So you want to be a professional photographer?


Missed the kiss! Only one chance to capture this moment. This photographer misjudged lighting and ISO. Lots of motion-blurred shots at this wedding.

I just saw an ad for a “professional” photographer who has to be hemorrhaging money. $125 got his clients 3 hours of shooting, multiple locations, several outfit changes and rights to high resolution images on disk. Holy cow!

Even if he isn’t editing at all, he can’t be making enough money to survive. Those prices are better than Walmart and even their photo studios recently went out of business!

I did the math and without putting anything aside for insurance or equipment replacement or travel, I’d make about $6 an hour if I charged his rates.

He’s a “self-taught professional” with business cards and all. The marketing looks great.

It raises questions. What makes a professional a professional? Is it equipment? Ability? Payscale? A business card and website?

Websters says a professional is following an occupation as a means of livelihood. Livelihood is a means of supporting one’s existence, especially financially or vocationally.

But Websters doesn’t qualify the level of existence. Hmmm…

Does that mean the 15 year old high school student living at home and paying no bills is a “professional” just like my colleagues at Bruce Haskell Photography with their beautiful studio and multi-person staff? That doesn’t make sense to me.


Oops! This photographer is still learning lighting. Use a gobo, fill flash or find some shade.

My friends who are professionals have some significant expenses just like I do. There’s equipment insurance, liability insurance, association dues, offsite archiving fees and advertising costs. At $6 an hour I’d have to photograph 200 seniors to pay just those expenses while my mortgage, electricity, Internet and every other bill went unpaid. Plus, I’d starve!

I have some suggestions:

1) If you’re starting out as a photographer, have limited experience and few expenses, be honest. Tell people you are working toward becoming a full time professional and that’s why your rates are so low. Otherwise they will expect your rates to be just as absurdly low when they come back in five years for another project. Shoot with every pro who will let you and then get their endorsement. When I am booked or talk to someone who just can’t afford to pay enough for me to make a living, I refer them to good photographers who are building and learning or are talented hobbyists and weekend shooters.

I shot my first wedding in 1981 but I still have so much to learn. I have some photographers I love to watch and learn from (Brittany Rae Photography, Cory Pro Photography, etc).  Maine has a lot of very talented photographers! If you’re new, you’ll go further if you adopt an attitude of a lifelong learner.

2) If you are a client using a “pro” who has absurdly low rates compared to the others you’ve looked at, don’t be a jerk when the results aren’t as good as the Pinterest shots you love. Your eye sockets might be dark, the background might be cluttered or you might be washed out by sun. Remember, there is a reason your photographer’s rates are so low. He’s learning or gaining experience. The good news is that a learner is usually thrilled to reshoot and try again! You might be love your shots or, you might get what you paid for.

3) Lastly, and this one is a vital if you have attached the pro label to your photography services, please invest in liability insurance and a backup body if you shoot weddings. There are a lot of horror stories of unhappy brides suing their photographers for subpar results, or accidents. Courts hold professionals to “professional” standards and will side with brides when they find negligence. You can’t reshoot a wedding. Different standards exist for photographers who list themselves as “semi-professional”,”weekend shooters” or “photography lovers.”  Use a contract and spell it out. Just be honest. There’s a large market looking for less expensive student photographers and people learning the craft. Resist presenting yourself as someone you are not.

4) Consider the impact you are having on the local photography economy by including yourself in the professional ranks while offering cutrate prices to fill your calendar. Imagine yourself as the parent of three who owns a deli. What impact would it have on you if someone who “just loves making sandwiches” opens a deli across the street charging a 10th of what you charge? What impact would it have on the deli business in your area? You contribute to the health of the photography economy in your community.

It is entirely alright for you to charge whatever you want. Heck, if you’re just starting out, shoot as much as you can and whenever you can, even for free. Enjoy your craft! Just be honest in your marketing. Use it to your advantage. When you truly get to the point of your photography providing the majority of your livelihood as an independent adult, join the professional community. You’ll find other pros willing to fill in for you if you get sick or break a leg. They’ll share equipment and give advice. In professional photography, it takes a village.

Scott Linscott is a professional photographer in Westbrook Maine who is now working to rebuild his business after a lifesaving liver transplant in May of 2012. He has been in and out of the professional ranks since he began as a photography lover in 1981.

About Scott Linscott

Living life to the fullest, walking in the dust of my Rabbi, creating art through photography and written word, speaking words of hope and encouragement at conferences, workshops, church and civic gatherings.
This entry was posted in scenic prints, Senior photos, Senior portraits, Wedding photographer and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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