Struggling Vs Successful Photographers

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Hey, how’s it going? I’m Andy Jones and this is episode 115 of the Photography Side Hustle podcast.

After last week’s episode on building your website, I was thinking about the differences between struggling and successful pro photographers.

Why do some photographers earn hundreds of thousands of dollars a year, and others struggle to make a living?

So I’ll go through what I think is the difference.

Let’s start with the …

Struggling Photographer

They shoot a couple of sessions a week and make little to no profit because their prices are way off and they don’t charge enough. All of their marketing is done on free classified sites like Craigslist. They use a Facebook page instead of a website and think websites are a waste of money.

As far as equipment goes, all of their lenses are hobbyist quality. When they start making a profit they will buy a pro lens or two. The problem is they are going around in circles and not getting anywhere.

Their image quality is as good as it can be considering the lenses they use, and all they offer to their customers are the image files. When you ask them why do you only offer the files, they say because that is what the customers want.

Now I’m not saying everyone who is struggling does all these things, but I can guarantee they do at least one of them. 

So now let’s have a look at a …

Successful Photographer

These guys have sessions booked way in advance. Everything they do has a feeling of quality.

Their website shows examples of their work hanging on customers walls. Every page on the site has a testimonial on it, customers love to work with this photographer and talk about them like a family friend.

Customers can make bookings through the website and after the photo session, they can view their photos in a private gallery.

They buy professional quality equipment and have been using the same gear since they started in business.

All photos are professionally edited and look great. Their customers hire them because they want wall art, not digital files. 

The prices they charge for a session or wedding are high. 

So …


Which do you want to be?

I’m sure you want to be successful, everybody does. It doesn’t matter if you intend to go full-time or keep it as a side hustle, you still need to do everything possible to be successful.

If you decide to shoot one session a week for $100 and give the customer all the files, go for it. But, you will soon get tired of what you are doing and quit.

Doing all the right steps even if you shoot just one session a week, will be more rewarding and profitable. 

If you could do one session a week and make $1000 or much more, I’m sure you would want to know how.

So let’s look at some steps … 


Is your work professional?

This is your first step to getting customers. Your photos need to be above average, not the most amazing ever, just above average. 

If you can capture photos that are in sharp focus, well-composed and well-lit, they are probably above average.

You need to avoid common mistakes like distracting backgrounds, color casts, and something simple like a portrait subject isn’t looking into the lens.

The most frequent problem I see is poor or non-existent editing. Half of your work as a photographer is editing. So you need to take the step and buy editing software. 


What is your product?

What do you sell? 

If you give the customer all the files, then you don’t really have one. OK, if you shoot Real Estate then the files are your product, and there are other genres where the files are handed over. 

But, apart from that you need products.

This is something I heard years ago …


“Without Value Price is an Issue”


So if you give the files away for a few dollars, you have little value to the customer. They could book any number of photographers offering the same thing. This is where photographers compete on price. The only way they get bookings is by undercutting the competition. 

That is a race to the bottom, and you don’t want to do that.

If you started offering wall art, that is framed prints, canvases, etc., you now offer value. The customer can see what you can do for them. 

They want large family pictures on the walls of their house, and they don’t mind paying for them.

One simple step from selling the files to selling wall art can easily 10x your income.

Even sports photographers need to sell products. I’m constantly talking about posters and magazine covers. Products are more profitable, they have value.


How do you look after your customers?

It’s important to look after your customers. You need to find out what they want from the photo session. By that I don’t mean they want it to be a nice sunny day, I mean where in their home do they want the print to go? Are they looking at getting multiple photos of each family member or just one large group shot?

Visiting the customer’s home and discussing this with them will put you both on the same page and make your job so much easier.

The aim isn’t to act like a salesperson, but more like a consultant.

A lot of very successful photographers use In-Person Sales techniques. That entails visiting the customer’s home when the photos are ready to be viewed. Or if they have a studio the customers come in and choose the images for print.

Some of the techniques used can be a little too pushy. I personally couldn’t do it, just the thought of it feels wrong.

If you discuss the customer’s needs before the shoot, I think an online gallery for them to order from is fine. It takes the pressure out of the process and frees up more of your time. 



OK, I have a spreadsheet on the website that will help you work out your breakeven point and how much profit you need to make from each session you shoot. You just need to register to get access.

So the first thing I want you to do is keep the session fee separate from the prices. That is don’t charge a $150 session fee and give them a $100 print credit. Just charge a session fee and keep it all.

For your first price list pick out the products you want to sell from your favorite photo lab website. Then multiply those prices by 3 or 4. It’s that simple.

OK, so your session fee is $200, and they purchase $1200 of wall art. If you multiplied the print price by 4 you would make $900 on the prints plus the $200 fee. Your total profit from the shoot would be $1100.

If you multiplied the prints by 3 you would make a $1000 profit.

You can make a good living shooting two or three sessions a week.


How do you market?

You need to use online ads on Google and Facebook to get yourself up and running.

If you shoot weddings contact local wedding-related vendors and work together.

Of all the things you can do to get bookings the most useful marketing tool you can use is a mailing list. Visitors to your website can sign up for monthly specials, and their name and email is saved to your list. Then when it’s time to market you just send an email with an offer to everyone on the list. 

It’s cheaper than ads and way easier to get a booking.


What does your website have in it?

Well, I covered this in last week’s episode, but, there is one thing you need to do if you are selling products and that is show them what you are selling.

If you are selling wall art you need to have images of wall art. Not just the photo, but your photo framed on a wall. The same goes for sports photography, show your collages and posters on a wall.

Customers need to know that you don’t sell digital files, and if they book you they will only be offered wall art.



So if you want to move on and be successful in making a living taking photos you really do need to stop selling your files and move over to selling prints.

Ok, that’s all I’ve got for this episode. If you need help with anything you can find me in the Facebook group, although you may have to wait for a reply. I am getting so many people asking questions I can’t keep up. 

Anyway, I’ll be back next week with more waffle, talk to you soon, bye.