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Is it hard to earn a living from photography?


18 Sep 2012 1:22PM
I'm retired, but if I wanted to make photography an occupation it would be very difficult.
Writing a kingfisher book opened many doors for me, and I can't even get it published.
I am a Sony advocate photographer, because Sony were attracted by the variety of kingfisher photographs I produce.
This gives me work at Sony events, but they are few and far between.
The knowledge and photographs gained in writing the book, led me to give talks to photo clubs and wildlife societies.
these would not pay the mortgage. I photograph Dog agility events, which continue through the winter. print sales are a few hundred pounds per show.
Weddings are lucrative, and portrait and pets photos would help put food on the table.
According to Amateur photographer magazine, a professional has proceeds from photography in excess of 5,000 per year. To do a dozen weddings a year would make you a professional,but not earn you a living.
Most top photographers I know specialize: Motor sports, fashion, commercial advertising.
Like music and art, only the brave and best succeed.
It would be interesting to hear your' views and experiences?

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Big Bri 18 16.5k United Kingdom
18 Sep 2012 1:37PM
Short answer: if it were easy, we would all be doing it.

A good friend of mine is trying exactly what you are doing and has found business down considerably this year. He has another job, so doesn't rely on it, which is good as I don't think he's even recovered the cost of the equipment he bought....
18 Sep 2012 2:15PM
As someone who has worked in the media on a leading magazine for 20+ years, may I say this:

The advent of digital has created millions of new photographers - some good, some less so. Friendly with several pros in pre-digital days, they were diversifying even then to make ends meet, but the explosion of DLSRs from around 2002/3 make a couple of them rethink, one abandoning a 20 year business to focus on an image library, another set up a cattery. It was tough then, it's even more so now, especially as what you cant create with a film camera, you can with a computer and digital image.

In my field (transport), there is no one I know who makes their sole income from photographing transport subjects. The competition is too great, and magazines dont pay big bucks as a rule, as their budgets have been squeezed. There is one photographer colleague who has created a business of doing weddings, portraits, fashion, event and other forms of photography because that's what he wants to succeed in, but is lucky that he lives with parents. It is only with this range of diversification that you may begin to make money, and then you may need someone to assist with marketing and promoting your business, website updates, postal sales, etc.

The hardest task is breaking through. This week I've had 30 quality images from around 10 to 12 contributors of a specific event, and probably have space on the magazine pages for 2 pics, maybe 3 at a push. Multiply that a few times any you begin to see the extent of the problem. On top of that in some sectors, magazine sales are on the decline, and so markets will become even more restricted.

The OP is fortunate he's retired, and as he says, making a living is nigh on impossible. In the case of those still at work, do it as a hobby or part time, but
dont give up the day job, just yet. It's a problem with no easy answer.
NaturesHaven 8 283 6 England
18 Sep 2012 2:36PM
You can publish the book yourself, look on the net to see the opportunities, check out Amazon on how to sell your own book on the Amazon site, you can sell through blurb, check it out.......modern technology lets the ordinary peep do things we couldn't dream about even 10 years ago. You don't need a publisher or agent.........DIY.........GrinGrinGrin
lemmy 12 2.8k United Kingdom
18 Sep 2012 3:02PM
I earned enough from photography to retire at 55. I specialized in show business and music photography though I covered wars and mayhem as well during my time . There is a living in it - still - but so many now seems to want to just 'be' a photographer, rather than become one.

It took me years to make the contacts I did. And even longer to get to work with the kind of people I did. Those kind of people must be able to trust you fully to have their best interests at heart. Trust like that is built slowly by word of mouth. To build a name, you must specialize, as you say.

You'll know when your photography is 'getting there' when you start to lose interest in camera brands and equipment and find yourself more interested in tripods and lighting stands and what kind of cases will protect your camera in an aircraft hold. The photography itself has to be of a standard that you can take for granted in most situations, hence the years it takes. Ideally it will be instinctive, a bit like when you learn a foreign language and then find your self dreaming in it sometimes.

There are some very successful photographers today, making a lot of money as there always have been but a large part of what they are selling is their personality. It has always been so. In the digital age, the personality is even more imortant- it is very hard, with the levelling effect of digital photography to make a name through your images alone as Cartier-Bresson did, for example.

One of the nice aspects of photography as a career is that you end up with a library of work. I still get decent royalties from sales of my stuff though my agent 12 years after I gave it up as a job.

On the subject of agents, you need to work out what you are good at. Is it selling pictures or making them? If you are better at making them, you can be doing that while an agent markets them. My agents have made me 10 times over the years what they have cost me as well as freeing me up from a stressful side of the business.

In the OP's case, I would just keep on keeping on. Persistence is the thing. You are probably never going to become rich from your speciality but personally I'd find a good agent to market my stuff and try to get a reputation as an authority in the field. Good things will flow from that. You sound like you are on the way anyway but it takes time. And a word of hard won personal advice. Don't so anyone any favours by selling or working cheap in the promise of better paid work later on. It won't happen. All you do is lower your status in their eyes.

