In addition to my day job writing about photography, I’ve been a street photographer for over 30 years...but I know of very few street shooters who make their living doing that form of photography. When I decided to open a photography business earlier this year, I knew I’d have to earn money doing something else. But what?
Knowing what kind of photographer I wanted to be—making money and absolutely loving what I’m doing—required some soul searching and market research.
Can't make a living selling gritty street shots like this: Street photography, as fulfilling as it is for me, is not going to feed my family. Gear: Fujifilm X-Pro 1, Zeiss Touit 32mm f/1.8 lens. All photos © Mason Resnick.
Visualizing the dream gig
I know that I love photographing people more than places or things. I know that after over 30 years of street photography I have a finely-honed ability to capture parallel action. I enjoy the challenge of capturing candid moments. I love kids and families and enjoy interacting with people.
Bar Mitzvah boy: Photographing bar mitzvahs, on the other hand, is a good way for me to pay the bills. The family loved this shot. Gear: Canon 5D Mark III, Canon 24-105mm f/4L IS USM lens, Canon Speedlite 430 EX II, Flashpoint 32-inch umbrella and light stand.
I also know that I live in an area with a large Jewish community that has many life-cycle events, as well as small and large businesses, some of which have web sites, as well as community organizations. And even though I’m not much of a “thing” or “place” person, I know a lot of people who are interested in selling their things on eBay but need help with it, and I have a few connections in the real estate business.
With all this floating around in my cranium, I came up with short-term and long-term goals. I determined, based on my soul-searching and looking at community needs, that an event photographer who could shoot smaller events such as Bar and Bat Mitzvahs and engagement parties could do quite well; secondarily, eBay photography (combined with helping clients to set up eBay auctions) and an occasional real estate assignment would be additional income streams. While this is not my ultimate goal, this would be a good stepping stone that would allow me to build experience in smaller bits and bites.
Corporate works: The hours are better shooting corporate images such as this one, taken at a local accounting firm. Landing more of these kinds of gigs is a goal.
My longer-term goal is to break into the world of corporate photography. There are many world-class corporations located within a 20-mile radius, and as I gain confidence and a better portfolio, I hope to move into corporate events, portraits, and annual reports. Why? Timing and lifestyle. Unlike family and event photography, corporate work is more likely to take place during regular business hours, which would free me up to be with my family over weekends.
Taking the first steps
Now that I have a goal, my initial strategy was to build a portfolio. I found friends who were willing to take a risk and hired me to photograph their childrens’ bar and bat mitzvahs. I shot portraits, with many free sessions (some of which resulted in nice print orders). I approached local businesses and started to get gigs. I walked down the main street of my town in Central NJ and offered to do on-the-spot portraits of business owners for a blog series, just to get the word out about my services.
Colorful exhibitor: Environmental portraits is something I know I'm good at. As the official photographer of an arts fair in my hometown in central New Jersey, I was able to do on-the-fly portrait, which I've used in my online portfolio.
I also cased the competition. There is an online bulletin board where people in my community share information, including recommendations for specific businesses. It is searchable, and is therefore a great place where I was able to case the competition. I found out which photographers were being recommended, and visited their web sites. I studied their photos, how they present themselves online, what kind of marketing they’re doing, and where the weaknesses may lie that I could exploit. I scoured the local print media (yes, it still counts) to see who is or isn’t advertising, and started collecting rate sheets.
Self-Assignment: I began photographing people working in local businesses such as George, my barber. Besides building my portfolio, it made me more visible to potential clients and has lead to a handful of assignments.
I have also started reaching out to providers of event-related services in the community: Caterers, bands, DJs, catering venues, and so on. I’ve found lots of support. However, the most gratifying networking moment came when I spoke to a friend who runs a successful band that plays many weddings and bar mitzvah receptions in the area. When I told him I decided to go pro, his response was: “Mason! What took you so long?” He has since brought me several jobs, as have a couple of local caterers. In turn, I have recommended their business to people who have approached me for photography.
Returning the favor: Avi Maza, a local band leader who has been recommending me to his customers, providing musical accompaniment at a wedding which I attended as a guest. While the pro was photographing the couple walking down the aisle, I turned around and captured this moment (that's Avi in the center), and he posted the shot the next day on his blog, Facebook page and web site with full credit to yours truly.
In addition to blogging about my clients, I’ve also started a Facebook page and am starting to experiment with Google Plus and Twitter—and am about to launch my first print advertising campaign. I’ll tell you how that’s working out in a future post.
Next: Choosing the right gear
For discussion: What kind of photographer are you? Do you want to make a change? How did you decide to focus on your specialty?