. It’s particularly important to be frugal when you’re running a part-time photography business if you want to stay in the black.

That f/1.8 lens is more than enough for 95 percent of photographers, and it saves you a serious chunk of change over the f/1.4 or f/1.2 version.

This doesn’t mean cutting corners that can jeopardize your ability to deliver work to clients. If you’re a part-time wedding photographer, you still need two bodies. But do you need the f/1.2 lens? I’m willing to bet you can do quite well with the f/1.8 version that costs $1,000 less. If you’re a headshot photographer doing a session a weekend, do you really need a dedicated studio space or can you outfit a room in your home? Be really careful to separate gear you need from gear you merely want. The truth is: if you’re at the point where you’ve been doing photography long enough that you’re starting to consider making it a part-time business, you probably already have 90-100 percent of the equipment you’ll need to get started.

Manage Your Time Carefully

If you already have a full-time job, taking on a part-time gig can really start to push the limits. You’re going to be taking on a lot of responsibility even with just a part-time business. First and foremost, make sure you’re not jeopardizing your physical or mental well-being by overdoing it. Second, be sure your performance at your full-time job never suffers or is interfered with because of your part-time photography work. And third, remember that photography is supposed to be fun. If it’s stressing you out because you’re overburdened, it’s time to cut back.

Because it’s part-time and you can’t devote 8-12 hours a day with it, be extremely efficient and committed to time management. Set aside specific blocks outside your other commitments to work on your photography and respect them.

Keep It Simple

Simplicity is the name of the game. Keep everything easy and manageable. Keep your price structure and finances straightforward and easy to manage efficiently. This also makes your client interactions simpler and less time-intensive.

Still Act Like a Full-Time Professional

Though you may be part-time, your persona needs to be that of a full-time photographer. I’m not saying you should lie, but the way you carry yourself and present your work and your business should be every bit as professional. Potential clients may already be slightly wary of hiring a part-time photographer (even though your abilities may be just as good as those of the full-time one down the street), so don’t give them reason to doubt you. Show that you’re just as serious and committed and that this isn’t a hobby you’re making money with, it’s a legitimate business. This means professional contracts, presentation, the way you interact, etc.

One of the best ways to do this is by having a turn-key website that takes care of all the nitty-gritty details for you and offers a professional, high-end look with ease and simplicity so you can focus on other aspects of your business without worrying about things like the minutiae of web design. Format is an excellent option for this, as they offer easy-to-use, professional templates for creating turn-key websites with the option to customize to your needs if you so desire. As an Fstoppers reader, you can try it for free for 14 days and receive a 10 percent discount off your first purchase. 

Take Advantage of Your Existing Networks

Professional photographers spend a lot of time tracking down potential clients. Make better use of the limited time you have by leveraging the existing networks you’re already a part of. If you’re an event, portrait, or family photographer with a school-age kid, take time to let all the parents know that you can do birthday parties, senior pictures, holiday shoots, and more. They’ll likely appreciate having someone they know and already trust offer their services. If you’re a landscape photographer trying to sell prints, talk to the owners of businesses you frequent and ask if you can hang a few on their walls. If you’ve been spending money with them for years, they’re likely to be happy to have your work. Take time when you begin to think about how you can leverage the relationships you already have outside photography to save you the time, effort, and cost of wading into the vast ocean of cold calls and the like. Identify a need in your current network of friends and colleagues and fill it. I got my start by shooting headshots for my peers when I was in music school, for example.

Make Your Life Easier

Being part-time means simplifying as much of your workflow as possible so you can be efficient and not stay up until 3 a.m. Remember, this is supposed to be a part-time job, not a second full-time career. By keeping things simple, streamlining your workflow, and taking advantage of every opportunity to increase your efficiency, you can create a manageable and rewarding photography business. 

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Christian Fiore's picture

A couple of additional points for "Still Act Like a Full-Time Professional" that I've found useful:

1. Be punctual.

Nothing worse that being late, and in this industry, even being on time is late, as you have to set up your gear first (unpack, mount flashes, attach sling/belt, etc.). One of my customers consistently compliments me on beginning her shoots on time. I guess her previous shooters were a bit random. Maybe that's why they're "previous shooters"...

