I’ve been shooting professionally for just under three years now. In 2010, I made about $10,000, most of which came not from photography but from side gigs doing art direction and studio production (I used to work in advertising, and I still have contacts in that world who occasionally throw me some work). In 2011, I made about $15,000, again mostly from production work. I’m on track to making about $20,000 for this year, and while it’s still mostly from stuff other than photography, the proportion of non-photo work to photo work has been gradually shifting for the better. I live and work in Toronto, which is the most expensive city to live in Canada, so that $20,000 is barely over the poverty line. Luckily, my wife works full time as a law librarian, so she floats us.
I’ve shot exactly one ad campaign so far (although I’ve bid on plenty) and one magazine cover/spread. I’ve spent hundreds of dollars on self-promotional mailers to ad agencies and magazines, with almost nothing to show for it so far. The competition in this city is fierce, and I know that I’m close to the bottom of the heap in terms of skill and artistic ability, but what keeps me going is the knowledge that I’m not at the bottom, that there are plenty of poor sods who are much worse photographers than I am.
It’s a hard life: people think that all we do as photographers is point the camera and press the shutter button, and we have to constantly justify why we charge as much as we do. There’s the crushing self-doubt when you see an absolutely stunning image from another photographer and you wonder if you could ever possibly be that good or if you should just give up now. Then there are the wannabe-photographers who get mommy and daddy to buy them a cheap plastic toy of a camera and go around under-bidding those of us who’ve spent the time and effort to learn the craft. But it’s getting better. I’m gradually getting more work, making more contacts, getting more referrals. I don’t hate the ones who are better than I am, I learn from them. I don’t hate the wannabe types, I teach them to be better photographers (and get them to pay me for it). Like you, I’m gradually getting better, learning more all the time and using it to my advantage. And it feels amazing when I nail the shot, and I get that reaction from the client that lets me know that they finally understand the difference between me and their cousin, the one with the bright pink point-and-shoot.
This is what a career in portrait photography is like. Still want to do it?
Just a minor correction. As of 2012 Vancouver is the most expensive city in North America. (i think Toronto sits around 6 or 7) I have lived in both cities in the last 5 years and most costs are similar but my spending power in Vancouver is 20-30% lower than it was in Toronto doing the same job and living in about the same size apartment.
Other than that, everything you say is bang on.
One other thing the OP should consider is that top success in photography lies in being a mediocre photographer and an amazing business person. Photographers like Scott Bourne or Gary Phong who represent pretty much the max you can earn as a working photographer don't have the most impressive portfolios, they have the most impressive business models. The reality is that the effort it takes to be one of the world's best photographers exceeds the time you have to devote to practicing your craft if you want to be the most successful.
(that said there are many amazing photographers make a decent enough living by having amazing photographic talent such as Joe McNally or Joel Grimes but just pointing out the Joe McNally drives a Suburban and Scott Bourne has a fleet of sports cars )
And finally, bear in mind that if you are able to make a go of a career in photography you are the minority. Most attempts at pro photography fail. Rarely due to lack of skill of the photographer.
Oh and always bear in mind there is WAY more money in teach people how to make money with photography than actually making money with it.
You’re right: real estate in Vancouver is off the charts. I haven’t been out that way myself, but I have friends who’ve lived there briefly.
And I know what you mean about teaching. It almost feels like I’m participating in a pyramid scheme in a way when I teach, but I figure most of the people I’m teaching are hobbyists, rather than people who actually want to go pro.
Ya real estate is crazy, so is fuel and grocery prices. But what really makes Vancouver so expensive is that the avg wages are very low compared to other major cities which consequently makes everything functionally more expensive. BC also has a lot more government fees such as having to pay for healthcare.
georgewjohnsonFeatured By OwnerDec 4, 2012Hobbyist Photographer
As any of the pros will testify, a career in photography is roughly an 15/85 split, that's 15% shooting and 85% selling yourself and operating your business. You need time to improve, test new kit, meet clients, arrange jobs and still make rent and hopefully make enough to save, invest in your business, pay your company taxes, still save for a pension and/or mortgage, yadda, yadda.
I love doing photography and put hours and hours into it every week, reading, shooting and editing but I am happy to take the simple reward of pleasing myself and a few friends. It's taken me about 5 years to get to a point where I am starting see results from my hobby, granted with no special training but it takes time to learn a craft and if you have to run a business based on it, you have to get up to speed pretty rapidly if you don't want to go under.
Lots of people do it and make a living but you need to work hard to find people who will hire you and convince them that you having something special to offer them over the guy down the road who's under-cutting you by 10%, that takes lots of time and effort. Not trying to put you off but before you think a career in the arts is mainly creativity ask a few hard working pros in the field you'd like to get into what it really takes to make a comfortable living doing it.
Have a good long think and bug as many people as you can for their opinions and experiences. Good luck!
On the brightside, I'm never good on making a decision fast:3 which I guess for once will come in handy with this. Thank you for your message I do plan to continue bothering those I know for information and opinions. It'll take work I know that, that's why I want to decide a path now. I'm thinking of what classes I want to take the next two years of highschool, but that would depend greatly on what I end up wanting to do
georgewjohnsonFeatured By OwnerDec 4, 2012Hobbyist Photographer
Don't sweat it too much. You don't have to get the exact grades in the exact subjects but do try to stick to a path that heads in the right direction, if you creatively inclined try to consider those but if you want to make a living in a creative industry then you need to consider some business and marketing course/grades as well else you'll either get fleeced or have to pay someone to run your business and run the risk of getting fleeced!
I'm 41 and I ended up working in IT, money's good but I still don't know what I want to do with my life even now! LOL!
Thank you for the advice:3 It really is appreciated. I think this is really weird...so I'll share. Right after I sent my message to you, a girl messaged me on my facebook account asking how much I'd charge to do a personal set of pictures for her(I'm doing a project for my class that involves the cheerteam that she's on). I was like ITS A SIGGGNNN(in a joking manner of course) I'm silly... Anyways, Thank you again
Well it’s not really my main job. It’s something I do on the side, usually as a favor. If it’s someone I know, it’s $100. If it’s a stranger who I know can afford it, I will charge them $200 or more, depending on how many people are involved.