The Cost of Being a Photographer

To a normal person, photography can seem somewhat easy. Anyone can take a photo. Telephones can take a photo and after the cost of the camera, taking pictures is essentially free right? Photographs oversaturate media creating the impression that art is worthless. Yes, the barriers to entry are almost none, but still, good artists can still shine through, you just have to sift through the garbage first. Art is never free. Music, or photography may seem free, but on a platform like YouTube, the artist gets self promotion in addition to a quarter of a penny per view and advertisers pay the platform to advertise their capitalism. The concept and thought of an artist, the aspect that makes one's image different from the next, is the treasure, the reason to hire that person. However what about the tools to capture those images? Artists incur many costs, and in this short entry I want to remind you, as a freelance photographer, how much your worth. 

 

Capital

Capital is the tangible set-up you carry that allow you save your seat in the game of photography. It is the tools you do your craft with. They do not hold any value to a customer until you produce images with them. I want to distinctly separate this area into three categories, pre-production, on-site, and post-production.

Pre-Production are the costs that you arrange before the shoot, whether that be for the location, for the gas, for the model, for parking money, for the clothes you spent 3 hours thrifting for the model (who may or may not cancel day-of), for the special Nike shoes you buy to sustain loose and moving quickly. Items in this category help to prepare to do your job well and without error. Maybe you need to pack a snack or lunch for the shoot, this all happens before the shoot.

The largest chunk of money is spent on this middle area of actually producing the image. This means the camera body, lenses, filters, memory cards, film, straps, bags, cleaner, etc. This is the base price the photographer paid to be where they are now, For me I carry somewhere in the neighborhood of $6,000 in my one small bag around with me per shoot.

Post-Production includes the film processing costs to get your negatives back, the computer you built from scratch to get a reasonable edit going, external hard drives to travel with your laptop, the printer to display your photos, your pricey 13" x 19" Hahnemuhle art paper to go in it, the software you edit with, your subscription to Dropbox, etc.

One should also expect to carry backup film, batteries, and memory cards. Don't be surprised when your film camera's shutter fails in the middle of the shoot, cameras, like people, have only a limited time, both digital and analogue. If you're insane like me, and like to drive to Mammoth or Vegas for the weekend, prepare for that one nail in the road to spike you at 1am. Always keep spares in the back. This past weekend I replaced my tire set for about $600.

Pro-tip: Enterprise rental and buy insurance if you want zero wear and tear on your personal car.

Anticipate the worst things when traveling and be ready for when it does happen.

Creative Ideas & Intellectual Property

That idea that came to you at the most inconvenient time, like 2am or when you're suppose to be working is something you want to protect and execute the right way the first time. Like David Lynch says, "Ideas come like in a T.V. in your mind". Once its done its done, be ready for people to copy what you do. Be ready to see people do it better than you did the first time around, this is the wage paid for having a good idea first.

Education

These are the many hours you spent learning to find your voice. It includes the unforgivable amount of hours that you could have dedicated to real life but chose to watch The Art of Photography for an hour per night. It includes the Jessica Kobeissi workshop you attended. The time you spent learning how to navigate around your camera, the countless hours you spent reviewing equipment deciding on what the next best investment is for yourself. It is the Bargain Camera Shows you attend in Pasadena with your photographer friends going through piles of junk, it's the reviews that are missing that one piece of information you are looking for, learning to use Lightroom and Photoshop, learning how to scan and use your printer. Education is and still is the most time consuming aspect of all. I would guess I spent 1-3 hours a night after my work day looking into camera related hoopla. One piece of education I would recommend for analogue users is to buy a cheap $10 50mm lens, open it and reverse engineer it.

The real work of being a photographer is before and after the shoot, shooting is the easy part.

Insurance

Listen, you may think you will never need it. But mistakes happen. For a small price you can insure your whole arsenal for a few hundred dollars. I personally got most of my equipment insured via State Farm for close to $120. I did this on my lunch, in 30 minutes, covering $7,000 worth of equipment that I use on the daily with NO deductible. I did my hours of research, this is the best way to go. 

Pro-tip, if you still concur about getting insurance, please get a UV filter for each of your lenses. It's a cheap $20 insurance for protecting your lenses from scratches.

Friends

I gave up my girlfriend to become a photographer. You must be head over heels with the craft of photography, otherwise you will be quickly deceived. Photography costs loosing old friends (but gaining new and better ones!), or at least an explanation is due. Sometimes you will disappear for weeks or decide to travel to Maine for a week one morning, I know I did. I had a lot of friends question what the hell I was doing, this gave me the opportunity to teach them about art, if you convey it in an understanding way, you will earn their respect and they will support you even more.

Time

As I grow older, I realize time is the most important aspect. You must think in time, "is it worth my time?", "will this expense give me an advantage in the future? You will need time to clean your kit, time learn light, time to put together the look, time to search location and open a dialogue with the client. You need to know what you are doing, or at least have an answer, you're the director, the show runner,  the clients are watching the clock, you must be on time. I would add that you should foresee time spent experimenting with film, or film processing in your "free-time". I had a Polaroid SX-70 drop its shutter the minute I got to the Salton Sea, a 4 hour drive. I wasn't happy, but the sun didn't stop moving and I shot on 35mm instead.

Time is essential. Time is the only thing that will stop, it adds importance to everything you do.