How To Become A 17-Year-Old Freelance Photographer

Discussion in 'Digital Photography' started by AvSRoCkCO1067, Jul 13, 2006.

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  1. AvSRoCkCO1067 macrumors 65816

    AvSRoCkCO1067

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    #1
    How To Become A 17-Year-Old Freelance Photographer : Post One

    A number of MacRumorians have posted threads discussing the same topic: freelance photography. However, oftentimes they are met with a hesitant crowd, one which ridicules the idea of selling photos without very much experience. So, after a few requests, I decided that I’d post a thread on my own experiences as a young, not-so-experienced freelance photographer, and then let you discuss the rest.

    The most difficult obstacle of becoming successful is, of course, advertising. My business prospered off of ‘word-of-mouth’, although I made a number of posters to jump start the process as well. All of the posters had my email address and phone number available to tear away, and they were posted in a number of public facilities - including a local barn.

    Now, contrary to popular belief, you don’t become successful based on skill or quality alone - rather, price is the central tool in luring potential clients. Unlike local professional photographers, whose margins were extremely high but volume was relatively limited, I based my business off of high volume and low margins. Therefore, both the customer and I won.

    My initial pricing was undoubtedly low: 1 dollar for a 4x6, 3 dollars for a 5x7, and 5 dollars for an 8x10. But the quality was horrendous compared to the pictures in iGary’s “Picture of the Day Thread.” Fortunately, customers could not care less - I’ve never in my four years of photography heard a single complaint about the quality of the pictures (due to the obvious fact that the photos were so damn cheap in the first place.)

    As time progressed, however, I knew that some upgrades were needed. First of all, I simply learned how to use the camera better - I invested in more memory and ultimately, the pictures did get better. The prices rose slightly (to what they are today - basically double the above prices) and customers remained satisfied. More and more individual requests were made (senior pictures, family portraits, and quite a few pet shots as well), although because I don’t have my own studio, all those pictures were taken outside at a local park.

    With word-of-mouth spreading fast, I became increasingly dissatisfied with my photos - the quality was limited, and the age of my Minolta camera became more and more evident.

    End of First Post

    In the next post, I’ll post some of my earliest work, as well as some copies of the posters I used. Plus, I’ll discuss the changes I made beginning in my fourth year of freelance photography

    Table Of Contents
    Post One : Introduction : #1
    Post Two : Developing The Basics : #13
    Picture Gallery One : My First Pictures : #14
    Post Three : Marketing / Spreading The Word : #25
    Picture Gallery Two : Signs of Improvement : #31
    Post Four : Change is Good. : #35
    Picture Gallery Three : Before and After : #38
     
  2. mlrproducts macrumors 6502

    Joined:
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    #2
    I look forward to your coming posts

    It hurts me to hear a few things:
    1) That you pretty much began charging when you didn't have the experience. I would think that would hurt your future prospects, sort of limit you in where you wanted to grow.
    and
    2)The prices you've charged. While I know for a fact that competitive pricing is sometimes necessary, I think you're doing yourself and other photographers a disservice. For you, people may find it hard to pay when you raise your rates and the lower that photos get, makes it harder on everyone else. I know it doesn't cost you much now, and you're often going to be giving away your time, but the longer you do it the more you realize that $20+ for an 8x10 is necessary to cover studio, equipment, etc costs.

    Can't wait to see all those photos! And may I ask how long you've been doing this now?
     
  3. form macrumors regular

    form

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    #3
    ...As he said, he doesn't have his own studio, so it can't cost anything extra.

    It appears to me that he's been doing it for...four years?

    Not that it isn't somewhat true, but he didn't specifically say that he was totally inexperienced at photography when he started. (believe it or not, MOST people are inexperienced when they first start - weird, I know.) Instead, he hinted that his equipment was poor. If the circumstances had hurt his future prospects, he probably wouldn't be still doing it today.

    It would make sense that, as his skill and equipment improves, he might begin to attract a different kind of audience which would be willing to pay more, even if the old customers have more trouble affording higher prices (which mostly means that they were looking for cheap more than quality anyway). Besides, he still has the freedom to give certain discounts to his long-time customers.
     
  4. Applespider macrumors G4

    Applespider

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    #4
    I'd guess his target market isn't those who'd go to a professional in any case - and wouldn't know the difference between a pro shot and snapshot particularly either.

