I’ve realized that I really enjoy photography and I want to explore turning it into a side business. I’ve got a Federal EIN and a state sales tax certificate on the way, and I’ll pick up a county occupational license soon.

The stack of library books about the business of photography all seem to assume I want to be a copyright baron. I don’t. I’d prefer to sell my services as a wedding/event photographer and provide my customers with CDs and a written license to do as they please with the images.

I need to figure out what legal forms to use so that I don’t lose my shirt if I get sick the day before the wedding and Bridezilla sues me for malpractice. Perhaps one of these books will have sample wording.

Also, I need to get in some serious practice. I bought the digital camera I’ve been lusting after, but I need to know its limits: How many shots can I get in 60 seconds? How long until the flash recharges? How long until I run out of battery power for the flash and/or camera?

Then there’s my limits. How long can I run around the room before I need water and a protein bar, and can I snarf them discreetly without missing a shot or smudging the gear? Can I stay focused for hours on end? Can I remember to get all of the standard shots (waist-high individual shots of each attendant, ceremony stuff, kissing, rice, etc.) and actually pull it off with no do-overs?

Of course, that’s wedding photography — it’s an entire sub-discipline. I’d also enjoy selling rights to stock photos, selling framed prints of nature shots, maybe a bit of pro-am stringer photojournalism… the nice thing about a sideline is the freedom to dabble.

I suspect the best thing for me to do is photograph a street fair and figure out my limits. Tropical Heatwave is this weekend… hmm…

On the other hand, if anyone needs an event photographer and wants to give me a chance, let’s talk!



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10 responses to “Photography

  1. gardenwaltz

    i think moving into semi-pro protography could be a good mood for you. your pictures are really good. i’m sorry i haven’t commented before, but they’re so good i really don’t know where to start. i guess i understand more now when people don’t comment on my poems – not that they are that good. photography and the visual arts in general are out of my worldview, but i do have *some* knowledge of freelance and self-employment.

    the reason you are seeing so many copyright barons is that, not to be crude, they want to get paid. the equipment and the time is expensive and they want to make sure that others are not using their work unpaid. wedding photography may be your best bet for solid income. your nature photography is very good, but there is a lot of competition. that is probably best to leave to creative commons in order to get your name out there. i would contact the local newspapers and ask what their policies are regarding freelance photographers. don’t forget to hit up the small independents that are operating with smaller staffs and may not have a full time photographer.
    i’ve heard it’s hard to get a photo credit and that that is a big deal, but i don’t know much beyond that. it sounds like the ‘ol justification for literary mags not paying much.

    wedding photography means giving up your weekends. jeff and i have had to definitely talk about and adjust to me working on the weekends (which is thankfully ending soon). it is a bigger adjustment than it may seem. weddings are planned months in advance and it can really lock you in. the wedding photographer that i know actually has a home studio* to take the fancy shots in. i don’t know that you need that, but it may be worth taking the time to consider some options. that being said, wedding photography is a good market to break into because it is one time that ordinary people are actively shopping for a photographer and there are no real chain equivalents. i’m sure there’s a million jillion wedding photographer books in the library ;).

    if you think you can break even in the next few years, definitely start keeping records to file as a business. that means you will be able to write off the cost of that fancy camera. keep track of everything including mileage to events.

    *she also has a house that looks like a castle and a home martial arts studio complete with mirrored walls. i do not think her situation is typical.

  2. sylvar

    Thanks for the compliments and the advice. I think being a stringer for a local paper might be quite interesting.

    And I’m not exactly sure how much record-keeping I’d have to do (I’m allergic to it), but I did write off the cost of crossword-composing software against the puzzles I sold, so I’m generally familiar with the idea. Perhaps there’s a simple workbook I could buy for scribbling mileage, addresses, and other expenses. I’m sure there is.

  3. gardenwaltz

    if you walk into an hrblock, they can hand you a little address book sized thing that has more than enough spaces. general office supply stores will also have them. think itty bitty black book. what you would need will not rise much above a mileage log. you’ll also want a folder for receipts and such. one manila folder per year is not a huge commitment.

  4. sylvar

    BTW, that’s password-protected, I’ve sent her the password.

  5. gardenwaltz

    the link shows as locked, but the title and the fact that it is a spreadsheet make me think that it is heading in the right direction.

  6. magnoliafly

    Most wedding photographers require that a dinner be provided for them if they are photographing at the reception too. They get fed anyway, I know we fed mine.

    I think I just threw out a copy of his contract but if I happen to run across it and I kept it I’ll scan it for you. It was a simple one pager, required a deposit to secure the date and he did exactly what you’re talking about, free license to re-print if necessary. I would have preferred some more candid shots of the wedding itself, and the wedding party, black and white stuff… but you get what you pay for. He wasn’t particularly creative.

