To start a business or not to start a business ... THAT is the question.

And actually, it's a question aspiring photographers SHOULD be asking themselves more frequently.

I started my business, like many photographers, out of a love for photography. I couldn't believe that someone might pay me to do something I love! And for me, there were only two options in my mind:

1 -- Keep photography as a hobby
2 -- Start a business

So I unwittingly jumped feet first into starting a business without a lot of forethought or knowledge. I had no idea at the time that in order to have a successful business, I would need to spend 80% of my time on business tasks and only 20% or less of my time behind the camera. But I took the plunge nonetheless, and came to understand the realities of owning and running a business as I went. Not the most ideal scenario, but luckily, for me, it worked out.

It turns out I love business just as much as, if not more than, photography. But for many photographers, I know this is not the case. And some have ended up disillusioned by the amount of time they have to spend behind the computer doing tasks they aren't passionate about in order to compete in a saturated, competitive field.

The good news is -- there IS a 3rd option!

3 -- Work for another photographer

This option is ideal for those photographers who love to shoot but don't have the desire to deal with the business side of things. They would love to make photography more than just a hobby, but going full-steam ahead with their own business is not a good option for them -- at least for the time being.

I have six women working for me as associate photographers, and each of them more or less fit the description above. Each of their lives looks a little different, but there are some commonalities:
  • They love photography and are super-talented.
  • They are all moms and committed to protecting their time with family.
  • They don't LOVE the business side of things. They rarely attend a networking meeting, they use social media sparingly and only for personal sharing, and they have other passions that vie for their hearts and time.
I've been in the wedding industry for 14 years now and it has become increasingly competitive. It's not hard to start a business, but it IS hard to compete at a level where you can make a full-time living. So if you don't want to live, eat and breathe your business, it might make sense to work for another photographer. That way you can do something you love, get paid for it, but not have to shoulder all of the extra work and pressure that comes with building a business.

So what steps can you take if you want to go this route?

I would start by seeking out photographers whose work you admire and who do business locally. Contact them, take them to lunch and see if you have a connection. Second shoot with as many established photographers as you can. Make your desire to shoot but not to go into business for yourself known. The relationships you develop in this way could lead to a more established role for you in another photographer's company. Some photographers like me, take on associate photographers who are paid to shoot events on their own. They are sometimes asked to do post-production work on their images, but oftentimes they just shoot, deliver the unedited images to the studio and get paid. Each studio that works with associates has it set up differently so you'd have to find out the specifics from the business owner. But this option IS available and it is a good fit for many people. Going into business for yourself is a very involved venture. And if you want to spend your time shooting, it is not the only option, and may not even be the best option for you.

I know that if I leave this post like this, I'm going to get a number of questions about whether or not I'm looking to take on more associate photographers at this time. The answer is no. I have a full team. But I will say, that each and every one of them joined my team through the natural development of a trusting relationship. We got to know each other through the industry. They shot with me, attended my workshop, or were referred to me by someone I trust. That's why I encourage those of you who are starting out and are interested in this alternate route to start by taking a photographer you admire to lunch.

Great things come out of doing lunch. :)


Maybe you're reading this post and you're already running an established business and even think you might be interested in building an associate program at some point in the future. If that's you, I’ve built an online assessment that you can take free of charge that will give you further thoughts and feedback on whether or not you're at a point in your business where it would be wise to take this next step. You can find it on the Photographer Resources section of my website.
Is an Associate Photography Program right for you? Take the Quiz!
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