When I started my part-time professional photography career, in the days of film photography (2001), I didn’t have higher aspirations to become a full-time photographer. I already had a full-time job in the corporate world, so I was perfectly content photographing on the side, especially since photography income was not paying my bills.
There’s a very different mindset for someone who does something on the side (and makes extra income) versus someone who does photography full-time. It’s not just the obvious things, like more expenses, etc. I think it’s also the way you think about photography – not just as a hobby, but as a business. As a full-time photographer, all the decisions you make affect what you do as a photographer.
The thing is, as a part-time photographer, I wasn’t seeking work. It just came to me. I was working for another studio, assisting with wedding and commercial jobs as well as working at the studio, doing graphic design, marketing, etc. I was not meeting with clients, working on getting new business and worrying about overhead, or liability. I was doing something because I enjoyed it; and it was fun, and it was on the side.
Because I was incurring expenses for my photography, I decided to incorporate. (I incorporated in 2002, when I was part-time.) The reason for incorporating was because I personally did not want to be held liable. I had an amazing accountant who advised me that because I was not making money with photography, it was best to write off the loss I inevitably incurred, from my personal taxes. I also talked with other businesses, friends who have businesses, and family members. After a few months of information gathering, I made the plunge. I also decided to incorporate my business in Delaware and just do business in the state where my business was located. This was better for me because if I decided to move to another state, I would always be incorporated and that would not change.
When I incorporated, I didn’t have a business plan, because I didn’t think I would ever be a full-time business owner. There was no vision and no long term plan either. It was simply a side job and that’s the way I thought about it.
Things started to change when digital photography came on the scene. After photographing over 300 weddings using film, I decided to buy a digital camera in 2007. I wanted to be sure that digital was really “there” – so I didn’t invest a lot in my little Nikon Dx40 – just $500. I was still using my Nikon F5; I wasn’t ready to give it up. The color and ease of use with digital was awesome. But then I was not really prepared for what went with digital: software, printing, file storage, naming files. It was overwhelming. It was a huge learning curve.
In 2008 I bought my first Mac, and Aperture, which I thought I needed. Turns out, I used iPhoto more. Mid-2007, I was laid off from my corporate job. I worked contract roles, but I was not making the kind of money I was used to. It seemed like overnight (thanks to Facebook), people were sharing photos and I was being contacted to photograph headshots, weddings, events – you name it. More people than ever were seeing my work! And although I’d been doing it for quite awhile, people thought I was new to photography because it was easier to share digital photos than film ones.
It wasn’t an ideal way to go about it, but I didn’t turn away business. I took whatever jobs came my way, and I started reading about running your own business. It became pretty clear, pretty quick, that I couldn’t charge $150 for a disc of high-resolution images from a session if I wanted to pay my bills. I assisted other photographers and I watched them create, and grow their businesses. I learned about Lightroom from being an assistant for a food photographer. Seeing the other photographer photographing food, while tethered to a computer, was eye opening. That was never possible before. I purchased Lightroom that afternoon. I decided, I better learn it if I wanted to be in business for myself.
People ask me all the time what it takes to start a business. I didn’t plan on being a business owner; I fell into it. What it DOES take is the ability to do good work and to deliver it on time. Being able to network with people, know what “you” are good at, and what someone else should do. Finally, it takes talking with people, lots of them. Pick people in different fields to get well-rounded information about being a good business owner, not just a photographer. Remember that people, in general, like to do business with people they like. Perfect that, and you will be well on your way.
Since 2009, photography is all I do. I have upgraded my equipment and recently split my business into two. Now, I have a commercial side and a personal side to my business. It lessens the confusion about which clients I serve. I serve both businesses and private parties. I love knowing that I can photograph anything from product, to food, to families, actors, models and brides & grooms. I recently started photographing dogs, simply because someone asked me, and because I love it. When it stops being fun, I’ll cut things out. But as it is, I put a limit on some things, and say YES to projects I want to do. I’m not only “this” or “that” kind of a photographer; I tailor based on the needs of my clients and push myself in the process. By doing so, I learn more about myself each day, and that is the fun part of being in business.
Monika Labbé has been photographing her subjects from the time she was 10 years old when she received her first camera, a Kodak 110. She was a photo editor at her college newspaper as well as a photographer’s assistant for several years.
In 2002 she started her own company and has loved it so much that photography was and continues to be a natural expression of her creativity. With degrees in Advertising/Design as well as Psychology, she brings a deep understanding of her subjects and that makes her work truly unique. Her trained eye looks for details, emotions and connections between people. To her those are the very things that tell much about a person or a couple.
Her work is featured in various blogs, trade publications, books, magazines, libraries, & the Oprah website. She is a member of the Professional Photographers of America (PPA), APA and Wedding and Portrait Photographer’s International (WPPI). As the founder of Chicago Pro-Photography group & The Northshore Photography group she makes sure to attend various training seminars and workshops that help her stay on top of industry innovations.