Success Stories: How to Create Your Own Photography Niche

In a day and age where social media and other media consumption habits gear users toward a torrent of visual information, how does a commercial photographer go about creating a lucrative business? The answer, according to more than just one accomplished pro photog, lies in knowing how to create your own photography niche. This is, of course, about personal branding to a large extent, but it also has to do with finding what you love, catering to an already existing audience, and getting noticed (and paid!) for it. Easier said than done, huh? Well, it might take a bit of soul-searching, market research, and adapting, but it certainly is feasible. Here’s how:

create-your-own-photography-niche

Create your own photography niche by providing quality products to ideal clients

Do you happen to know at least one photographer who does it all? Product shoots, events, concerts, architecture, fashion, travel, babies – they know all about it and dabble in them all. While, on the one hand, it’s perfectly acceptable to sometimes step out of your comfort zone and try your hand at a type of photography you’re not entirely specialized in, this is not a very good business strategy. See, the reasoning behind such a ‘smorgasbord’ approach is that the photographers in question believe that if they have something to offer to everyone, then someone will surely want to do business with them. Key word: someone. Anyone. On the other hand, though, the process through which you create your own photography niche starts with knowing what you love to photograph and who you can sell it to, ideally.

So, in your quest to create your own photography niche, start out by identifying the following:

  • The perfect picture. What segment of photography do you feel most comfortable with? Narrow it down as much as you want. It could be a particular type of wedding photography, or something exotic like pet portraiture. The important thing is that you’ve got the technical skills, gear, and experience, to create great pictures of this kind. Finding this segment will take an honest look on your part at your current portfolio. You can also gauge social media reactions to your photos, for an indicator, as well as ask for unbiased second opinions from your peers.
  • The perfect client. First and foremost, a perfect client in any photography niche is one that trusts their photographer and knows they’ve chosen the best person for the job. Then come the specifics. Perhaps you like to work with couples in your area, or with big brands, or not-for-profits. Whatever tickles your fancy is entirely acceptable.

In order to create your own photography niche, you need to find that point of intersection between the two narrowed-down groups above: the perfect product you are able to deliver, and the ideal person to pay for it.

The benefits of creating your own photography niche

There’s far more to gain from specialization in photography nowadays, than just mere monetization. Of course, this aspect is not to be ignored, but here are a few other things you’re likely to gain in the process:

  • Confidence. By working with and for people who appreciate the kind of work you do, you will also gain more self-trust in your own skills and value. This way, you’ll be able to price your shoots at a fairer value.
  • Identity as a photographer. When you stand out from the crowd, when you’re no longer just another photographer on the virtually endless list of online artists, you’ve got yourself a personal brand.
  • New business. This almost goes without saying – when you know what you’re about and what you can deliver to discerning customers, you will also know where and how to go looking for them. If it hasn’t already, you’ll start seeing your photography business take off.

Will Photography Make You Rich?

How do you define “rich”?

That, of course, is a matter of opinion.

According to the IRS, the top 10% of income earners in America today make 43% of all income and pay 70% of all taxes. The top 2% of income earners pay approximately 50% of all income taxes.

According to the Tax Policy Center, if you make $107,628, you are in the top 20% of income earners. If you exceed $148,687, you are in the top 10%. If your annual income is $208,810 or more, you are in the top 5%. And if you exceed $521,411, congratulations, you are in the top 1%.

But that is income. And does your income truly signify your wealth?

It doesn’t matter how much you make if you have significantly more expenses than you do income.

So maybe we should turn to net worth. According to the Federal Reserve Survey of Consumer Finances, a net worth of $415,700 would put you in the top 20% of Americans. A net worth of $952,200 puts you into the top 10%. $1,863,800 would put you into the top 5%, and $6,816,200 would put you safely into the top 1%.

How do those numbers affect you? Did you think they would be higher than they are?  Do they seem attainable to you, or are they so far off, they almost seem imaginary?

