Wednesday, October 3, 2012

How 'bout a JOB as a photographer?

Every so often in the forums we'll see a post that goes something like this:
I am currently enrolled in college for photography. When I get out I don't want to go into business, I just want to find a job. What's the outlook like?

My first answer is do some very basic, simple research. I know that's asking a bit much from some, so I did a little of  my own today.
I simply went to and in the Job Title/Keyword box I typed "Photographer."
 I set no paramaters or limits. Just a job in the USA with the word photographer either in the title. Guess what? There are 2,515 jobs in the US for a photographer or photographer assistant or similar.
Not one of those was within 300 miles of my door step. I might want to mention that many of them were minimum wage jobs for Picture Me! Portrait studios, Teddy Bear Portrait Studios, Sears and the like. Probably not worth getting a degree for, because they are NOT going to allow you the freedom to use your newly acquired skills. It's all set up for you, what you REALLY need to be is a salesman. Well, that and REALLY fast from start to finish.

Then just to compare I put a few other words in that Job Title/Keyword box. For an accountant there are 32,256 jobs nationwide. When I put Social Worker in there I got 26,720. Administrative Assistant 70,074. If I look at only the lowest of those numbers compared to photographer jobs the ratio is roughly 10:1. WOW.

According to THIS website's fun and interesting statistics for college students there are 1,750,000 college graduates per year. Let's apply that ratio to those graduates. That would guestimate (in no real scientific form) that there are 175,000 graduates in the photography field.

WHOA! That's some stiff competition for those 2,515 JOBS. Even after all of the minimum wage jobs are filled there are still 172,485 left out there looking for work or... well... something.

I am not trying to discourage you from looking for a photography JOB, but you probably should be a bit realistic about it. The jobs are few and far between. And the ones that pay more than minimum wage are even fewer.
There are still companies that hire a photographer to do their merchandising/website/catalog work if that is what you are interested in. There are still some that hire for high fashion, landscape, sports, etc. There are still a few staff positions at the newspapers as photographers. However, this is field is moving to a more freelance and self employed state of mind. Keep that in mind when you fill out your student loan applications!

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Large Portrait Studios

Most of the information I am presenting isn't really aimed at the large studio, but I am sure it could be adapted and expanded. I just don't have any experience  to draw from here-I'm not a big studio. I am not really qualified to go in depth on the subject. HOWEVER, I don't want to skip it as an option.

 In the area I live in there are a couple of these. One stands out in my mind. To protect the innocent here let's call them Joe Miller Studios. I don't know a Joe Miller, or a Joe Miller studios but I am sure that there's at least one or two out there somewhere-this is not THAT Joe Miller.

Joe Miller Studios started out as Joe Miller "photographer" taking senior portraits. Evidently Joe had a dream somewhere and some business sense because now Joe Miller Studios is not just Joe himself taking photographs, but a few photographers who are photographing seniors. They are contracted with many of the high schools between 3 states to provide their senior portraits and they even do some of the underclassmen photos for a few. If you want your senior portrait in the yearbook for those schools you must have your photograph taken by Joe Miller Studios.

Joe Miller Studios sitting fee is usually cheap or at the right time free. They even come to the school and take yearbook shots for an insanely cheap price like $20 per person. They spend the day doing 15 minute appointments of the seniors and taking 3 to 5 basic headshots. One of which is the yearbook photo. You are under no obligation to purchase a thing from them, you only have to choose your yearbook photograph.

Now, if you did the math you figured out that it's only about $500 or so they are collecting for a day of doing this. So, how does Joe Miller Studios make money? Easy. When the "Mom On A Budget" looks at that $20 sitting fee compared to the other professional photographers around the quick math happens in her head: "$20 or $200? NO BRAINER!" Then when the proofs are ready and she sees her gorgeous daughter or handsome son in those photographs she has to purchase a few things. And of course she has to get a print for Grandma and Grandpa... and the other grandparents... And what senior doesn't demand 100 wallets to exchange with all of their frineds???

Joe Miller Studios print prices are a bit above the national average for an 8x10 from a studio. So, when MOAB orders herself an 8x10 along with the two sets of grand parents and the wallets that the senior MUST have for sharing she spends another $400. $420 for 15 minutes. Take out the studio's overhead and paying the hourly photographer AND photographer's assistant it's still a net of about $100 in Joe's pocket. Not bad for 15 minutes!

The profit margin is based on the volume they do. Of course there are people who take advantage of the free sessions if they HAPPEN to see one of  Joe's (not so prominently placed) advertisements. There are also those who pay the $20 session fee and not purchase a thing. But they are photographing as many as 32 kids in one day. The laws of probability are on Joe's side.

Joe Miller Studios also does full out senior sessions at their studio. Again these can range from FREE  if you catch one of those advertisements or $20 for 40 minutes of studio time and $35 for 80 minutes of studio time. Joe hires photographers who need little to no knowledge in how to actually set up the shot in camera or the studio lighting for a low hourly rate. The client comes to their location and has much a much more extensive set of photographs taken. The minimum package you can purchase is 2 "units" and it runs $65.
If the parents are sending their child for an actual portrait sitting chances are even more on Joe's side that they are going to purchase more than 2 "units" and probably some announcements, invitations and about 10 units of those blasted wallets that the kids NEED! That just bumped us back up around the $400 mark.