    I can imagine several people I know who perhaps don't have a decent camera (digital or film - or don't want to use a whole roll for one picture) who might want a quick snap of something. They'd never to go a pro-photographer and pay several hundred dollars for an heirloom. It's a market gap and he took it.

    If he does become a pro photographer with a studio and set-up, then I'd imagine his prices will go up to reflect costs. But if you're not paying for studio time, lighting equipment and making do with a cheap camera and not much post-processing, his prices are fair. In fact, I'd say they were downright cheap given there must be some element of travelling/processing time involved.
     
  5. mlrproducts macrumors 6502

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    #5
    You guys got me all wrong, you think I'm doggin this guy. I'm not, just calling it as I see it and I think I have valid points of concern. Like I said, I can't wait to read more, it'll be interesting.

    Weird, I'm talking about starting to charge. Of course your'e going to be inexperienced, but I'm talking about charging at that stage.

    Exactly. I understand his position, because I've been in the same boat myself. However, you'll quickly learn to NOT underprice yourself. Competitive is the key word here.
     
  6. ChrisA macrumors G4

    Joined:
    Jan 5, 2006
    Location:
    Redondo Beach, California
    #6
    At your age (17) you have a huge advantage. You don't need to make money. But look at me. I live in So. Calif. Not one house anyplace near me sell for less than $500,000 (yu can figure the payments) and my wife and two kids like to do thing like eat and drive or ride on cars, fly off to vistit relatives and so on. So If I couldn't clear hundreds of dollars a day then I'd have no house, no food not cars. Bottom line is that no sane 40+ year old could do what you are doing. I'd literally have to sell a tall stack of photos at your price EVERY HOUR EVERY DAY.

    Also are you even leagal? Do you have a bussines license, do you do quarty estimated income payments to the state and feds. Social security payments (on both payroll and income). Do you pay workman's comp inssurance? Do you collect sales tax and forward the money to the state? If you are not doing ALL of these things then you are breaking the law and subject to a fine that would put you in brankrupcy. and at age 17 it's your parents who would have to pay. Also not paying the taxes and fees is the same as stealling from the local, state and federal governments and using that stolen money to substitize your bussines, possibly without such stolen money you would run a negative cash flow. OK lots of people work in the "underground economy" but in your case I'd bet non-payment of fees and taxes accounts for 1/2 your income so You might have to double your prices if you moved to a "leagal, above gound busines".

    All that said. You are doing good. Keep at it. No one realy cares if a kid makes a few bucks under the table. But if ever you want to make more then a few bucks, like say enough to support a midle class lifestyle then the city, county, state and feds will all come looking for you.

    You are right about two things. (1) Success depends more on advertizing, "value" in your product and self prometion then in anything else. and (2) Yes the general public is very non-critical of quality of images. I've heard from people who do weding videos that few customers care about the image. If they can make out the subject that's enough as long as there is no bad camera skale it's OK. But oddly even the smallest problem with audio quality and even undemending customers will judge the work as "rubish" so they are very carful to use multiple wireless mics, mini-disk recorders and carfully mix the sound. Odd that the public has more critical ears than eyes
     
  7. mlrproducts macrumors 6502

    Joined:
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    #7
    Thanks Chris for chiming in, I feel like the point I was hinting at was made well in your post.

    Regardless of the tax nazi ;), it does give you an idea of why seemingly "expensive" prints are necessary.
     
  8. ChrisA macrumors G4

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    Redondo Beach, California
    #8
    It depends on your goal and WHY you work

    At age 17 he does not need the money. He is working for a differnt reason. He's not making two car payments and a mortgage and dosen't have any kids in colage. He is working for the experiance and money a seconary. His best bet is to set prices so as to maximize volume and gain what he values most whch is experiance. One good reason for him to slowly raise prices would be so that the _quality_ of the experiance could change. He would do less work but could spend more time on each and he would learn how to satisfy more demanding clients. The latter is importent If he ever wants to make big money he needs to know how to satisfy the most demending clients. It's those demending clients who are willing to pay more.

    At age 17 it make purfect sense to work even at a negative cash flow. We call this "education". Heck I worked my ass off for years at a university and paid big bucks for the previlage. This guy is getting an education and pocket change at the same time, not a bad deal really. If the goal is "education"
     
  9. Moshiiii macrumors 6502a

    Moshiiii

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    Sarasota, FL
    #9
    What camera did you start out with? I'm starting to get deeply into photography and would like to take some pictures to people but I'd probably get shooed away if I showed up with a Cannon Point & shoot.
     
