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03 May 2011

The Nature of Business

I have a day job, since I'm just getting started in the photography business and still need to eat and keep a roof over my head. We can't afford to live on just my or my wife's income by themselves, so I need to keep working there. I'm also realistic about my expectations; my wife even more so. I like to dream a bit (and spend money on what she calls "toys"), while she reigns in my fantasies with conditions for making the purchases. There's a little friction here, but this arrangement keeps our debts manageable.
For example: While I'm well aware that good photography is 95% the photographer and 5% the equipment, I do want to upgrade my camera with the idea of getting the ability to compete or simply having the respect of my clients. I have a perfectly respectable film SLR camera, which is great for art photography, and I have usable digital cameras that can cover about 90% of the situations I envision using a camera. The problem with the film camera is turnaround time for the clients, something that digital processes have shortened considerably. Turnaround time for film was made worse by the dearth of local film processors in my area. I can still get them done, but not the same day anymore. My old processor now takes a week or more just to bring me back the negatives! For my own projects that isn't an issue since I take time to scan the negatives and manipulate them as I need to, and I seldom have hard deadlines for my own projects. Most clients aren't willing to wait a week for the finished product, much less proofs.
The DSLR in question will run me $1400-$1700, and that's just the body. I can get a lower quality one for around $900 (It's the immediate predecessor.), but the upgraded one shows more longevity in usability. Also with a good unit, I'll be able to turn around projects often the same or next day for a client. I can even shoot high definition video. Fortunately, I have a good set of lenses that will fit this body, which suit my style of shooting. (I prefer manual focus over autofocus because I've found the autofocus will often enough home in on something that isn't my subject. It's one less thing to fight.)  Having the lenses already will save me more money than the camera itself in the long run. Most professionals will say, "It's a good investment, why haven't you bought it already?"
Good question. The answer is the condition for purchase compromised between me and my wife: I must have a job in the photography field or I need it for a class. And I'd better REALLY need it for that class. Understand that we're self-financing this business plan, and any money I spend is to be relevant in the moment. So, it's good that my wife keeps me in check. Less debt and fewer expensive dust collecters that way.
So, back to the day job. Needless to say, it isn't as a photographer, photographer's assistant, nor photojournalist. Like most creative types (I do include myself in that select group.), I chafe a bit from time to time working for a corporation even though I own stock in that corporation. The stress is getting worse lately, with communication conflicts with my supervisor and staff reductions and added responsibilities. I understand that a great many companies are having to work this way, but with customer service oriented businesses like retail stores, you need enough people to be there for the customers, not just physically but without distractions as well. I can go on and on about balancing the needs of your customers with the abilities of your employees and the profits your executives and investors make, but I don't have time to write that tome.
Let's just say that the stress is giving me impetus to jump-start my own business.
I also realize that working as a photographer can be a difficult way to make not very much money. Ah, but there is the satisfaction of the well-crafted image. There is also the coolness factor of the positive feedback when I show my product. That helps pay my emotional bank account. I know I'll never be financially wealthy, but the riches of a good body of work, and the satisfaction of creation goes a long, long way.
For a while at least, I'll keep the day job. When business picks up, I'll go to part time with it.
Image: DeForest Tracks (c) 2011 W. Clinton Hotaling

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