2. Look professional.

Even if it's overdoing it, everyone will appreciate a well dressed person. Obviously you're not going to wear a tux to a beach shoot, but a button down or polo and khakis goes a lot further than a Slayer shirt and torn jeans. Save that for later in your career. ;) Good grooming helps finish the look.

You never know who your clients know, so making a good impression with everyone will certainly get your name circulating.

Jim German's picture

Curious about Format. How long have they been around? Who are their print lab partners? Has anyone used them?

Deleted Account's picture

Well written article. Many valid points.I started weddings in 1975 on a part time amateur basis. I knew very little about wedding photography but fell into it as I was asked by relatives. I did my last wedding exactly 12 months ago. I went full time once for 6 months but found that the need for regular income and security far more important than my grandiose ideas.I had a family to provide for. I don't regret doing it part time all those years and holding down a steady job.I ended up training people in wedding photography and some went on to full time successful careers.I never had problems being accepted as less professional than my full time friends.I was in direct competition with full time photographers. I am now retired from my day job and also weddings. I still tinker occasionally with the idea of just one more wedding but aches and pains tell me no. As you get older and experienced you have maximum technical and people skills but it's essential that you know when to quit.

Ken Plaha's picture

Hi, loved the article and most points about going part time. The only thing I'd like to point out is about "promoting" a specific brand is camera or lens. These days with so many options with formats and vendors, it irks me to see just Canon singled out for brand promotion.

Bjarne Solvik's picture

This is what makes photography a bad business today. A multitude of amateurs posing as professional photographers, making it hard to do it full time.
It's a business where most players are happy doing a few shoots and covering the expense of there last gadgets.

I know this for a fact locally where I live. I have a studio and tried to find someone to share with. At least 80 percent did not have finances or interest spending 100 usd a month to secure access to a eqiuped studio. Maybe 10-15 percent seem to do it full time.

You need to be so good at business that less you have a passion you will walk away and do something else.

Thorsten Merz's picture

The article was about part time professional photographers. I saw no mention of amateurs anywhere. Part time professional work exists across many different careers, not just photography.

Bjarne Solvik's picture

Define as you like, to me me professional means someone who do it for a living. Most part time photographer don't make a living from it.

Wiki: "A professional is a member of a profession or any person who earns their living from a specified professional activity. "

As I also wrote my finding is that most, where I live, does not have a prosperous business and chances it is profitable are dim.

So I find the suggestion to present yourself as a pro when you actually make your living doing a difrent job bad. I think it's good to act professional but not present yourself as one. Many will use a good amateur if price is good. And such can make as good or better images as someone who makes a living from it.

This article is sponsored by Format btw, it's written to sell that solution. I don't apriciate it kind of suggest build up under a fake image.

Thorsten Merz's picture

If you are unable to compete with part-time professionals, that says more about your business model and value proposition than it does about them.

Furthermore, a professional isn't defined by whether they have access to a studio. In fact, the vast majority of professional photographers don't need access to a studio. Sure, it's a nice to have - but it's certainly not a "must have".

I think one of the definitions from the Oxford dictionary sums it up well - a professional is someone that is competent, skilful, or assured. Really, isn't that all that matters are the end of the day?

I'm curious about one thing, whenever this sort of discussion comes up - why should you be more entitled to earn money from photography than someone that does it part-time?

Bjarne Solvik's picture

So a student is driving a cab two weekends a month. Is he a professional taxi driver or a student?

A doctor student is shooting six weddings a year. Is he a professional photographer?

The doctor student is finished and opens a office as a doctor, he still offer wedding photography, is he a doctor or a professional photographer?

If being professional is defined by being skilled, who decide if you are up to the standard and can call your self professional?

You might want to look up the term profession and professional on more time, as I believe there are several sides to that definition.

I don't think you shuld fake a business if it's something on your spare time. You shuld let potetional clients know that. Many is totally ok with that, if it's inexpensive, or I suppose if they like your work.

Jacob Ransom's picture

I've read a ton of articles across the web about this topic, but this article is the most detailed and informative. And I'm very thankful for that. I think that every part-time job in useful for your future career. And working as a photographer can give you so many skills. This article suggests working on part-time jobs or volunteering for college students in order to build a career. Every college student can try to work as a photographer in part-time roles.

Arturo Cruz's picture

Thank you for the article, Here a great way I found to start business in this industry check this link I hope helps some others.