Three Ways to Increase the Financial Return on Your Time

Three Ways to Increase the Financial Return on Your Time

It can grind by slowly, then it flies, but whatever which way you cut it, the whiling of time is business time, your time. Here are the three most important reasons why it matters and how you can use this to increase your financial return.

As photographers we implicitly work with the notion of time — question a sports photographer and they may well talk about freezing time by using a fast shutter speed or even a strobe. Landscape photographers are often a little more relaxed, thinking over periods of seconds to minutes. An astrophotographer could well measure exposure times in terms of hours.

However, talking about time in this article falls in to a different context: our time, the time we have and what we do with it. There are only 24 hours in the day and we often spend 8 of those sleeping and another 8 of them relaxing. How we use the remaining 8 hours is critical to us as photographers and our businesses. Here are three of the most important things to think about.

We Get Paid By Time

Working is a pre-requisite for living and the way we structure our work is through the economy. We are judged, firstly, on how useful we are. Whether we like it or not, the market generally "sees" the hedge fund manager as of more "use" than a plumber who is of more "use" than a waiter. Somewhere in that mix sits the photographer. Of course "useful" really just describes "value"; when you hire someone to extend your porch, design a website, or deliver your fast food meal you have a notion of how much it should cost. A notion of value or worth. The harder it is to find someone to do that job, the more valuable they are which means — in photography — you need to do something that no one else is doing. And more importantly, to be seen to be doing it. What is the secret sauce that all successful photographers achieve? They differentiate themselves in an area that is valuable to consumers.

The second part of the economic equation is how much work we do. In most businesses we are used to paying employees based upon the number of hours they work: the more they work, the more they get paid. It's a simple calculation, except when you become a business owner no one pays you a wage: you take the profit that is left over after expenses. Time can therefore be "flexible" to you as the owner, but to your customer it is all important. It comes back to differentiation; what are you able to offer your customer over and above the competition? Can you shoot better, more creatively, faster, and/or cheaper? Given the competitive nature of the market place, for news media delivery, time is critical.

For example, if you are shooting at the Olympics you will need to automatically upload your images as they are shot. That might require a WiFi tethered 5G laptop that will automatically do the raw conversion and post-production, finishing with an FTP upload (see my earlier review of BatchPhoto). That all requires investment, but the payoff is a service that the client demands. Some wedding photographers outsource their post-production so they can focus upon the photography and return images to the couples as soon as possible.

Key takeaway: Because you are not paid by the hour, time isn't your money but it may well be your next customers money. How can you use time to be more competitive? Perhaps counter-intuitively it might not be by doing more "work."

Time is Short, Social Media is Instant

News — and particularly sports — photographers need to file their images rapidly as a result of the ever shortening media cycles. As soon as an event happens in the worldwide media, not only are photos available, but often videos or live streams. Indeed, Twitter is the place to be for breaking news stories. The world is a small place in terms of finding out what is happening and that extends beyond globally relevant news in to our own "bubbles" of influence, importance, and relevance. Social media channels such as Facebook, Instagram, and Snapchat are where we "hang out", show off, and otherwise connect with others. In short, it's where we get news from our own networks.

What this means, as a photographer, is knowing where your customers hang out because many of them will want hear from you (as a business). However, much more than that, the expectation of clients is that you are also a part of the media circus that surrounds any kind of job. If you are shooting an ad then, after any agreed blackout period, you'll want to be releasing this in to your own media channels, tagging the product and key participants (such as models, styling, makeup etc). It's about recognizing everyone involved by creating a bubble that is so much more than any individual.

If you are a wedding photographer, then the couple and their guests will be posting on Facebook and Instagram amongst others. Get them to tag you and post through the day as well. Remember, most bookings come from personal recommendations and that guests are likely to be your next customers.

Key takeaway: social media is instant and you need to be too. The window of opportunity to grow your "bubble" far beyond its key participants diminishes rapidly with time, so make the most of it.

Time Doesn't Return

In the TV series Mr Robot, the protagonist Elliot has some form of psychosis. Reality and time are distorted so you don't know if you are in a dream or reality. In contrast, the mysterious White Rose is obsessed with time to the point that each activity is allocated a set number of seconds. She moves on once they are used up.

These extremes demonstrate two different approaches to time, so remember one thing

You've only got one life and you can't get time back

Key takeaway: how you use your time will ultimately play a large part in what you become and how your career develops. Balancing family, leisure, health, business, and all the other pressures that are thrown at you daily is difficult. So be considered with your approach to life and ask yourself this: if you seek to expand your capacity in one part of your life, what else will you give up to do it?


Time is so much more than the instant at which you release the shutter. Yes, time is critical when we expose a photo, however it is fundamental to how we operate a business, how we interact with clients and future customers, as well as how we live our lives.

If you were able to talk to your younger "self" as they were starting out in the photography business, what one piece of advice would you give them about using their time?

Lead image courtesy of Tumisu via Pixabay, used under Creative Commons. Body image courtesy of GDJ via Pixabay, used under Creative Commons.

Mike Smith's picture

Mike Smith is a professional wedding and portrait photographer and writer based in London, UK.

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