Now let’s look at photographers. According to the US Department of Labor, the National Employment Statistics for May 2012 show that to be in the top 10% of all wage earners, you would need to make $66,990. To be in the top 25%, that number would fall to $43,930.

And more importantly, studies have also shown that average salary for photographers over the past 10 years has fallen anywhere from 8 to 12 percent per year. That is attributed to improved digital technologies and the barrier to entry that has allowed huge waves of photographers to enter the field.

Will photography make you rich? Again, the definition of rich can be arguable. But when we look at solely from a physical money standpoint, the odds are not in your favor. But does that mean it’s impossible? Can photography still be a viable option for you?

Yes, and here’s how.

Will Photography Make You Rich

1. At the lowest end of the spectrum is the general photographer, making on average $19,000. The photographers that are in the upper 10% are all niched and specialized, known within their genre. Which means for you to do well in photography, pick your niche, specialize, become as good as you can within that genre, and continue to promote yourself all over the world.

2. Focus on the bottom line, not what everyone else is charging for something “similar”. If you’ve read my Pricing Your Photography, you know how important it is to start with the end in mind. What do you need from your photography to survive? How can you create packages to achieve those results?

3. What is your revenue every year for your photography business? Have you ever added everything up to truly figure out how much your business is bringing in? In some cases just looking at the numbers can give you a wake up call. Make sure you use an accounting system and look at your reports all the time. I use online Wave Accounting – it’s free – and it has a wonderful graphic dashboard that tells you your numbers as soon as you enter the program. You don’t need sophisticated programs – just something to help you keep track of where you are and where you want to be.

4. Make more than you spend. If you are defining wealth by how much you make, yet you spend more than you take in, you are losing every single year. Instead, focus in on what comes in, and how you can spend less than that to put some away. Remember, to be in the top 10%, your net worth needs only to be $952,200.

5. Never focus your mind on making money with your photography. Instead, focus in on how to build a business. If you want a Six Figure business, you have to build the structure and the systems that will allow you to attain that level of business. You’ll never make it if you hand over your digital files for whatever price you can get. You must have a business model set in place that allows you to “see” your business long before a potential customer ever walks through your door.

Making Peace With The Enemy

“I think it’s terrible when a photographer holds a person’s images “hostage” for money. I shoot for a fee – $150 for a portrait sitting – and hand over the files. I could never gouge a person and charge high fees for their photos.”

I hear that statement (or something like it) a lot. How about you? Have you ever said it?

The truth is money is simply a tool. It’s a way of receiving value for something you do, and a method of being able to get the things you need. Nothing more. Nothing less.

Yet money has so many connotations to it, books are written and classes are held on it every day. Why is it so mysterious? Why does it have such a hold on us?

What if we flipped it around and talked about your current job in a similar manner. What if your boss came to you and said

“Instead of giving you your normal salary today, I’m going to give you $150 for the day. I feel like I’ve been held hostage for too long, and today I’m only going to give you what I think this job is truly worth.”

Yeah, right. You’d laugh (after you got over the shock).

So with your corporate job, you expect to make a decent living. You expect raises and possibly even bonuses.

Why is that different than photography?

Photography is a business. It is a career. And in some cases it is a job.

If something is a business, a career or a job, you have to be able to make a decent living at it.

Let’s say you make $60,000 at your corporate job. In order to turn a photography business into an equal opportunity, at $150 per person, you would have to photograph 400 people per year.

Yet in your corporate job, your $60,000 salary is an expense. They make millions ( or billions) and have an entire list of expenses they write off each year, including your salary, marketing, rent for their office location, equipment, etc. [Read more...]

Wow, I Never Knew It Was So Easy To Make Money At Photography

I’ve had a point and shoot since high school and love to play around at photography. The other day I picked up one of those camera specials at the big box store – you know, where it comes with a body and a lens all in one?

