We’re in the middle of a series for photographers and aspiring entrepreneurs called “Making the Leap” where we’re sharing our ten practical steps for going from part-time photographers to full-time. Or, as author Jon Acuff puts it, going from your day job to your dream job without it becoming a nightmare.
We were elementary school teachers before we had the dream to be full-time photographers, and one of the first things we realized about photography is this: it’s expensive. Almost beyond belief expensive. It’s not just the thousands of dollars it costs for regular business expenses, like computers, software, training, and a website… the list goes on and on. It’s also the gear it takes to successfully shoot a wedding, like cameras, lenses, flashes. Again, that list goes on and on. To be honest, it’s overwhelming, and you’re probably asking yourself the same question we asked ourselves: Where do we even start? We’ve a got a few ideas that worked for us, and we hope they’ll work for you, too.
When we first got married, we both had small teaching salaries, and since we followed (and still follow) Dave Ramsey’s principles for handling money, we decided to save one salary and live on the other. We agreed that before we’d invest any money into our photography dream, we’d have a personal emergency fund in place, we’d be fully funding our retirement funds, and we’d be saving to purchase a home. We’d never let our business dream take over our personal ones. We committed to each other that our business expenses would never be “an emergency,” our new gear would never clean out our retirement, and we’d never drain our house fund for gear. Even though we knew it was a slower, more conservative route, looking back, we’re so glad it’s the path we followed because we were able to rest peacefully knowing that the success (or failure) of our business would never control our personal financial future.
Since we lived on our first salary and saved our second salary, we didn’t have anything left over for photography gear at the beginning. So, Jordan picked up an extra part-time job coaching soccer to save money to purchase our first camera and lens.Working full time at school, part time at the soccer fields and part time in our new photography business was exhausting, but it allowed us to acquire the basic necessities we needed to move our business forward.
Once we owned the basic equipment we needed, we focused on doing as many photo jobs as we could to work up to being able to purchase everything else we needed. We had a few cameras and lenses at that point, as well as a used computer with editing software, but there was a problem: we didn’t have that many weddings booked yet. So we thought to ourselves, How are we going to save for the gear we need without any wedding income and without tapping into our personal money? The answer: portrait sessions. We shot a TON of portrait sessions early on. It’s the best way to hone your craft, build great word of mouth and make money to invest in more gear. Every time we made money shooting portraits, we saved it until we could purchase the next piece of gear on our list of importance.
Since we couldn’t afford everything at once, we had to make wise decisions and get gear in the order of importance. For us, that meant just the basics: two cameras, two lenses, memory cards, flashes, and editing software. It was tough, but we really had to separate our wants from our needs, be realistic about what we could afford, and look for lenses that gave us the range we needed to shoot a full wedding day from start to finish. One of the best pieces of advice we got was, “invest in good glass,” because you’ll never be able to keep up with the latest and greatest. We committed to purchasing lenses based on our needs to shoot a complete wedding day, which sometimes meant choosing a lens out of necessity instead of the one that was the newest, prettiest or shiniest. Because we built our lens arsenal slowly and intentionally, we still use all of those same lenses today. You can read all about the lenses we purchased, why we purchased them and the order we purchased them by clicking here.
One of the hardest things about building a business from the ground up is not paying yourself — for a long time. We had tens of thousands of dollars in equipment that we needed in our arsenal to be full-time photographers, and we just didn’t have the cash flow at first to purchase gear and pay ourselves. So, we made the decision to re-invest everything we made back into our business, knowing the when we had everything we needed, we’d get to keep most of what we’d made. We were thankful our day job could pay our bills, so that we could build our dream job the right way. It was a sacrifice, for sure, but it was worth it.
As our business has grown, we’ve kept almost all of the original gear that we purchased because we purchased slowly and got the best up front. The only major swaps we made were upgraded camera bodies and better flashes. To get those, we sold our used gear to a photographer who was looking to upgrade, and put that money toward purchasing new gear.
You can see our entire gear list by clicking here.
Next, we’ll dive in to Step 5: Get a Team. We’ll talk about the team we put around us in the early years of our business that helped us make the leap when we were ready. Thanks for checking in, friends! Let’s make each other better and serve on.
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