Starting a Photography Business During a Crisis

Starting a Photography Business During a Crisis

There is no good time to start a photography business, but there are certainly some more challenging times.

I don’t know if there is ever a perfect time to start a photography business; you never know what the future holds. But, I do know that there are more challenging times to start one than others.

I started my photography business in 2011 after the company I worked for closed its doors for good. The housing crises recession was still in full swing, and I decided to turn my hobby of photography into a full-time career. With all the hopes and dreams of becoming the greatest and most successful photographer I could be, I began my journey. I wasn’t in my twenties, and I just said goodbye to my thirties, so this had to work. I was ready to make it work. I had no experience running my own business, and photography was a lifelong hobby, but had no school or training behind me. I spent my days watching Creative Live during the free sessions and reading Fstoppers to learn as much as I could.

In-N-Out Flyby. Fine art print

Unfortunately, all the hopes and dreams in the world won't pay the rent, and being in one of the worst recessions this country has ever seen, people weren’t spending money on non-essentials such as photography. But, there was something that people were doing to survive the housing crash to pay their mortgage, and that was short-term rentals. 

I stumbled across a job add on Linkedin from Airbnb, still a pretty new company back then. They were looking for photographers to shoot their listings for $50 a shoot, and the only region they had available was Malibu, which is about 45 minutes away from my home with no traffic, but there is no such thing as no traffic in Los Angeles, so it was at least an hour drive each way. I didn’t care how far I had to drive or how low the pay was. I had to start somewhere. I love architecture and interior design, so I thought why not. Being that I live in Los Angeles, my plan was to shoot actor headshots and ultimately work full-time shooting fashion, but neither were happening, and my savings were dwindling. Yes, I even had to sell my Apple stock, which I originally bought for $12 a share - times were tough.

Vacation Rental Photography

Knowing absolutely nothing about photographing homes and interiors, I went for it! I was hired, which was exhilarating to get my first job, then I was hit with sheer panic. I didn’t know how to photograph interiors. Every photographer experiences this when they are hired for their first real paying job. It’s imposter syndrome at its best, although I had really never done this before. The company sent me a PDF of how to take interior photos, best practices, and a shot list. I began practicing in my apartment, and the photos were horrible. My first shoots at listings were really bad, but luckily, the company was still figuring it out as much as I was, and with their guidance and input and through trial and error, I got better. At one point, I was doing up to five or six shoots in one day. I had to hustle, but eventually, that caught up to me, and I had to scale back to four a day. I still shoot vacation rentals and real estate listings, it’s actually a bulk of my business.

Short-term rental photography

As I continued to photograph short-term rentals, I was still pursuing my headshot and fashion career. Starting a headshot business was incredibly challenging here in Los Angeles, as there were so many new photographers doing the same thing, but also, there are very well-established companies that a lot of actors flock to because of brand recognition and referrals. To this day, I still do headshots, but It’s not the bulk of my work. With that said, I literally just booked a headshot shoot while writing this post. As a freelancer, you never really know where your next job is coming from, but luckily, I was referred by someone. Which, by the way, is where I get a lot, if not most of my business, so always be friendly, on tim,e and adaptable. That seems to have worked for me.

Men's headshot photography

As far as my fashion work, it is still something I love shooting. Fashion photography is a very creative process for me. I love creating a mood board and fitting all the pieces together: model, hair and makeup, location, etc. During the housing recession, fashion companies weren’t paying a lot to have their products photographed, and unfortunately, they got away with it and still try to. I see job postings to shoot for free or a six-hour shoot for $100. It’s just insulting and yes, you need to start somewhere and they know that. I took many jobs being underpaid because I needed to make money. You should always be paid something. The people that take these jobs for free is the reason companies continue to take advantage of us photographers. Now, if you are doing personal portfolio work to benefit yourself, the model, makeup artist, etc., then yes, those are probably free. Those are so everyone involved gets experience and photos for their portfolio and socials. Do as many of these as you can, and try to get in with talent agencies, shooting their new talent. I did this for years to build my portfolio. They don’t pay, but you will get to work with models that you probably would never find on your own.

Women's fashion photography 

Next up, COVID! In 2019, I added fine art photographer to my many hats. Of course, months after launching my e-commerce art site, COVID hit. I really know the best times to start a new business. The pandemic was a challenging time for everyone. I was lucky that I could still shoot some homes and apartments that were vacant. They were few and far between, but they did help. I tried to fill my time with shooting landscapes for my fine art site, but I also took some much-needed time to myself, which is one of the good things that came from the pandemic. You have to get creative and be able to pivot and possibly reinvent yourself, which I have done many times through my life.

Around The Bend. Shot on The Road to Hana in Maui

Today’s challenge is dealing with being in a near-recession and very high inflation, which brings on its own set of challenges. At the moment, my fine art business is where most of my efforts are going, as It brings me the most joy and is where I see the most potential. But the art game is its own beast. Getting your name out into the art world is a struggle, but I keep pushing forward, and I just continue to shoot new work to sell. I’m also doing markets around L.A., which is a great way to meet people and make some money.

Shot in Joshua Tree

With all that has happened and all that will happen in the future, all you can do is move forward. I still have my days of wondering if I should quit and become a real estate agent or move to a cabin in the woods and live off the earth. Okay, that I would never do. The point is a photography career and life itself is full of ups and downs; you just have to ride it through and never give up. If it brings you happiness or at least a glimmer of joy during those rough patches, then it’s worth it. Keep moving forward because the ride never ends as long as you’re alive, and who knows what the next crisis is going to be. So, during a crisis, do whatever the hell you can to survive, work harder than the next person, and hope for the best, because everyone needs hope.

Korbin Bielski's picture

Korbin is a Fine Art, Fashion and Home Photographer living in Los Angeles. His love of photography began early while growing up in Detroit and eventually turning professional while living in L.A. Korbin's focus is on selling his prints, but is still very active in his other photography endeavors.

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