  10. AvSRoCkCO1067 thread starter macrumors 65816

    AvSRoCkCO1067

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    #10
    I started out with a Minolta DiMage 7i (not a bad camera - it's not an SLR, but it's pretty close, and with 1GB of professional memory it set me back about a grand...)

    Thanks for all of those who have posted so far :) ! I'll post again later tonight - ultimately, I'll answer some of the more specific questions/comments you all have in a later post.
     
  11. ChrisA macrumors G4

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    #11
    That is a very good point and explains why so many wedding photographers used Haselblads and Roli TLRs. The camera strongly influences the customer's, or subject perception of the photographer. You _could_ do most wedding photography with a small point and shoot but I doubt you could get a client to pay you $1,200 to shoot with a P&S. But if you spent $50 or $100 and rented some exotic looking camera for the day you could 4X the price.

    Try it. I did. It's not expensive. Rent a Hasselblad CM500 Outfit for about $50 and take it to some public tourist area. Bring a stack of model release forms and they will line up waiting for their turn in front of the camera. I used to own a Mamiya RB67, same effect.
    I rented the RB system before I bought one. (Had I been smarter and bought the Hassy I'd likey still own and use it RB67 was to big)
     
  12. Gil Bates macrumors newbie

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    #12
    You got that one right. You seem to be pretty smart for your age.

    But your pricing seems to be very low. Other "professional" photographers wouldn't like that. Can you recover your equipment cost and other expenses from your "buisiness" income? If not, you are probably undercharging your customers. But, hey, it's a free world. You can charge whatever you want! :)
     
  13. AvSRoCkCO1067 thread starter macrumors 65816

    AvSRoCkCO1067

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    #13
    Post Two : Taking Better Pictures

    How To Become A 17-Year-Old Freelance Photographer : Post Two

    What’s the key to taking good pictures? Is it based on natural talent alone? Experience? The camera itself, or the cameraman? Obviously, those of you who take pictures on a daily basis know that good pictures are a combination of all these keys and more. However, some are more important than others - fortunately, natural talent, in my opinion, plays the greatest role.

    So, while I was just starting out, I did understand how to ‘frame’ a shot correctly (although I’ve gotten much better, and most photographers on this site are still light years ahead of me). Initially, I purchased a camera to take pictures at my annual Family Reunions, although I experimented with macros and portraits as well. Eventually, after learning how to use the ‘continuous shutter’ feature on my camera, I began taking pictures of horses for fun. And, after a few months, people requested to purchase the pictures, and before I knew it, ‘Peters Photography’ was born.

    In 2003, my pricing structure looked like this:

    4x6 : 1 dollar. 5x7 : 3 dollars. 8x10 : 5 dollars.

    In 2004, my pricing structure looked like this:

    4x6 : 1.50 dollars. 5x7 : 4 dollars. 8x10 : 7 dollars.​

    And in 2006, I raised my prices once more, to this:

    4x6 : 2 dollars. 5x7 : 5 dollars. 8x10 : 10 dollars.

    I’ve never charged a ‘session fee’ for individual orders; however, I do have a minimum order fee of 40 dollars. Basically, for the first few shows/orders I put through, I made an average of about 100 dollars for about 12 hours of work. Compare that to the last show I did, where I made about 400 dollars for closer to 8 hours of work.

    Four years after ‘Peters Photography’ began, however, I finally realized that the quality of my shots weren’t cutting it. Continuous shutter mode, although offering more choice to the consumer, took shots in 2.8 megapixel resolutions. Plus, my camera didn’t shoot in standard 4x6 frames, so I was forced to crop pictures even further. Oftentimes, people’s heads were cut off, horse’s tails were cut off, or the pictures were so blurry you could hardly recognize the rider. And that was with a 4x6 picture. Imagine the problems I was seeing with 8x10 photos...

    So I invested in a Nikon D50 with a 300mm telephoto lens (around 11x optical on a point and shoot). And the pictures, immediately, became immensely better...choice was reduced (as I no longer use the continuous shutter), but quality increased.

    End Of Second Post

    In the next post, I’ll focus on marketing with limited resources.
     
  14. AvSRoCkCO1067 thread starter macrumors 65816

    AvSRoCkCO1067

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    #14
    2003 : My First Pictures

    How To Become A 17-Year-Old Freelance Photographer : Picture Gallery One

    I know, I know. These are absolutely terrible. And no, they weren't sold to anyone. But I do want to give you guys an idea of where I started and where I am today.

