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Starting A Professional Photography Business

Starting A Professional Photography Business

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Start Me Up, Part 1!

April 23, 2014

After 3 decades of dreaming about it, I've started a photo studio business. Join me on this journey. Maybe you'd like to do the same?

If you’ve been coming to the Adorama Learning Center for a while, you may recognize my name. For the last 8-plus years, my full-time job was to run this site. It’s been a wonderful, and crazily successful ride. I know this because some of Adorama’s competitors have attempted to imitate (but not duplicate) this success.  And that’s pretty cool.

But last summer, I made a decision: After over 30 years writing about photography for a long list of photo magazines, newspapers, and web sites, some of which are household names in photography, and meeting with some of the most successful and influential photographers in the world, it was time to stop writing about other peoples’ success.

It was time to go for it myself.

Back in the day: That's me on the far left at the beginning of my career/interruption from my first attempt at freelance photography. I'm the junior member at this meeting of the Modern Photography advertising and publishing staff (that's Herbert Keppler, who gave me my first job in the photo industry, in the middle of this shot).


You see, long before I got my first job in the photo industry as a junior staffer for Modern Photography, before I had the opportunity to co-write the Camera column for the New York Times, and well before I served for five years as the managing editor of Popular Photography, I wanted to be a photographer. I had started a modest but struggling business, and thought my initial paper-pushing job at Modern Photography would be a short-term gig to tide me over financially while I built up my business as a photographer.

But fate and circumstance had other plans. I ended up as an editor for Modern photography, which started what turned out to be an amazing journey working as a photography journalist—a writer and editor who interviewed professional photographers, reviewed the latest gear, and even had influence over the design of some new products.  More recently, it has been my privilege to work with some insanely talented people who contribute to AdoramaTV—Mark Wallace, Bryan Peterson, Gavin Hoey, Joe McNally, and Tamara Lackey—and I’ve learned a lot from each of them both by watching them on camera and getting to know them off-camera as well. They collectively set a high bar for anyone aspiring to earn a living with photography.




One of my first jobs after I announced my new business was to photograph this young lady's Bat Mitzvah. The family loved this shot, and has recommended me to their friends whose kids are approaching Bar/Bat Mitzvah age. Photographed with a Canon 5D Mark III and Canon 24-70mm f/2.8 lens, with Canon Speedlite 430EX II Flashes and Adorama 33-inch White umbrellas lighting the way.



What finally pushed me to go for it?

There were many factors in my decision to leave the safety of a steady income for the uncertainty of freelance work. One was my age. I’m in my mid-50s, and I’m becoming aware of the passage of time. If I don’t get started following this lifelong dream soon, It’s not going to happen, and then I’d have regrets. In the next post in this series, I’ll talk more about the process of digging deep to figure out if this move made sense for me, and how I determined what kind of photographer I want to be when I grow up.

Another factor was my ongoing market research, which I’ll discuss in greater depth in the next post. I was constantly monitoring what local photographers were doing, how much they were charging, and how their customers (many of whom are friends of mine) felt about the work. I also took note of areas where there was a need for a photographer and willingness to pay for the work. (No small matter was the fact that many friends—including caterers and musicians who are frequently hired in my community for events—were trying to convince me to go pro.)

Yet another factor was changes in technology. While the up-front cost of digital cameras is higher, they offer much more control and less guesswork than I had in the film era, and other accessories are about the same in current dollars and the long-term cost of consumables (film and paper) has dropped. More importantly for me, the methods of editing, fine-tuning and delivering photos to customers have changed so much that many of the aspects of running a photography business that made me bonkers back in the day have now become much easier to manage. In this series of posts I’ll talk about specific technologies, from streamlined image management to online photo hosting services, that have made it easier for me to quickly deliver high-quality images to my customers.

Finally, while traditional advertising is important, social media offers exciting new ways to get the word out, and I’ve already started a very active blog, Facebook Page, and Twitter stream. The possibilities are exciting.


Crowdsourcing logo decision making: One of the first things I did when starting up my new business was to create a logo. Logodesignguru.com is an excellent resource. I created a “contest” where thousands of freelance designers from around the world created logos on spec for me, knowing the winning design would get $250. I got over 100 entries! I posted my 10 favorites on my new Facebook business page and asked friends and family to help me out. After getting many (often conflicting) suggestions and winnowing down to a handful, I went back to the designers and requested variations. And the winner is…


I chose this design because it is easy to read, and uses red and black, a color combination that’s popular in my part of New Jersey because the local university—Rutgers—has the same color scheme, and there are many Rutgers grads living in my community.


Why Blog About This?

I know there are others out there with similar dreams and ambitions. I believe there is room for talented photographers in almost any market. In this series of blogs, as I share my trials and tribulations (and I really hope, my successes) I hope you’ll learn and be able to share your experiences in the comments. This is an ongoing conversation, so let’s talk!


For the comments: Are you thinking about going pro? What’s holding you back? If you’ve started, what are the stumbling blocks you’ve encountered?

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