“Do I really need the (fill in the blank), or can it wait?”
When you freelance to pay the bills, (unless you’re already loaded), it’s not about how much gross income you make, it is how much net income you come away with. When you have a full-time job, it’s nice to get health insurance benefits (hopefully), have taxes taken out with every check and money put into retirement. When you don’t have one, then it is up to you to manage all of those things. So the freelancer really has to think of their income as business income, not salary. The IRS says so as well. Regular jobs don’t come with an overhead cost usually, but freelance jobs usually do, particularly photography. If you’ve ever had to do temp work or in an industry with no job security, then you can probably relate also.
I’ve heard a joke from some professional photographers that you can tell the difference between the full-time freelancer and a serious hobbyist just by looking at them. The F/T freelancer has a beat-up camera & lens and drives a 20 year old car. The other photographer has the latest equipment and makes sure everyone knows it. For the freelancer it’s as much about minimizing your expenses as much as it is generating income. So what types of costs are there to consider?
Camera: Do you need the latest and greatest body? It depends. Can you get the job done effectively with your current gear?
Lenses: Can the images I can only make with the image stabilizer lens sell for enough money to justify the extra cost? Can I get similar image quality with a non-Canon L lens? Would it be smarter in the long-run to put this money into a mutual fund or property investment so I can upgrade later?
Car: Does your 15-year old car still work? What is the gas efficiency? How much does it cost to maintain?
Travel: Hotels or camping? Can you get an inexpensive room in the city without fearing for your life? Does camping still save you money once you factor in the driving distance? Can you find someone to split the travel costs with? Haven’t I photographed alpenglow on Half Dome ten times already? Would I ever sell an image from this place if I go there?
Office: Where you handle your daily business – can you get the same amount of work done conveniently in your own home rather than renting studio space? I’ve read and heard all sorts of things from wedding photographers believe that meeting in the photographers home helps to seal the deal, to having a downtown studio sounds more impressive to photo editors.
Other Stuff: Everything else that normal people have.
The moral of the story: It’s hard to earn a living doing what you enjoy but many are doing it. It can be an incredibly rewarding occupation or part-time business. It requires a lot of personal sacrifice however. There are some people making a mockery of photography by giving work away for free or selling royalty-free for pennies. If you are going to shoot serious pictures, then charge appropriately for your pictures. If they are good enough to be published then they will sell for market value. With the general public suspecting each photographer of being a paparazzi member, terrorist or a source for free photos these days, really all photographers are being affected by the actions of a few. This is not simply a matter of economic philosophy. What it comes down to is that photography needs an image rehabilitation and that should start today with you and I. It’s about educating those in need of one.