    Well, here's where I started :p:

    [​IMG]

    [​IMG]

    [​IMG]
     
  15. Applespider macrumors G4

    Applespider

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    #15
    Hmm... got to admit that they'd be tough shots to take in a studio! ;)
     
  16. Drodr28 macrumors newbie

    Drodr28

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    #16
    This is a great idea for a post and I appluade you for starting it. My response to some of the obviously older, bitter, professional or semi-professional photgraphers is go back to your car payments and complaints. He is 17, not 47. For the OP, charge whatever you want. If you do not cover your costs, so what. Stepping on other Photographers toes may not be the best career move, but dam it last time I checked we practice capitalism in this country and the markets are controlled by supply and demand, not some unspoken Photographer's pricing plan.

    It does not sound like you are in this for a steady income or are using these images for professional purposes. If this is something you would like to move towards, go ahead and make a career about it and then worry about the taxman. Have fun just taking great pictures, and be happy you are talented enough to even sell one $1 print. I doubt the IRS is gonna come down hard on back taxes owed on $1 prints advertised on a local barn.

    A close friend of mine started like you did at around 15, and now at 25 he has built a solid career and portfolio and no longer needs to do wedding shoots or sell 5X7 prints to support himself. And yes he now pays taxes, both federally and locally.

    Keep it up and I look forward to seeing more of your work.
     
  17. law guy macrumors 6502a

    law guy

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    Western Massachusetts
    #17
    I think all ChrisA and others were saying was that this is interesting but there are different rules when property taxes are $7000, annual mortgage is $32,000, montly car payments are $800, monthly gas is $200, $3200 a year for car insurance, weekly groceries are $150, winter heating oil is $2700, monthly electricity is $180, cable phone and cells is $260 every month, student loans are $1500 a month, your clothes, wife's clothes, kids clothes, medical co-pays, house up-keep, etc. and $160K might be your pre-tax breakeven point.

    Is it obvious that lift makes the application of the 17-year old story limited in applicability? You'd hope, but I think that's all folks were noting. I didn't see them getting down on the OP and everyone seems to be saying "that's great. Keep it up".
     
  18. Clix Pix macrumors demi-goddess

    Clix Pix

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    #18
    All I can say is, the customer is getting what he/she is paying for....

    Too bad.
     
  19. prof-pixel macrumors newbie

    Joined:
    Jul 13, 2006
    #19
    A great start

    Chris,

    Congratulations on your start in photography as a career.

    I, MANY years ago, as a 17 year old in college, worked in a photo store and did freelance photography work. It eventually led to me working for Eastman Kodak for 22 years as an imaging scientist and now a career as a writer/consultant on digital imaging technology.

    Keep at it!

    Prof. Pixel
     
  20. AvSRoCkCO1067 thread starter macrumors 65816

    AvSRoCkCO1067

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    #20
    I always look forward to your posts, as your photos are extremely good (although your posts are a bit harsh...:( ).

    Anyway, hopefully as I post more and more photos in the 'Picture of the Day' thread and this thread, you'll offer some constructive criticism - I would truly appreciate it.

    For now, though, let's be humane :p :rolleyes: .
     
  21. Cybix macrumors 6502a

    Cybix

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    Western Australia
    #21
    I found this thread a good read (so far).. both the story, and the criticism...

    do what makes you happy, and if you make a buck at the same time, good for you. It seems you have an understanding of how much you should be charging your customer based on your quality of work.. in my opinion that on it's own is a valuable skill to have.
     
  22. mlrproducts macrumors 6502

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    #22
    Everything I've said is because I HAVE BEEN IN HIS SITUATION! Man, learn from those who travelled the hard road before you!

    I began taking an interest in photography when I was 16. I'm now in my twenties and do pretty well on my photography, considering it is my "second job" after my real (read: salaried) job.
     
  23. form macrumors regular

    form

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    in a country
    #23
    I love the adults who live their lives making all those payments, doing things the way they know how, talking of the hard effort required to stay afloat in their situations. It's really worth applause, that they should be able to manage under such circumstances.

    I also think it's wonderful how 40+ year olds, thanks to their vast experience, can be so skilled at complimenting someone's efforts while simultaneously attacking them. For me, the question of priority arises: Is it their intent to give praise, or are they really trying to scare somebody out of their wits? I must wonder, and in wondering, I may find less desirable possibilities to be safer bets.