So I was thinking, I’m pretty good at photography, and because I haven’t had a raise in five years and my husband has been out of work for 18 months, I think I’ll make some money at it.

I’ve already shot a wedding and did a pretty good job. Its easy. You just show up and keep shooting. Sure I ended up with over 3000 images. But I had to take that many; by the time I went through them and took out all the bad ones, I had 400 great ones left. And after I Photoshopped what was left, I have to say they were pretty good. The bride seemed pretty happy with her CD.

And I made $500 bucks for my effort! That really looked good in our bank account. Sure, I work during the week, and the wedding took 10 hours out of my Saturday. But the kids will understand – this is a tough time. So $500 and 10 hours of time – that’s $50 an hour. Yipppeeee. Oh wait, I guess I did spend 5 hours on Sunday editing the 3000 down to 400. Oh, and I did spend the several hours each night over the following week Photoshopping those final 400. And I did meet the bride for coffee so she could look through the disk on her computer. And I might have to meet her again if she wants to order anything else – but she does have the images so that probably won’t happen anyway.

I loved the camera I used as well. Sure, I couldn’t get everything I wanted – its hard with the one lens. I’ll save up and buy another one soon, but for now the one camera body and one lens should do just fine. The on camera flash seemed to work pretty well too. This last wedding was in the middle of the day and held out on a patio area, so I didn’t need much flash anyway. It can’t be that much different at a night wedding, or a wedding reception in a dance hall with low lighting, right? And as long as I’m careful with my camera, the one should last me this entire season.

I talked with another bride today and she asked me about price. I have no idea what to charge, but I do know everyone I’m talking with wants a CD with all the files. They really don’t care about prints or albums or frames, so I know I’m going to stick with handing them a CD with all the images. That seems like the easiest way. And since I’m new at this, I know I can’t charge what others do. I searched online today and found several photographers in my area that charged $1000, $1200 and $1500 for wedding coverage. So I’ll low-ball it to make sure I get plenty of work. I think I’ll offer a $500 and an $800 package.

Business license? I need one of those? A tax ID? Insurance? Really? I want to do this bare-bones. What do I absolutely have to have in order to get this business off the ground? All else can wait.

I’ve worked the last five weekends, and boy am I getting tired. The weddings are all over town, so I’m averaging 10 hours per Saturday. And of course you can double those hours with production time. I haven’t spent any time with the kids in weeks. We’re having to get babysitters too as my husband found a part time job as well. But in five weeks, I’ve made $2500. Of course I have no idea where the money went. Groceries, gas, dentist bills and clothes for the kids. Probably a lot to the babysitter as well.

Oh no, I dropped my camera. And I have a wedding tomorrow. It should still work, right? It looks like its okay.

Well it wasn’t okay. And now the bride is fuming. All of her pictures are messed up and I don’t know what to do. I told her I would spend a lot of time Photoshopping them and doing what I can to make them great.

After 50 hours of computer time, the bride is finally happy. Whew. I was worried she was going to sue me. And I haven’t had time to look into that insurance yet. Maybe I should do that this week…

This was the worst summer of my life. I have no extra money in the bank, I’ve been working 7 days a week for the past 5 months, I don’t even know who my kids are anymore, I haven’t spoken with my husband in 3 weeks, and I have a pile of work still left to do. Photography used to be fun – it’s a huge chore now. There’s nothing creative about it. I just show up and literally start shooting in hopes I capture something great. I hate posing as I really don’t know how to do it. And I’m always stressed out and worried my camera will die or I’ll have to replace a lens. And these bridezillas! I had no idea some of them could be so demanding. They really want me to get a shot like that? How would I do that?

They say the best way to get more weddings is to market your business. What? I have a business card, but I can’t afford anything else. And do I really want to anyway? I can’t imagine having another summer like this. Maybe its time to hang up my camera and go back to shooting for fun.

I’m thinking there might be a little more to it in becoming a true professional photographer.

