My “day job” is with a very large holding company – I work on one of the owned brands. I report directly to senior leadership. They remain pretty stoked as long as our creative team is pressing on new ideas and innovative concepts to support the brand story and products.
There are 5-6 full time employees on my team. We also use a dozen or so contractors; designers, producers, copywriters, etc. This figure does not include freelance photographers/videographers of which there are many.
I started a side business in 2022 doing creative consultation and sniper style projects for brands; photo and copy mostly. I am very niched down in my zone of competence and specific knowledge – so if brands in the space I play need what I do, there aren’t many others to go to. The money that I make from this really a secondary “nice-to-have” to my real reason for taking on side work. In my main gig, I play within the sandbox. Just the nature of big orgs. But my side work is my creative outlet. It is boundless. I get to play, create, push ideas. That is where I scratch the itch. It makes me better at my main gig to let that energy out elsewhere.
My LLC has no overhead. Just me. Home based, registered as an S-Corp to save on self-employment taxes.
I work ~230 days a year.
I built a small brand on the side with my photography while working hourly jobs until getting my first agency job in 2015. That was a $48k gig, my first salary ever. Worked my way to another agency in 2016 at $75k + bonus. Left to go brand side in 2017 for $90k. Moved to another brand in 2019 at $110k. Moved up ranks to current position now. A side note on salary; the “golden handcuffs” thing is real. Consider that in the path you take.
I lead a team of art directors and producers that are all the time hiring stills and motion shooters to work on our projects. Having come up as a photographer myself, I am always keenly involved in that process. We are vetting new talent, assessing project fit, assigning work, contract negotiating, and running all phases of production at all times.
For retirement I have a traditional IRA which is comprised of my rollovers from previous companies. Roth IRA maxed every year. 401k at current company is 3% gift. Also have stock at current company that is vested and grows each year – this is part of my total comp package.
The photographer + writer + director pipeline is pretty unique I suppose. People will tell you to pick a competency or creative discipline and stick with it. “Do one thing really well.” I have never agreed with that. I think you should explore the edges of your interest and see where it takes you. Being multi-disciplinary in your creative work makes you a valuable asset to a team as you are able to see things from a unique perspective. Don’t be afraid to tinker.
Best Advice: As a creative, you need other outlets. You cannot always have a camera in your hand. Do something analog. Rebuild a motorcycle. Learn how to cook. See how fit you can get if you slept and ate well for a year. Do anything but sit at your computer. Your creativity and work will be better for it.
Worst Advice: “You’re too creatively altruistic – you want everything to look and feel just so.”- a former boss that just doesn’t get it.
My advice for photographers looking to get on my radar is to find a way to be my friend and engage me on anything other than hiring you. I’m smart. I’ll do my seven second search and see that you are a photographer and make an assessment on your talent which you have made visible to the world. It happens that fast. Your homepage or LP needs to be fucking dope. Impress me, and quickly.
I have worked with a dozen or so shooters for the last 7-8 years. I came out of their ranks myself. We are a community. I ask all of them to bring me fresh talent – “who are you seeing that is on the come up that I need to pay attention to?” They bring me people and I trust them more because of it. As a CD, if you as a photographer bring me fresh camera talent, that tells me that you understand my job. You are trying to help me succeed. You are not operating from a scarcity mindset. This action makes you more valuable to me, not less.
If you want to be making real money, you need to be networking with clients that actually have money. Once you are doing that, if the $ figure you bid does not scare you to type, it’s too low. You can always negotiate down – it’s very hard to negotiate up.