Professional photography was recently identified in an IBISWorld report as one of the slowest growing industries, with an estimated downward drift of 1.2% in 2011.
According to the Australian Institute of Professional Photography, the finding is merely the continuation of a “shrinkage which has been taking place for the past 10 years.”
“The AIPP has a responsibility to ensure that we have a vibrant industry, which is up-to-date with the realities of its market,” it says. So, is it feasible to create a strongly-performing start-up in this industry?
What is and who is it suited to?
Commercial photography can be defined as any photography for which the photographer is paid for their images, other than as works of art. According to the AIPP, inquiries about starting up in the industry are frequent.
Ian McKenzie, chair of the AIPP commercial group and a former national president, says many aspiring photographers are in their early 20s looking for a career change, or are considerably older.
“All too often, the questions that are asked are about equipment or lifestyle, not the fundamental issues which need to be addressed,” he says.
According to McKenzie, there are several things that differentiate a photographer from a professional photographer, which has very little to do with the quality of your images.
McKenzie says a basic understanding of small business management and marketing is the deciding factor.
“Unless you can manage and sell yourself, and unless there is a market for your images, you will never be professional… What will decide your future is your excellence at business,” he says.
“The importance of good business is paramount. A successful professional photographer is not necessarily a great photographer, but an unsuccessful one is always bad at business.”
Rules and regulations
McKenzie says there are no specific regulations for the industry – the only regulations are those applying to normal businesses.
Start-ups should get in touch with their local chamber of commerce, which can provide this information.
Research and competition
Professional photographers are encouraged to undertake some form of photographic training, which can be expensive and carries no guarantee of employment.
As an alternative, McKenzie says the AIIP has a section on its website where amateurs can subscribe.
“If you are contemplating a leap into professional photography, it may be that you should start there,” he says.
“On the other hand, if you are committed to being a professional, you should enrol in the AIPP mentoring program, which will give you the information you need to run a successful business.”
McKenzie says due to the highly competitive nature of the industry, professionals require business acumen and extraordinary skills to compete and thrive.
“It may be that if you have the drive and a real fire to success, you will become successful. If so, professional photography will take you a on a great journey, even if the road might be at times both rocky and steep,” he says.
Costs and earnings
Although it appears from the outside that anyone with a camera can become a professional, McKenzie says they won’t be employable unless they have completed a degree or diploma course.
“A full-time course runs over six semesters at an approximate cost of $8,500 per semester, with equipment costs being at least $6,000 and with material costs over the course being approximately $6,000,” he says.
As for earnings, McKenzie says the average income of a photographer varies between $13,000 for a part-timer – presumably with another job – to around $45,000 for a full-time occupation.
“This is a lean amount by any standards, and more particularly considering that required equipment is a relatively high cost,” he says.
“Although the initial cost of entering the profession may be only of the order of $20,000 for basic equipment, this is likely to rise to between $60,000 and $100,000 over a period of years.”
An average day
Your day will obviously depend on the style of photography you provide, so it’s hard to say what your hours and tasks will be.
For example, if you’re a portrait photographer, you’ll typically start and finish work later to cater for clients after hours. But if you’re an architectural photographer, you could be up before dawn to ensure you capture the right light in your work.
According to McKenzie, you should be aiming for between three and four days of actual shooting, which means using the other days to prepare accordingly.
If you’re a wedding photographer, for instance, there’s more to it than turning up at the venue on the day. You will need to meet with the bride and groom in advance, and also take the time to visit the site at which the photos will be taken, preferably with the clients.
Australian Institute of Professional Photography
03 9856 0700
Australian Photography Association
Australian Commercial and Media Photographers
02 9025 3975
Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry
02 6273 2311 (Canberra)
03 9668 9950 (Melbourne)
Australian Government Small Business Support Line
1800 777 275