    Subject to a fine that would put him in bankruptcy? Well...you, sir, might as well go ahead and make the call on him right now. I congratulate you on your discreet manner of intimating, intimidating and castrating - all in one post. Many people have far less skill in that field.

    Surely you are right, no sane 40+ year old could...so that means all sane 40+ year olds do all the things you do, pay all the same things you do, and could never sell photos in the manner he does. You are the standard, Mr. A-1 Law-abiding citizen. Good for you, that you pay this tax, pay that insurance, pay for these licenses, respect all those government entities, and so forth.

    He's not 40+, he's not supporting a family, owning his own house, paying for god knows what that he doesn't need. Somehow, I DOUBT very seriously that he will be in the exact same position in...20 years?...as he's in now, with regards to the way he handles business. Prices will change, Quality will change, Circumstances will change. Why, in 20 years, he might have a career in an entirely different field. Your points are moot...but congratulations, again, on your being the standard for a 40+ year-old male.

    I'm not defending the original poster. I'm merely finding it extremely difficult to perceive ChrisA's comments as anything but disgruntled, resentful, and perhaps even jealous complaints, scare tactics, and even threats.
     
  24. AvSRoCkCO1067 thread starter macrumors 65816

    AvSRoCkCO1067

    Joined:
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    #24
    To both those defending my business and arguing against it, I appreciate your feedback - but this thread is really aimed at those interested in freelance photography or those who have previously asked me how I've managed to charge for my pictures (Clix Pix, for example :p ).

    Peters Photography is not my job. I work at Sears - Sears is my 30+ hour per week job. Obviously, I pay taxes on the money I make from Sears - comparatively, Peters Photography's income is much less. I'm not quite sure what the laws are, but in Colorado I believe there is a minimum 2000 dollar annual amount before you have to file for income taxes if you are under 17 per job. Again, don't quote me on that! Next summer, if I choose to continue this endeavor, will be the first summer that I'll file for income tax on Peters Photography income as well as raise prices (hey, it had to happen sometime...). Ultimately, I'd have to pursue a number of other 'business licenses', but I'm 17. Let's be real ;) .

    Now, onto my next post...(below)
     
  25. AvSRoCkCO1067 thread starter macrumors 65816

    AvSRoCkCO1067

    Joined:
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    #25
    Post Three : Marketing and Spreading the Word

    How To Become A 17-Year-Old Freelance Photographer : Post Three

    Marketing. We all know how hard it can be to ‘spread the word’. Take Apple, for example: who would’ve thought that with all of its genius, it would remain below 5% market share through 2006? I know it’s difficult for many of us to comprehend how the everyday user couldn’t realize that Macs run Microsoft Office...but it’s true. Every time I go into my local Apple Store, there are new customers asking the sales associates, “what do Macs use to run Word?”

    Successful marketing is based on a number of factors (unfortunately, many of these factors are beyond my control). For example, it becomes increasingly difficult to market a product when you’re a 14-year-old male. And, photography isn’t exactly the least competitive industry out there (just look at some of the angry posts in this thread!)

    The key to marketing at my young age was not, surprisingly, producing a number of posters or business cards. Rather, it was finding the appropriate demographic. There is a huge population out there looking for expensive, one-of-a-kind portraits (and there are a number of photographers out there willing to meet that need). There is also a huge population out there looking for basic, reasonably priced photos - in my mind, those potential clients remain somewhat untapped...

    Now, I have volunteered at a professional photography studio during one of my many summers. Therefore, I’m familiar with the pricing and quality that comes out of these professional studios - do not, for one second, think that I’m competing against these photographers. I am, however, competing against two other types of photographers - those who specifically take shots of horses and the mom’s and dad’s of the riders who take their own pictures. It’s true: I do sell photos that I take (primarily macro shots) and I have done senior photos and pet portraits in the past, but horseback riding shows are my main focus.

    Therefore, to market myself successfully, I had to price my pictures far below industry average (to compete with those taking pictures of horses) while retaining some level of quality (the pictures I took were, for the most part, superior in quality to the point-and-shoot pictures that many of the mom’s and dad’s took).

    Fortunately, that did the trick. Word of mouth spread very quickly, and today I’m filling out individual orders on a fairly regular basis.

    Of course, while word of mouth did most of the marketing, I ultimately needed to add a website and make some memorable posters to become more competitive...

    End Of Third Post

    Up Next: The Fourth Year - a transition from amateur to advanced amateur, from point and shoot to dSLR, from pamphlets to a website...
     
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