You obviously love those birds and being around them. That is is a great way to make money, any money. I don't know anything about wedding photography but it sound a highly competitive and tough way to make a living to me. I'd stick with the kingfishers Wink
hobbs 15 1.3k United Kingdom
18 Sep 2012 3:27PM
I'm going through a similair process at the moment, I have a day job which basically helps fund the business while I get established. A couple of key things I've found are to make relevant contacts, build reputation and to have patience as it isn't going to happen over night. I've been going for about 12 mths and while I'm getting work and my client base is expanding I wont be quitting the day job for quite a while. Mind I'm happy with the set-up at the moment.
Focus_Man 9 481 631 United Kingdom
18 Sep 2012 3:30PM

Quote: Mind I'm happy with the set-up at the moment.


Is the tax man?
hobbs 15 1.3k United Kingdom
18 Sep 2012 3:58PM

Quote:Mind I'm happy with the set-up at the moment.

Is the tax man?



Yes because my business is legitimately set up (sole trader) and registered with the tax office. It was also included in my last Tax return and I promptly paid the tax I owed. In fact I have to say the Tax Office were exceptionally helpful when it came to setting up the business and when it came to doing my first tax return.
puertouk 8 1.1k 17 United Kingdom
18 Sep 2012 4:52PM
If you've retired, make it an hobby and if you get paid, slip it under your mattress. Starting a photography business takes years to get up and running, plus all the expenditure that goes with it. All the equipment, maybe a studio, lighting, insurance etc. It just goes on and and on. There are young people coming out of either college or university with varying qualifications in photography. These people can't even get work, never mind an old codger! Enjoy what you do and make a little pocket money, but as far as going professional, forget it.
Stephen
Focus_Man 9 481 631 United Kingdom
18 Sep 2012 4:59PM

Quote:Yes because my business is legitimately set up (sole trader) and registered with the tax office. .


I didn't want details, I wondered if you made sufficient to keep the tax man happy, nothing more. My business was exactly the same, sole trader and made more than enough to keep the tax man happy.

I am now retired, but have to declare the few extras I make each year, via my accountant as I don't want any more self assessments at the age of 72, I just pay a lump sum.
Focus_Man 9 481 631 United Kingdom
18 Sep 2012 5:02PM

Quote:If you've retired, make it an hobby and if you get paid, slip it under your mattress.


Depends upon who you do work for. If you work for industry or commerce where invoices are required, you need to be careful and in fact I would suggest that in those circumstances you declare it. Sure as eggs are eggs, they will be claiming tax relief against those invoices.
lemmy 12 2.8k United Kingdom
18 Sep 2012 5:38PM
Tax talk strikes me as having little to do with Sydney2's OP. His tax affairs are matter for him. I don't think the tax man is happy or unhappy with anyone's business provided they pay their due tax.

Above the tax threshold, any earnings must be declared and taxed, it is not a matter of choice. I gathered that the OP was more interested in people's experience of building a business than tax advice.
hobbs 15 1.3k United Kingdom
18 Sep 2012 6:48PM

Quote:Tax talk strikes me as having little to do with Sydney2's OP. His tax affairs are matter for him. I don't think the tax man is happy or unhappy with anyone's business provided they pay their due tax.

Above the tax threshold, any earnings must be declared and taxed, it is not a matter of choice. I gathered that the OP was more interested in people's experience of building a business than tax advice.



Didn't mean to go off track
peted01 10 75 United Kingdom
18 Sep 2012 8:17PM
Completely agree with Lemmy.
My story is that at the age of 56 took redundancy and set up a business (in my case ltd company). Despite a highly commended by the PEG, and having a sponsored solo exhibition, I am still not really making any money. It is just a few quid here or there. Am I surprised, no not really, I reckon on at least two years before reaching the tax threshold let alone earning a living.
Just to re-itterate what Lemmy said, the tech quality of your images should not be in question it should already be there. It is all about making contacts, networking, delivering what you say you are going to deliver, honesty, etc etc I (dont think) I will ever be rich doing what I do but by heck I do enjoy it. I have met nice people, I have met not so nice people, I do exactly what I want to do and not what somebody else tells me to do. Down side is that there is nobody to tell me what to do next and so after 40 years in the corporate world it can be difficult 'going out and getting the work' but hey it is exciting.

I love it
scottishphototours 15 2.6k 2
18 Sep 2012 8:37PM

Quote:Like music and art, only the brave and best succeed.


Absolutely not.

I know many photographers as friends who I rate as "all round" better than me but they don't make a penny from photography. I have musician friends who have toured America, are brilliant, but still scrape a living doing other things. Art - well, that's the worst possible field to be involved in IMHO...

In my estimation the ones that succeed are the ones who make the most of the contacts they meet in business, working with them to create outlets for their work. It's all about making the most of whatever opportunity comes along, a thing that most of us aren't that good at...


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