I’m back today with another fun installment in the the creative business series. We’ve covered furniture design, blogging and selling on Etsy. This time we’re talking all about photography. I know there are many people out there who love and are passionate about photography and currently do it as a hobby. If you want to take your photography talents and make a full-time business out of it, this post is for you.
Chris Isham is a wedding and fashion photographer based here in Greenville, SC. He’s the fabulous photographer behind our wedding pictures and is a fellow Clemson graduate. His photography skills have gotten featured in various publications such as Style Me Pretty, Southern Weddings, Wedding Sparrow and others.
Chris has an amazing ability to capture the feel and beauty in a moment or at an event in a single photograph. Chris also has a distinct brand and style for his photography business that is interwoven into every detail of his business and interaction with his clients. He gets the business side of things and his passion for the industry is obvious. I’m honored Chris took the time to answer a few questions regarding his photography journey and provided advice for other photographers looking to set out on their own.
1. Prior to doing photography full-time, what were you doing? Living the college dream! I started my business during my last year of college, and I was extremely blessed to go full-time straight after graduation.
2. What led you to start your own photography business? Wow, so many things! Photography is heavily creative, but it’s also heavily technical. I’ve always loved technology so that part fit easily, but I never saw myself as a creative at all until I picked up a camera. I fell in love with photography through the lens of fashion & editorial portrait work and with a love for working with people. I didn’t start out at all with the intention of photographing weddings, but interest picked up and I started taking wedding clients. Fast forward a little while and I can honestly say at this point that I love photographing weddings now more than ever. It’s a true privilege to tell a couple’s story, document the most joyous seasons of their lives, and capture the beginning of their family legacy through fine art photographs.
3. What’s one piece of advice you would give to someone looking to set out on their own? In general, take stock of your financial situation and what your risks are (e.g., current job situation, current savings, married/single, family to support, etc.). How do those things stack up? Sometimes it’s best to be a little more patient, but sometimes the risks are worth taking – you have to take an honest look and be the judge of your own scenario. Specifically for starting your own photography business, it’s exactly that – a BUSINESS. Learn some basic business skills, take a class or ten, and devour as much online material as you can (or anything else you can get your hands on). I also highly recommend internships, apprenticeships, and workshops as the in-person learning experience is invaluable. Most new photographers are shocked to see just how little of your time as a professional photographer is actually spent with a camera in your hands.
4. Toughest part of running your own business? Time & task management. As a small business owner, it’s easy to work all the time but you need to determine a structure for how you’re going to work or you’ll burn out and something will suffer because of it (e.g., marriage, business, other relationships). This is something I’m constantly struggling to balance. I’ve been fortunate for my hobby to become my career, and even more fortunate that my career is still my passion. However, that sometimes makes it harder to be diligent and intentional for “work hours”.
5. How long did you pursue photography on the side before turning it into a full-time business? Photography was something I first picked up as a hobby about halfway through college in spring 2007, and within the first year or so I knew I wanted to pursue it professionally. A constant prayer of mine for several years at that point had been for the Lord to lead me to a career that I truly loved & not just a job I went to everyday for a paycheck. I ended up changing majors at the end of my junior year which added a fifth year to my college career. At the time, I felt frustrated that yet another year of classes was between me and finally being done with school, but in reality it was the Lord’s providence in giving me a no-pressure, unofficial first year of beginning to promote myself/my work and start building a portfolio. Officially though, I began my business in the fall of 2009 – about 2 1/2 years after getting my first camera.
6. What’s one piece of advice you would give to someone looking to turn their hobby into a paying job? Photography is often one of those professions that everyone seems to want you to do for free or for credit or for a deal. Most folks now think photography doesn’t have much (or any) cost associated with it, but that’s certainly not true. Your time has worth and value; gear and its upkeep is very costly; and your creativity and expertise also should be taken into account. On top of all that, bills have to be paid, etc. if you want the lights to stay on. Knowing your overhead costs is critical for being able to give someone your rate and be confident in it. I’m not saying you shouldn’t ever do anything for free or for a deal, but it needs to be something you’re personally invested in or that will truly benefit your business in the long term.
7. What’s the hardest lesson you’ve learned along the way? Don’t let your intern hold your camera while standing in the ocean surf – but that’s a story for another time. On a more serious note…merely pining over the type of client I want and actually taking steps to attract them are not the same thing. It’s taken me a while to learn this one (still learning it). I’m really working on being more intentional here by focusing my marketing efforts across the board. Also, learning to say no to good things so I can say yes to great things.
8. Do you ever run out of creative juice? No, never…
9. How do you continue to stay inspired and motivated? Oh man, inspiration for me can come from tons of places. Seriously. Traveling, a conversation, my wife, reading Scripture, music, art, movies – this list can go on. (On that note, if you’re not already using the app Evernote, I’d highly recommend checking it out. It’s my go-to tool for jotting down thoughts/ideas anywhere and anytime something comes up.) My motivation stems from several sources as well, but I’ll mention two. Not in any particular order… One is through other photographers. It’s equally exciting to see what new work my friends and those I look up to are creating, but it can also be just as positively frustrating for me to keep pushing forward. Another is my own work. I’m always dissatisfied in my work to a varying extent, but I think every artist should have a healthy level of dissatisfaction in their work. If you believe you’ve arrived, you need to quit. Growing things change, and I always want to be growing and improving at my craft.
10. What’s one thing you do to push yourself creatively? Again, personal work. Shooting for myself gives me an opportunity to try anything I want without pressure from a client.
All images courtesy of Chris Isham Photography.
Hopefully Chris’ journey will inspire all you budding photographers out there to take that leap of faith and step out on your own.
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