Regardless of your take on today's world of digital photography, at the end of the day, it's your decision on the path you take and the prices you charge (*within reason) for your services.
Let me quickly clarify *within reason above. In other words, you can charge and get what the market will bear. For example, there are likely only going to be a few opportunities at best to charge and get $10,000 as a wedding photographer in Eastern North Carolina, but the $10,000 wedding photography market exists just like the $500 wedding market exists.
IT'S YOUR DECISION:
You can sit back and say there is no opportunity in today's digital age to actually make a living as a photographer or you can make it happen. And the secret to making it happen is...........drum roll please....................busting your A** more than 40 hours a week if you are trying to make it full time and busting your A** on the side while working a full time job if you want to replace your current income provided your current income isn't 10 times what the top photographers make.
Making a living in photography is not easy, but nothing worth having or doing is completely easy. You just have to decide what you want and go for it. If you'll work 10 to 12 hours per day (not less than 8 hours per day) for a minimum of 5 days per week (maybe 6) for a period of at least 1 year consecutively (that's 52 solid weeks), there is no reason that you should not have a certain level of full time success after 12 consecutive months of 50-60 hour weeks of truly busting your A**. That still may not equate to mega bucks, but if you are looking to make mega bucks, photography is likely the wrong business to be in anyway.
I know a lot of photographers and there are two core types: "Those that DO" and "Those that TALK ABOUT DOING." There is a drastic difference in the two that really doesn't need a lot of explanation.
You also have too decide your target market and determine what the current going rates are for that market. For example, what I know about photographing houses in Raleigh is that the rates seem to generally (not always) fall between $100 and $150 per house. It's easy to do the math on that and know that doing 15 houses per week ( 3 per day ) is $1,500 to $2,250 per week in gross revenue. If that works for you and that's where you want to be, it's your decision.
Photography is a combination of what you enjoy doing and revenue that will not only support you and/or your family but allow for growth. On the other side of the equation, there are projects that exists that may pay $1,500 to $2,250+ per day not per week, but having one of those projects every day on a 5 day week will likely not happen anytime soon. Don't let money blind you because as a photographer, you should do what you love whether that is houses, babies, families, weddings, products, headshots, commercial, etc. Two photographers that I know, one in Raleigh and one in Atlanta, photograph a lot of houses (hundreds already in 2015), seem to enjoy it and seem to be making solid money doing it. Both sell the value of quality and not low price. But houses are not for me personally nor are weddings and families.
If you think there is no money to be made in photography, I hate to break it to you but YOU ARE 100% WRONG. Now I will clarify that by saying that as a photographer you should have realistic expectations of the money you can make. But there is money to be made beyond the current average annual salary as a photographer of $38,350 per year.
The key to making money as a photographer is ignoring all the potential clients (Brides) that want something for nothing like a $100 wedding photographer to shoot for 5 hours, do editing and bring an assistant along with them, as well as, all the photographers out there willing to do a wedding for $100 (they are crazy). You have to move past all of this and focus on the bigger picture (no pun intended).
You have to decide what market you are going after and go for it. You may want to be a $5,000 wedding photographer which will likely not happen overnight if you are just starting (not impossible though), but that also doesn't mean you have to start at $500 per wedding either. Just remember, the $5,000 wedding market does exist. If that's your goal, then go for it. Likewise, you don't have to do family portraits for $100 and burn it all to a CD because the higher end family market is out there as well.
You have to factor your rates based on numerous things: how much gear you have, what your overheads is, how much money you want to make, insurance costs, etc. For example, if you have $10,000 worth of camera gear that is insured (and it should be), you are OUT OF YOUR MIND to be shooting family portraits for $100 a pop with a CD. Sorry, but you really are.
As for overhead, you don't have to have a studio these days and you don't have to drive a brand new fully loaded RANGE ROVER to haul all your gear. If you have those things, you have higher overhead than the photographer working from home with an older model vehicle that is paid for. So overhead has to be factored in to your rates. If you keep your overhead down, it can help you control your rates.
Further up the page, I mentioned the average ( you don't want to be average ) annual salary for a photographer which averages out to be $18.44 an hour. Guess what? You cannot charge $18.44 an hour and cover your expenses plus your salary. What about buying all that new gear that you want? Again, charge what your target market will bear. Don't try to be the low price leader.
Determining your rates is also based on what the market will bear and not so much what others are charging. For example, the photographer down the street may have to charge more to maintain his or her overhead and a larger than average salary, so simply looking at what others charge is not an exact science, but it will help you get an idea of the market place. For example, Peter Hurley in Manhattan charges around $1,200 +/- for a headshot. That rate will not fly to well in the Raleigh market especially for someone looking to have a professional headshot for their LinkedIn profile. Headshots, like houses, tend to stay in a certain range whereas other areas like weddings seem to range in the 2K to 5K area for the Raleigh market. Yes, there are $500 wedding photographers in Raleigh and likely some getting more than 5K for weddings. And as you can see, that's a wide spread in rates. You simply have to figure out where you want to be and go for it.
At the end of the day, IT'S YOUR DECISION ON THE PATH YOU TAKE. Don't let today's digital age fool you that there is no way to make a living as a photographer because it is possible with lots ( and I mean lots ) of hard work and determination.
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