How The Recession Can Boost Your Business Savvy

The media is full of stories of economic downturns, bankruptcies, and businesses going out of business. While you can look just about anywhere and find the “bad” that is out there, the recession can actually do small businesses some good as well. Instead of bemoaning your situation, change it around and find some positive aspects to focus in on.

Its been said that some of the strongest, healthiest companies in the world were started during hard economic times. It may be because you have to watch how you spend your money and what you invest in. Here are a few things that can help you increase your business savviness over the coming months.

Make savings a priority

Because we’re in the middle of a recession with no clear end in sight, assume this is the new “norm”. What can you do today to make next year at this same time even better? Getting loans is more difficult than ever. Lines of credit are all but extinct. And the last thing you want is to bring on more credit card debt. Make a conscious effort to live within your means, and create a savings account now for life’s little emergencies. Even if you can only add $50 a month to it, consider it as an investment towards your future.

Pay debts on time or ahead of time

When you are living paycheck to paycheck, every dollar counts. And if you fall into the “fee” trap you’ll quickly find yourself in a difficult position. Banks don’t make money if you pay on time; they like the clients that don’t make payments, have their interest rates go up, and are assessed fee after fee for late payments. Make it a habit to pay ahead of time, or at the very least on time. [Read more...]

7 Ways To Make Money For The Holidays

Only 52 more days until Christmas.

Even if you don’t celebrate Christmas, chances are some of your clients do. And with the many other holidays that fall around the end of the year, there is always something to celebrate somewhere.

This year, times are tight. People are out looking for more meaningful gifts that cost less, yet still show how much they love them. What could be better than photography?

But with only 52 days left until the big day, what can you do now to bring in some business in the coming weeks? Give these ideas a try.

1. Give A Gift Certificate

For many people, the holidays is the only time of the year the entire family is together. People come from near and far to celebrate together, then head off to the far corners of the world for the New Year. A gift certificate could brighten a mother’s day when she knows she’ll have a current portrait hanging on her wall to enjoy all of next year. It’s the perfect gift to give on the big day, and use a few days after Christmas to capture the entire family together. And you can print a colorful certificate on your printer, and frame it in a keepsake frame perfect for the final image.

2. Special Events Over The Next Couple of Weeks

Set up a special event and shoot over the next couple of weekends. Depending on where your studio is at, it can be on the beach, in a park, or right in your studio. Here in Colorado, it’s a great time of year to take snow portraits. Or use something that says “holidays” and put together a unique background. Put together a package that gives them a framed image perfect for holiday giving. If you make it a limited edition, you’ll be able to build on this concept year after year.

3. Sell Seasonal Packages

Want to sell more to your best clients? Set up a 4 seasons package. Over the next year, they can come in for 4 special portrait sessions all based around the 4 seasons. Then you’ll frame it in a limited edition frame – perfect for giving next holiday season. [Read more...]

1 Simple Rule To Making Money Over Night

It’s easy to make money.

It’s easy to start up a business from scratch and have it make a full time income your first month.

It’s easy to become a millionaire.

Yep, you can hear and read statements like that everywhere. And it always seems like when times are bad and things are at their worst, those “promises” turn up more regularly than ever.

But if they are true, why don’t we see more people jumping into their own businesses and becoming profitable “overnight”? Why don’t we read about the millionaires instead of the people hard on their luck?

The problem with most of these promises is they are simply not true.

Yes it may be easy to make money – if you have a great job, have a solid business in place, and have products and services people are willing to buy.

Yes it may be easy to start up a business and have it make money the first month – if you understand what it takes to make that happen.

And yes, it may be easy to make a million dollars – but only if you know what it takes to make a million dollars.

There may be the case studies and the examples of people that have “been there, done that”. But for most of us, that isn’t reality. And the only way it will truly happen is if we follow the one simple rule needed to make money … [Read more...]

