Most of you might be saying: "you're nuts! Haven’t you been sailing? Luxury car driving? Golfing all over the place?" And luckily, I have, and let me tell you, photography is the most expensive sport I have ever practiced.
Just Like Any Other Hobby
When you begin your adventure as an amateur photographer, you are so enthusiastic about shooting that you really don’t pay much attention to many things: you just want a reliable camera with which to walk around and snap some pictures. Some want the “best” camera even if they have no clue what ISO actually means or how any of the functions work, and some others look for the “cheapest” camera. I was like the second group. When I began shooting ten years ago, I did not care what kind of camera I was going to buy. I just went to a Best Buy and chose the cheapest camera. I was a young guy, broke and just out of college; I thought a camera was the way out of the corporate world or the way to find myself, and luckily, it was! Photography is a great hobby; it allows you to be out there shooting, do something artistic, tell your friends you are a photographer, and become more interesting. Most of the time when you are starting, you don’t need anyone else, which makes it a very easy hobby to commit to. Regardless of why you go into photography, you slowly find out how expensive it is. Equipment costs a fortune. Every year, there is new gear and you want to have a new camera or the new light system, you suddenly start playing more with lights and lenses and you decide now you never want to use AlienBees and your signature flash system is Briese.
The Hobby Becomes a Lifestyle
After some years, you already have a website, some friends paying you to take photos, and suddenly, you are wondering if you should quit your full-time job to pursue your passion. You’ve already spent money buying gear and going to photoshoots or photo workshops to become better and you feel you are already in deep. My journey was a bit different. I started shooting street photography with my cheap camera, then found myself an internship at a fashion studio in Europe, sold my car, which was the only thing I owned, and left for adventure. After some years of learning from very talented and very untalented photographers and after shooting my own work on the side, I decided it was time to go fully on my own path as an artist. I left my cushion, which was nothing but a couple of hundred euro from assisting gigs and decided I was not going to assist anymore and I was going to shoot my own things, even if I starved to death. Fast-forward some years and I am still pursuing my own projects, but luckily, all the money I invested shooting my personal projects have led me to bigger clients, a better portfolio, and eventually being able to call photography my way of life.
This Is When It Gets Expensive
Being a professional photographer is not an easy thing to do. With the democratization of the arts, photographers have been emerging out of every college bedroom, rates have been lowered, and every industry list where your portfolio could be showed to creatives is way too pricey. Not only do you need to have better gear, a studio, post-production software and the “best" camera, you also need to spend money on printed promos, business cards, promotional materials, Facebook ads, Instagram ads, and many more places. These are basic expenses for every business you could say; the only problem is that creative industries are quite different. There are lists and platforms that promise they can send your work to creatives so they can see it. There are other consultants that will charge you thousands of dollars for advice on your portfolio, your workflow, what images to use, where to market, and how to sell yourself. There are entry fees to many contests worldwide, fees for databases like Agency Access, fees to be in a production paradise newsletter, and you are not even considering the amount of money you need to produce new personal work and collaborations that will keep you fresh and will keep the creatives interested in your work.
With all these in mind, what can we do to compete with other photographers that have the resources to pay for this and play the sport at a higher level? My only answer to this is nothing. The only way you can play this sport if you don’t have money is to do the best work possible. If you do great work, people will talk about it and share it, your marketing will be done by others, creatives will find your work more easily, and eventually, you will be hired for more projects. My advice for you: invest most of the money you make in your business and do your homework so you can shoot great work. The combination of both along with patience and good networking will make it all happen.