The decision to make the transition from hobbyist to professional photographer is a difficult one. While most people start their professional photography career on a part time basis, there are some who jump right in from the start — I am in the latter group.
The very first time I charged anything for a photo I was a full time professional photographer. I was 31 years old, leaving a career with a six figure income, with a 2 year old son and a big mortgage when I made the jump from amateur to pro. Although it was very challenging at times, I survived and built a thriving business in a few years’ time. Well, I shouldn’t say “I” made it, because I had a lot of help from my wife and some other great people on our team, but the main point is that it can be done. How did I do it? The only way I think it is even possible to earn a good living as a new professional photographer…High Volume Photography.
What is High Volume Photography?
High volume photography (referred to from here on as HVP) is simply photographing a high volume of customers at a single location or venue. Think about it, a really good wedding photographer might be able to get $3,000 for a wedding, but not starting out.
With HVP, you book one account and get 100 customers to come to you and spend $30 each. Both scenarios are worth $3,000, but would you rather try and hunt down individual wedding customers and convince them to spend a $3000 with you, on your first wedding, or would you rather have multiple customers show up at your picture day and spend $30? To me the answer is easy. If you are trying to hunt down individual wedding customers when you are starting out you will starve. Building a good wedding business takes years, if not decades. Even then you are still dependent on the next wedding. If you are really good, word of mouth will keep the business coming, but it is a much harder way to earn a living, especially starting out. If you really love photographing weddings that is great, but if you want to earn a living to support you while you build that business then I suggest high volume photography.
Types of High Volume Photography
The most recognizable form of HVP is something everyone has experience with, school portraits. Billions of dollars are spent on school portraits every single year. We have seen a drastic shift in the photography industry over the past decade but school portraits are something that I feel are here to stay. While school photography can be a very profitable business, I do not recommend starting out in HVP as a school photographer. School photography is a VERY hard business to break into and it is not a good industry in which to cut your teeth. I recommend getting started in other areas of HVP and you can decide if you want to transition into schools later in your career.
As a new High Volume Photographer it is generally easier to break into youth sports photography than school photography.
I started out as a youth sports photographer. Youth sports photographers can earn a really good living while still relatively new in the industry. Also, there are many different options available to purchase a franchise or license the brand of a more experienced company such as Legends Photography. In the interest of full disclosure, I offer a consulting package to help out new companies trying to make it in the HVP market. That said, I will point out the benefits and drawbacks of each of these options. The advantage of a franchise is that you typically get everything you need to get started. You get a fully developed product line, typically a website and a lot of expertise on how to run the business. The disadvantage is that you will be limited in where you can operate your business and franchise fees are typically pretty high. Also, you are locked into their product line alone.
When you license a brand, you get the benefit of brand name recognition and a fully developed product line. The only drawback is that you will typically pay a percentage of your sales to the brand and you will be limited to selling their products only. Purchasing a consulting package like the one we offer has the benefit of getting a lot of the tools and systems that have been tried and proven without giving up a portion of your sales or limiting your operating region. However, you will not get the benefit of brand recognition or prebuilt websites and other tools that may come with franchising or licensing. Franchising is one option to establish yourself, but be sure to do your research.
In the end, it is all going to come down to what works best for you. The important thing to keep in mind, especially with a franchise, is that you are locked in with them for a long term contract, sometimes as long as 10 years or more. Most franchises have non-compete clauses that prevent you from operating on your own for a few years after your franchise agreement ends as well.
When looking into franchising or licensing it is best to consult an attorney with experience in the field. Also, talk to existing franchisees and find out how they feel about the program. Do not just rely on the people the franchise salesperson has you contact; you should seek out many different franchisees to do your research. The biggest benefit with any of these programs is that they have already made most of the mistakes that you will as a new business, so you can learn from someone else.
You wouldn’t believe the amount of detail necessary to successfully run a single youth sports picture day, much less 10 in one day. On our busiest days of the year we may have 10 shoots going at once with over 20 cameras. It takes time and expertise to be able to do this well. It is well worth the money to get the knowledge and/or brand of a proven high volume photographer when starting out.
The other main form of HVP is event photography. Event photographers also have the benefit of the paying customers coming to you. There are tons of different types of event photographers ranging from corporate event photographers to prom photographers and everything in between. There are a lot of things to decide with event photography as well like whether to print on-site or develop your products at a lab. All of these things will make a difference in your customer base and your startup costs. The common denominator being that you show up at a venue and the customers come to you. Now that is my kind of business!
I’m not trying to paint too rosy of a picture here to make you think anyone can jump right in and be successful because that’s not the case. Also, being a talented photographer isn’t nearly as important as being a talented businessperson. Taking pictures is by far the easiest part of high volume photography. There are countless organizational details that go into running a successful high volume photography business and I will be writing a series of articles on some of those details in the coming weeks. My point is that if you are willing to work at it and if you have a good business mind you can do well in HVP.
About the Author
Andy Stockglausner is a Marine Corps Veteran and he owns MVP Studios and The Marine Corps Gift Shop with his wife Michelle. MVP Studios provides youth sports, event and school photography services all over Southern California. MVP Studios provides high volume photography consulting packages starting at $1,000.