On the average studio's like Joe's have an overhead of about 60 to 70% give or take. We'll say Joe's overhead is more along the 70% range. In their busy season Joe has maybe 2 photographers working in the studio (one being Joe himself), and one out at the high schools doing those full day things.  Combined the 3 can photograph about 48 seniors. If each of those pays the $20 sitting fee plus a lowball figure of $300 in prints that's $15,360 a day gross. Take operating costs and overhead out of that and that's a possible NET to Joe of about $4500 PER DAY.

As of today Joe's website says he is contracted with 17 high schools that REQUIRE his studio take the photograph if the senior wants to be included in the yearbook.
There are another 16 schools that he is one of their "approved" photographers for their yearbook.
None of those are tiny schools by any means. Quite a few of those schools will have several hundred kids graduating this year. Joe is booked, overbooked and looking for spare time.
Joe's operating schedule is from 8 am to 4pm Monday, Wednesday, Friday and Saturday. 9 am to 8 pm on Tuesdays and Thursdays from June through August. No sessions at all in September through December and limited appointments from January through May. Joe has lots of time off!

Joe is looking at a possible $1.5 million dollars (give or take) in gross sales over his roughly 100 days of operation.  He's paying somewhere around 70% or more out in overhead. The amount that actually goes to Joe out of that possible $1.5 million dollars $400K give or take. THEN Joe has to pay his own taxes and insurance and retirement out of that. Joe's possible net is more like $300K or less.  It's still a lot, but if you think about the %? It's kind of painful to hand over more than  million take home less than half of what you pay everyone else. That is also his potential- give or take-based on my 'educated' experience.

Think about that on a smaller scale. If you had $100K in sales and turned over $70K of that to someone else while putting only $30K yourself you'd be somewhere close to tears. And poverty level. It works for the large portrait studios because of the volume they can produce in a very short time. Joe has it made by contracting with those schools for uniform yearbook images. He's got those seniors over a barrel. Many to possibly the majority don't know they can or bother to have another set of portraits taken elsewhere. Joe has it made. They're going to purchase a product from those images even if it's the minimum.

Joe has an office staff to handle the accounting, advertising, reception, bookkeeping, scheduling, phones, etc. He also has a retail location. Both the staff and the location are expensive costs. He also owns a lot more equipment, props and necessary furniture, computers, etc that a studio needs. Those also cost much more than they do for a small studio. Because of that Joe's overhead is more than it would be for a small studio with Joe as the only photographer.

Joe's income is based on that high volume output and managing his studio in a way that minimizes his costs. Notice how he only operates from June through July at full schedule? This is just an educated guess, but I'd lay money that he does that with his employees so that his liability for Unemployment Insurance is minimal as well as his requirements for benefits for those employees.

This particular studio is a specialized photographer with limited hours, however this scenario can be played out for any type of large volume studio with any hours.
If this is your goal you have to start thinking long term now. You may only start out as Joe Miller, Photographer, but the decisions you make now will make it much easier to become Joe Miller Studios down the road-by way of that darned planning thing. 

Pricing your Photography...

Not part of the theme this week, but I just ran across this from Senior-ologie and wanted to share! Looks like they're going to cover this topic every Tuesday and explore the many approaches to pricing  your photography.

Monday, October 1, 2012

Theme of the week: What kind of photographer will you be?

Pretty simple question, right? The answer can be pretty complex with a lot of little tangents to it.

Let's touch on just a few of the very broad possibilities here:
Large Studio...
Small Studio...
Sports Photographer
News Paper Photographer/Photojournalist
Wedding Photographer
On-Location Wedding Photographer
Portrait Photographer
Specialized Portrait Photographer
Travel Landscape and Tourism Photographer
Real Estate Photographer
Glamor/High Fashion Photographer
Boudoir Photographer
Pet Photographer
Commercial Photographer

I am pretty sure I missed a whole lot of gray areas and maybe even some big black and white areas in there. There are a lot of possibilities in this profession. All of them have pro's and con's to them. All of them require some education in photography and some specific needs for that specialization.

Most areas of specialization will require certain equipment to be able to photograph the subjects on a professional level. Not saying you have to have the top of the line equipment, but going into a dark church wedding where no flash is allowed with a kit lens on a Canon Digital Rebel is probably going to cost you your business. It's just not possible to do that scene with that scenario and produce professional grade images from the wedding. You are going to need a camera that handles extremely high ISO's and a couple of f/2.8 zoom lenses.
Likewise you can't go photograph a home for a realtor with a 200mm lens on a crop sensor camera.

Contracting and legal requirements for each specialization are different. Model releases are definitely different for dogs and people. You wouldn't have a dog put it's paw print on your model release and you wouldn't have a portrait client sign a wedding contract. Wedding contracts are very detailed and have a LOT of information in them to cover both the photographer's interests as well as the clients'.

Marketing and branding are very different birds for each specialization. A wedding photographer probably wouldn't advertise by placing work in a veterinarian's office and a pet photographer probably wouldn't attend the local bridal fair looking for clients...

You can see where I am going with this. Let's take this week to explore some of the big specialization areas and gather some of the information for your business plan.