  7. gardenwaltz

    You’re getting warmer, but will want the mileage in a separate tab. what you want is a ‘contemporaneous log’ (i.e. do it at the time, not make it up at the end of the year) that shows:
    date | mileage start | mileage end | total
    the total would be end-start. at the end of the year, you take this sum and multiply it by the rate set by the IRS. i’ve completely lost track of what that may be, but i’m guessing around 40-50 cents a mile. would you like me to fiddle with the sheet?

    now, this really is easy:

    costs – (gross) earnings = profit/loss

    the feds will let you run a loss for about 3 years before they declare it a hobby. if you’re going the Fed ID route, i’d see if you can make a go of it as a business. there is not a fixed rule, but a general series of guidelines to declare the difference between a hobby and a business. what you have been doing up till now is definitely a hobby. here are some of the key differences:

    *making money – it is expected that a business may lose money in the beginning, but eventually you need to show a profit.
    *amount of personal enjoyment – this works against most of the creative fields because you would still do this if you weren’t being paid. that’s ok, you don’t need to fit all the criteria.
    *operating in a businesslike manner – keep records, actively pursue new clients, refine procedures to make the business more profitable, have a name for your business, logo, branding, etc.
    *training – ok, i can’t remember this one exactly, but refine your craft, subscribe to magazines, go to conventions, etc.
    *active participation – with you taking the pictures, this one will be easy.
    *need – ok, i really can’t remember this one, but if you didn’t run your business for a number of months, would it hurt your pocketbook? again, this one can be waived for quite a while with a startup, especially with a business custom tailored for freelancing.

    i think there were 7 qualifications in all, and that’s only 6, but i think you see where i’m going. run it for a few years, and see if your ingo and greater than your outgo. keep the records and run it by a tax professional every few years until it becomes familiar. oh, and if you think this might work, definitely start this year when you should have a loss. i would have to do some research to determine whether the camera would be deducted all in one year or depreciated over time. i suspect it would be a five year item based on the IRS’ antiquated view of computer depreciation.

  8. sylvar

    would you like me to fiddle with the sheet?

    Yes please! You now have read/write access to it with the same password. If you like EditGrid enough to get a free account, let me know and I’ll assign the rights to your username rather than a password.

    the feds will let you run a loss for about 3 years before they declare it a hobby.

    Just so I’m perfectly clear on this, why would that matter? If I’m losing money on it, I’m guessing I wouldn’t be making enough to worry about (i.e. the taxes on the small income wouldn’t kill me), right?

    *operating in a businesslike manner – keep records, actively pursue new clients, refine procedures to make the business more profitable, have a name for your business, logo, branding, etc.

    I’m planning to be a sole proprietor, but I guess that doesn’t preclude me from registering a fictitious name, getting a domain name and cheap web site, etc.

    *training – ok, i can’t remember this one exactly, but refine your craft, subscribe to magazines, go to conventions, etc.

    Perhaps a membership in Tampa Area Professional Photographers Association would answer this point.

    need – ok, i really can’t remember this one, but if you didn’t run your business for a number of months, would it hurt your pocketbook?

    Assuming it’s profitable, ceasing operations would obviously ‘hurt my pocketbook’, but I’m not sure I could claim it’d get me into financial trouble.

    keep the records and run it by a tax professional every few years until it becomes familiar.

    Thanks for the freebie. Now watch me beg for friend prices next year. (Or *gulp* sooner… maybe I need to file quarterly…)

  9. gardenwaltz

    -i will tackle your spreadsheet later today. it won’t take long, but i’ve got some chores to do first.

    -the reason that it matters if you are losing money is because you can deduct your losses. that is very exciting to some tax cheats and very nervous making for the IRS. spend money on your hobby and get a tax cut, who wouldn’t like that? that’s why all the effort on separating hobbies from businesses.

    -TAPPA would be a perfect example of seeking professionalism. it would also be likely to be a helpful networking aid.

    -i would be amenable to helping with general advice as i really do enjoy doing taxes. i’ll give you fair warning that i’ve let my continuing ed lapse, but the hobby/business classification is a basic mindset rather than a regulation that gets changed frequently.

    -i don’t think you will need to file quaterly just yet as you’ve got a little bit of wiggle the first year you owe money. if you feel like you are getting a ‘good’ amount of money, your first step would be to increase your withholding. as long as you’ve got a standard w-4 type job, that is going to be the simplest approach. all the gov’t cares about is that you don’t owe ‘too much’ (really big simplification here) money at the end of the year. as long as are close to breaking even, they don’t care. i believe it is easier to adjust your withholdings to have x amount extra taken out of each paycheck than to have to go through the rigamarole of quarterly filing. to determine the actual amounts, you need to look at the numbers and do actual math. if you do go to a place like hr block, make sure to ask for someone who is experienced with sole proprietors. you don’t want the run of the mill first year person. a great way to get more experienced people is to go off season to the one office that is open year round.

    a lot depends on the exact amounts, but when you’ve made ~ $3-5,000 net, start running real numbers. until then, you can settle up at the end of the year.

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