10 More Sites To Peruse For Freelance Photography Jobs

A while back I created a post 10 Sites To Find Freelance Photography Work. While all of these places are still available to help you find immediate work, I knew there had to be other places as well. Below is a list of more photography job sites for you to use and start finding the perfect job for you.

Simply Hired

A job posting board for a variety of occupations, including photography.

The CreativeLoft

A premium jobsite that posts only the best job offers within the photographic industry. Search by state, occupation or field.

[Read more...]

What Does Photography Income Mean To You?

A number of years ago, I was given a book that literally changed my life. It’s called Rich Dad Poor Dad. You’ve probably read that one, or one of the many Robert Kiyosaki has written in the decade since that one debuted. (If not, go and grab a copy today.)

At that point in time, we had an extremely successful business. We photographed around 30 weddings per year, averaging 4 to 5 figure sales per wedding. Yep, we were making a very healthy six figure income, and having the time of our lives flying all over the place to capture wedding memories.

Yet even though we had a blast doing our 30 weddings per year, this book made us look at things a bit differently.

Our entire livelihood relied on 25 to 30 clients per year. Not only did we have to work hard to find those 25 to 30 clients every year, we had to work hard to keep them happy.

Okay, that wasn’t difficult. We loved what we were doing.

We had to be very careful with the way we “played”. Skiing in the winter? Forget it. What if we broke a leg? Ever tried being a wedding photographer with a broken leg? So even though we loved what we were doing, we were still making conscious choices about how we lived.

Okay, that still isn’t too bad right?

But what about if the economy turned and it became harder to find those 25 to 30 people? Or what if one or two of them gave you all sorts of problems? The stress could literally eat you up for months at a time. Add in increasing competition, and you can quickly see that choosing one path like this for a lifetime of income isn’t the smartest thing to do.

Rich Dad Poor Dad opened up our eyes to that, and we quickly started to change.

Changing Your Goals

The goal is to develop several forms of income that allows you to make money in a variety of different ways. We decided to leverage all of our skills and knowledge, and use it to make income in a variety of ways.

The first part is understanding the different types of income.

[Read more...]

More Than 3 Packages Could Ruin Your Photography Business

The human brain is an amazing thing. We can learn everything from a foreign language, to complex scientific formulas. Every day can be filled with the excitement of learning something new.

But if you think about how you learn things, chances are you learn a small part of something in one day, and quickly begin to block other things out. That’s because we learn in short bursts. If someone is talking, we tend to retain less than 20 percent of what was said. That’s why in training programs you’ll hear the same things again and again, trying to make the most important items stick with you.

No matter how much a person is interested in your photography, after awhile they’ll begin losing attention, and getting lost in your words. It’s not they aren’t interested; you’ve just reached their retention point. So if you have a huge pricing structure that takes several minutes to go through, they’ll retain the first minute or so, and be completely lost after that.

Instead of creating a long, complicated package list, keep it simple. Present everything you do in three clear ways. Don’t have multiple packages where each package increases slightly in price with just one or two difference. Make them distinctly different, and make it clearly obvious that you get a better deal by moving to the next package.

In my Pricing Guide I talk at length about building packages for you, not for your client. The ultimate goal of a package isn’t to give your client a good deal (though they ultimately do), the goal is to get you the sales you need for your business, and the profit you need to stay in business.

By sticking with three packages, your client won’t lose interest as you talk about each one, and they won’t get confused over the differences in each package. Make each package distinct and stand alone. You should never have to think about the differences – they should be obvious. You should also concentrate on making your middle package being the best – the package you would love to sell again and again to every client. Because ultimately that’s what you’ll do. People love the middle – the smaller one seems too “cheap” and the higher one seems a little “extravagant”. Which means the middle one is “just right”.

If you sold 100 packages over the next few months, 10 at the bottom level, 10 at the top, and 80 in the middle, would that make your business? If the answer is yes, then you’re on your way to creating perfect packages.