I am primarily an architectural photographer but much of my work blends into the commercial space since a good portion of my clients are retail and hospitality brands and just architects and developers. My business is a registered S Corp.
My clients range from mid size architectural firms to fortune 500 companies. It’s quite a mixed bag of budgets, expectations, usage needs etc.
Most of my overhead is travel expense for me and my assistants as 80% of my work requires it. So hotels , flights, transportation etc. Otherwise my overhead is pretty low. I don’t buy much gear these days as I already own everything I need, and the rest is just things like subscriptions to the various softwares and programs i need to run my business.
Last year was lightning in a bottle. Between shooting and retouching, i’d say I worked easily over 100 days. It’s usually closer to 50-60. 2022 was a crazy year for my business and I was booked to the point of burning out. I went from averaging around 120- 150k/ year to more than doubling that.
I have been working on developing passive sources of income and turning myself into a photography brand as I don’t wish to continue relying on client work exclusively.
An average shoot for me depends on the client. For the fortune 500 companies, they usually demand buyouts, so I charge appropriately and they tend to be very demanding for what’s needed in post production. Often times, the client doesn’t even know how “photo ready” some of the sites will be until we arrive, so we have very honest discussions about expectations and what can be achieved in post. I’ve gotten pretty good at the photoshop miracle. For architects and developers things are more reasonable and usage fees are pretty standard.
One project required two visits with an enormous amount of travel and two weeks of shooting. I had two assistants, and had to bring a retoucher with me to edit images as we shot because they needed to go to press ASAP. I would shoot for 12 hours a day and then join my retoucher to edit images all night long. For both projects I billed over 150k.
I pay my assistants 500-600 / day. A little higher than most, but they’re so crucial to me that I want them to drop what they’re doing whenever I need them.
I come from a heavy video production background and do my fair share of freelance DP work. It’s common for clients to want to bundle video and photography services. Although the last couple of years photography has been my main source of income and honestly I prefer it. It’s less work and the profit margins are much higher.
I am terrible at marketing myself. My biggest effort goes into SEO where I rank number one in google for several key terms in my target markets. It’s a mixed bag of results. It helps with website traffic, but 80% of it is people just kicking tires. Otherwise I suck at marketing. I am making a better effort this year to be more intentional and traditional with generating leads.
Worst Advice: you need to specialize. That might have been true ten years ago. But in this day and age, the more things you can do, the more value you can offer. Clients and agencies have arduous vendor uploading systems, so if you’re already in their database and can do something they need, you’re likely to get that call. Not saying you have to try to be a jack of all trades. But you should definitely at the very least be proficient in video services as well.
And you should start understanding AI. Whether we like it or not, it’s here to stay and will play a major role in the day to day development of marketing assets in the near future.
Best advice: If a client bitches about price. Don’t lower your rates. Lower your deliverables to meet their budget.
Don’t obsess about gear. Gear is just a tool and honestly any camera made in the last 5 years is going to deliver excellent results. Invest in the tools that make your life easier, like tilt-shift lenses for me. Invest the money you’d otherwise spend on gear into personal projects. Personal projects are what make you stand out and carry your own unique voice and perspective on the world, which is what attracts people to want to pay you to do the same generic shit they always do. You can polish your skills, and you have complete creative control.
And please stop undercutting the industry. You’re only hurting yourself and the rest of us in the long run.