What it takes to go pro: Step Zero (part II)

In my previous post What it takes to go pro: Step Zero I, I discussed how I had a perception of three types of family photographers. The guy at the school, the guy at the mall, and the guy who does specialized appointments. For the purposes of this discussion I will call him the guy in his car. I discussed how I was most like the guy in his car. I also said I didn’t want to be the person who tried to imitate their work for a discount. I talked in brief about building a portfolio and being able to distinguish shots as “acceptable”. The shot below is one I would have to deem “acceptable” as the child, my nephew, is actually looking at me and has somewhat of a smile.


SLT-A99V, 85mm f/1.4 ZA @ f/2.8, ISO 200, 1/500s

I’m not going to lie. I’ve put a lot of thought into turning my hobby into a second line of work. And I have thought a lot about the business model I would use to ensure I didn’t hurt the three guys, but at the same time I made it into a worthwhile venture for myself.

Some businesses have a mission statement or a charter. I’d have a very simple concept of what I envision my business model would be around but let me explain first so I don’t sound like I am going away from the statements I made in my first post about undercutting or undervaluing the three guys. Hopefully I can paint this picture for you so you can understand where I am coming from.

Business Concept #1: Provide low-cost services for people or events who wouldn’t be able to afford or wouldn’t normally hire a photographer. 

Let me make this perfectly clear: I already have a good job. I don’t need to photograph to support my family. I’m interested in helping folks who probably would hire a professional if they could afford it, but can’t afford it. How would I know they couldn’t afford it? I still haven’t figured that one out yet. Let me explain what I mean here and express a few of the ideas I have.

When my wife and I were getting married, we were given a meager budget of $2000 to plan and finance our wedding. We were both recent college graduates without anything resembling a job and our parents didn’t have much. The average wedding photographer cost around $1000-$1500 at the time on the low end and most of them charged a minimum of $500 just to show up. Needless to say, we didn’t have any professional photographers at our wedding. We engaged the sister of one of our bridesmaids who was invited anyway, and we got the basic shots we wanted, nothing special, and we got what we paid for, maybe a little more. To this day, my wife wishes she had more, but for what we had we appreciated the work.

For anything within a 100 mile radius of my house I would charge $50 or less for each trip, and if they provided meals, I would charge less. I figure this is cost balance on gasoline and food if it isn’t provided. In some circumstances I would waive those costs. If I was allowed to use an open bar, for instance. But I seriously doubt I would allow myself to be hired by anyone who had an open bar. If they can afford an open bar, they can afford a sitting fee. For anything out of town or requiring an overnight stay, I would require basic transportation costs and basic lodging needs. Gas if I am driving, an airplane ticket and a ride if I am flying, and a couch to sleep on. A basic hotel room if no couch is available.

I would develop a questionnaire for the bride and groom (mostly the bride), bridesmaids, groomsmen, and the parents regarding what shots they wanted, what they wouldn’t want in a shot and then I would work within those parameters and I would add my spin where I could. I would prioritize the shots with the bride’s needs at 1-100 and the rest would fall in line behind her. I’d show up, shoot until it was all over and then leave. If they wanted the whole experience captured, I would do the rehearsals and follow the bride around while she got ready and go up until the bride and groom leave for their honeymoon. If they wanted me to follow them to their honeymoon, they’d likely not be someone who I would likely target until I decided to look for a different type of subject.

I would use the same concept for family portraits or senior yearbook photos. Show up, maybe suggest some locations or scenes and shoot away. If I go to a family’s house and there is a BMW in the driveway, they’re probably not the right family for me to shoot. I’d want to help out the teacher, fireman, or police officer.

Business Concept #2: Charge nothing for Facebook-sized low resolution, low quality shots.

That’s right. Free. My bodies shoot 6000×4000. I would give 60% quality 900 pixel long-edge shots away for free. Why? Because they’re going to post the ones I shoot in a likely illegal-but-they-wouldn’t-know-or-care fashion anyway. If I disable right-click, they’ll use Print Screen. I’ll likely watermark the proofs on whatever site I have host them, but I will give away 900×600’s unmarked. I’d use a quality low enough that cropping or up-scaling wouldn’t be worth it, but they’d render fine on Facebook. This shot was, at one point, for four separate Facebook profile pictures:


SLT-A99V, 85mm f/1.4 ZA@ f/4, ISO 200, 1/200s

And in full resolution it could be cropped accordingly and provide high quality single person portraits.

But with the long edge at 900 pixels and at 60% quality, there is more than a slight difference.


It is fine for Facebook, though


This also leads in nicely to my next concept…

Business Concept #3: Different prices for post-processed full resolution shots/prints.

I’d give away uncropped, unedited 900×600 shots. I’d charge one price for uncropped, unedited 6000×4000 shots. Basically the JPEG straight off the body in RAW+JPEG mode. I’d charge up to a premium for post-processing above basics. I’ll get the white balance and exposure close. If you want whitened teeth or no gray hair, pimples, zits, or wrinkles, it will cost you more. If you want me to make your weird Uncle Jim disappear, it will cost you more. I will do some diligence as I have a couple of children myself, but if you forget to wipe your child’s chin, I’ll fix it for a small price.


SLT-A99V, 85mm f/1.4 ZA @ f/4, ISO 200, 1/200s

If you want selective coloring, or sepia tones, it will cost more. If you like the shot how it is, it won’t cost you any more than the base price. What is the base price? I haven’t figured it out yet. I would do the research and be consistent with the average professional.

Business Concept #4: Purchases open to family and friends.

I would use a site like SmugMug and make purchasing be open to family and friends. If a couple couldn’t afford prints or other printed artifacts, I would allow others to purchase it for them. This would also lead into a good model for family and senior photos, as well as events. Two parents who are teachers of a high school senior may not be able to afford good senior photos, so I provide the basics at a low cost and anything above and beyond that, people like grandparents and/or friends could chip in. This way, I still make a little money on the print, but the family gets good quality at a lower price.

I have some other ideas but realistically, I am not sure how this model would pan out. My goal would be not to undercut someone who does this for a living, but to provide a service to those who wouldn’t normally purchase a service.

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