Going pro or full time in photography is often a daunting task. A lot of us are making the jump from another career rather than straight from university. This offers a particular set of challenges. Chances are that you have a mortgage or rent, loans, credit cards, children, cars, bills, a cat and dog, and a host of expenses that you have to keep on top of. The risk is high, but so is the reward.
Choosing the correct time to make the leap is going to be different for everyone depending on your personal circumstances, but here are a few key points that should help you make the decision.
Do you have enough money to cover yourself for the next year?
This is a bit hypocritical of me as I made the jump with very little in savings, but I also had very low overheads and no dependents. If you have small people, a partner, or anyone else who relies on you making money, be sure you can keep them safe for the first year at a minimum. It's also worth having all of your equipment purchased before you start relying on photography money to pay your bills.
If you don’t already have any clients, it probably isn't the time to go pro. I spent my first three years shooting part time, taking days off work (skiving, not sure what you call this in the U.S.A.), working evenings and weekends to fit in small ad campaigns, headshots, and band shoots. I was probably grossing about £1,500 a month when I decided to hand my notice in at work. I had also hit a point where I was turning work away because I simply didn’t have the time to take any more on.
Know Your Numbers
I cannot stress this enough. When I first started out I could tell you to the penny how much I was spending on food each week. You really have to keep an eye on your finances. Make sure that the amount you charge, the amount of work you can viably do, and your overheads all add up.
Do You Have What It Takes?
This is a very hard one to work out unless you are really self-aware. Some people can’t be a professional photographer. This can be for a host of reasons, the obvious one being that your work simply isn't good enough, also some of us struggle with the stress and pressure, others lack in organizational skills, and some folks are just not nice to work with. It's better to work this out now rather than after you've left a well-paying day job.
Are You Sure You Want to Be a Professional Photographer?
It isn’t all it's cracked up to be, all of the time. Last year I worked in Sicily, Paris, Normandy, and London. I flew around in helicopters and photographed some big names in music and comedy. I also lost my temper, cried alone in my studio at 3 a.m., traveled so much that I mastered sleeping while standing on a crowded train, had cash flow issues of biblical proportions as the level of work I shot grew dramatically, had nightmare clients, late payers, and equipment failures that would make your wallet weep. Some of this I am really good at coping with, other aspects can get to me at times. When it was a hobby, I just took photographs for the love of it. Now I have a plethora of expectations and pressures that I didn’t even know existed.
Some of my favorite photographers don’t make a penny from their passion. Think hard before making the jump as it can be an easy way to ruin something you loved.
If you have recently turned pro, please add some hints and tips in the comments for others in the same position.