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Our 6 raging truths about what has sucked being a self-employed photographer.



I spent more time contributing to photo forums than working on my business: Hey, when you work alone, you’re LONELY… and the photo forums of days past were my water cooler.  I spent most of my working hours reading, writing, and socializing on those boards, and wrongly believed that all the time I was spending there was fruitful.  But instead of gleaning knowledge from other photographers and applying it to my own business, I just got swept up in drama, social cliques, and the relentless quest of proving how much smarter I was than everyone else.  Even after quitting all the photo forums, I still found myself wasting days away on Facebook, caring WAY TOO MUCH about what some guy ten states away was doing with his business (or how someone I wouldn’t recognize on the street stole something from someone else I wouldn’t recognize on the street), and letting the mechanics of my business fall by the wayside.

I let my clients become friends: Now, this isn’t evil in and of itself, but we all know that lines get blurry once you move past a business relationship and into one of friendship.  Because they were my friends, I was lax on policies.  I gave away my time without compensation.  I was vague on terms and conditions.  Clients had a longer rope, and I let them pull on it because FRIENDS.  And, worst of all, those friendships I’d cultivated turned quickly back to business-only when I was late on an album design, or when I didn’t get a shot on their stupid shot list (that I claimed not to accept, but FRIENDS do stuff for friends, right?)  I still have client-friends, and I’ll never treat a client like a “prospect” – but I’m a lot more careful to set the boundaries right from the start of the relationship, and to complete our contractual arrangements before considering them to be my “friends”.

I ostriched myself when the shit hit the fan: I had a bad year.  I really hate the overuse of the word “epic”, but 2005 was bad in EPIC proportions.  By October of 2005, every last client from that year was mad at me.  I’d received no less than five letters from attorneys demanding things I was contractually obligated to provide, but too poor/depressed/fucked-in-the-head to work on.  And rather than facing the bad year head-on, I hid from it for months, letting clients get angrier and angrier, and digging a hole so deep it took me till 2008 to fully dig out.  I couldn’t muster the will to make a single phone call to an angry client, because I was afraid of being told that I was awful.   Hiding from my clients when things got bad was a natural response for someone who was raised by a woman who wouldn’t open the bills because that would mean she actually DID owe money that month; but it was the most damaging thing I could do during a critical time in my personal and professional life.


I believed other photographers on the internet were more successful than me:   Because really, who wouldn’t based on what they said?  Truth: anyone who has been in this business for a decent amount of time has had days where they questioned their worth.  Worried that they were going to be found out for not knowing off camera lighting (or whatever).  Worried  that the IRS would come after them.  Had a consult where they knew that clients retainer would make or break their rent payment that month. The ones that tell you it’s never happened to them?  They are lying, or they have another source of  dependable income.  Living on a variable income is HARD.

I thought it was all about the photos: It’s not. It never will be just about the photos, not anymore.  Yes, your photos have  to be decent.  How many photographers do you know that you see their work and you shake your head?  THAT photo got 3000 likes?  It’s not just about the photos, it’s about the marketing, the customer experience, the way you make people feel about your photos.   Anyone can make what the public now perceives as a great photo. You can rail and call the name of Ansel Adams in vain, but the truth remains that unless you can use both sides of your brain, the creative and the businessperson side, you will struggle.

I asked for help way too late:   Pride is such a shithead, and I thought it was just me who was struggling.  Once I opened up my  mouth to ask for help from some colleagues  that I had known for years I found out that they were having similar issues. From that point on, it became like Team America in my town. I know you are saying “Oh, the competition in my town is way too fierce for that, no one would ever share their stuff “. You know what?  That’s bullshit. Last month one of my competitors Riitta  gave a  super low cost seminar on In Person Sales for weddings to any photographer in our Facebook group who wanted to come.  Why?  Because in her view if we all required this it would set the bar high for photographers in our town. If you don’t have a Riitta in your town, you be Riitta.  Make some calls, plan some coffee dates and make some photographer friends. My frenemy Doug (who I talked about in this post)  put it this way ” The better we, the professional photographer community, are collectively, the less likely we’ll lose work to non-professionals.”  

(Awww.  He’s so cute with his million bajillion Facebook fans. Too bad he doesn’t know how to use a comma)

Here is the thing we want you to most understand about why we are here with this blog:  WE GET IT. Gah, so trite.  But really, Charo and I both landed lucky 13 years ago when we hooked up with a group  of professionals that to this day we can reach out to online, on the phone and by IM.  Many of you are telling us that you don’t have that.  That you feel isolated, alone and like everyone else gets it and you don’t.

That. Has got. To suck.

Join us, and let’s talk. We’re going to be implementing more interactive things like Google Hangout chats and podcasts and hell, who knows what else.

P.S.  Last days for our friend Jamie’s class on Marketog. By the time this  post goes out, it might even be sold out, because  it usually does and when Jamie posts stuff she blows up the internets :)  If there is still room, we URGE you to consider this class if you need to change the entire face of your business.   It will rock your socks, guaranteed, or Jamie will give you money back.  We will not give you money back because we are giving you this shit for free.

You’re welcome.




  1. Love you guys. :) Great post, full of truths… OXOXO

  2. Have to say, that I am sitting here in a pile of tears of relief. I am not the only one who ostritched? Granted, it wasn’t near as bad sounding, but bad is relative and to me, the one crazy bride I had this year was enough to have me ostritched for months.
    Thank you for sharing your real experiences. Photography as a small business isn’t glamorous, its hard – and so very worth it.

  3. you two are awesome. I would not be where I am without all of you love and advice :)

  4. Everyday I see photos from area photographers that someone just raves about. I just want to shout out…Did your Grandma just get the newest point and shoot blah, blah blah and had to try it out in the direct sun or in front of a stack of pallets? WTF? But I know I’m not going to change their minds, I’m not going to count them as customers and I’m never going to give them a DVD of their images for $100.
    Believe me I care. A lot. I want people to have portraits up on the wall. Any wall. I don’t want digital images sitting on a hard drive in the junk drawer with great intentions. I don’t want printed images stacking up in the closet because Uncle Harold hasn’t gotten around to making the frame. He won’t. He doesn’t care about your pictures. I do.

  5. AWESOME post! You two are the bomb.

  6. You two are freakin’ awesome!

  7. This was my life. Word for word, right down to the years 2005-2008. Love you for writing this.

  8. I’m so thankful for both of you.

  9. It is so true that the business end is so much more important than the photography. Your creativity is best spent in your marketing! I’ve found that it really is survival of the fittest – you have to constantly keep up with things and look for new opportunities. We always joke that the best thing about having your own business is that you don’t have a boss, and the worst thing about having your own business is that you don’t have a boss! You have to figure it all out on your own.

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