Photography is one of the many creative fields that can both be a hobby or a profession. In the Middle East and Arabic countries, there is a big demand for professional photographers which encourage a new generation of photographers to shift their career and start their photography business. In a region with emerging markets and the great demand for media, photography is becoming the most thrilling career in many regional countries including Egypt, Lebanon, UAE, and Saudi.
For camera lovers who developed a good level of photography skills, there is no most desired thing than becoming a professional photographer. But what exactly is that thing that defines a photographer from being a pro or not? And what it takes to start a regional photography business?
There are several misconceptions about the term “professional photographer” in the region. Beyond the skills, the talent and the style, the “professional” word is not limited to making money or that a photographer is making a substantial amount of its income. The real meaning of professional photography revolves around the entrepreneur journey that doesn’t stop there. Moving step by step in the photography business takes more than just extraordinary talent in highly competitive markets like Dubai or Cairo. It requires the ability to learn and adapt to be able to move to the next level. And that is the Business of Photography.
Today we want to share with you some insightful things to consider before starting the rocky road of developing a solid photography business nowadays.
Photography is an art and with art, learning is an ongoing process. In the Middle East, you can advance your skills by joining photography courses, face to face workshops, or by learning directly from other professionals you meet along your journey. However, some of the most popular photographers in the commercial market in Arabic countries are self-taught photographers.
Whether you choose to learn at an academic institute or by joining a photography workshop, it doesn’t define the results. Learning photography requires major efforts of self-learning and practices. Getting the most valuable tips from professional photographers is one of the keys to improve your photography skills in a short time. While YouTube has several tutorials and classes, yet sometimes it is only limited to fundamentals and not specialized in a certain type of photography.
In Art&Creativity, we have collected the best online photography courses in the Middle East to help people in Arabic countries to learn extensively from professionals. The photography courses are ideal for people who want to advance their skills in commercial and editorial photography. In addition, online courses contain tutorials and business guidelines for people who are starting their careers as professional photographers.
There are two types of photography beginners; the ones that have spent some money on gear, and those who haven’t done it, yet. If you belong to those that haven’t spent that much money yet, then this is your lucky day. Gear could overwhelm anyone in no time thanks to all the available options in the market. Cameras, lenses, tripods, lights, props, etc. Any piece of gear that you buy should be seen as an investment, and it needs to correspond to the genre that you feel the most passionate about.
If you have already bought a camera, it will be very likely that you have a standard 18-55mm lens with you right now. And despite what you might think, it will be very helpful for you! Make a recount of all the images that you have made, and sort them out into themes. If you enjoy taking a lot of interior photographs, then you might need to invest next in a wide-angle lens. If you are feeling more drawn to portraiture, then perhaps an 85mm will be a wise investment for your photography business. If you find yourself with a sort of homogeneous theme, then you might think about investing in a 35mm or a 50mm lens. As soon as you start getting more and more experience on the field, you’ll encounter some situations that will lead you to think about specific solutions like tripods or lights. All the upcoming gear needs will come with time, and as long as you see each purchase as a necessity for your business, you’ll outsmart the market offers for good!
It is important to understand your market to be able to plan your business model. The photography in the Middle East is mostly commercial with several key fields including wedding photography, interior, and real estate photography, product photography, food photography, and finally, beauty and fashion photography.
The first step is researching your local and regional market to be able to define the opportunities. Each market has a higher demand for a certain set of professional photography skills. For instance, the demand for photography in UAE is diversified between commercial photography as well as additional categories such as events, fashion photography. Markets like Lebanon and Egypt will have higher competition, yet there is a huge demand for professional photographers in the region.
This requires some time to think about it and there are no exact recipes for it. A niche is a special segment of the market you are trying to serve or satisfy. And it has a lot to do with the unique value that your style can deliver to meet those needs. You don’t have to build a new genre, you simply need to make your style stand out from the crowd, especially when having so many photographers around.
For this, we can borrow a pretty useful tool from the business management world, the SWOT analysis. This is a simple tool that will help you find the following:
– Strengths: Or the particular things about your photographs that make them different from others.
– Weaknesses: The overall stuff that puts you at a disadvantage against other photographers.
– Opportunities: This refers to the elements that you can exploit to take a certain advantage in the market.
– Threats: All the elements that could give a hard time to your photography business. After defining these 4 dimensions, you’ll need to build some strategies for your strengths to overcome your weaknesses as well as making your opportunities more substantial than your threats. This is challenging, we know it, but it is also fun and will help you out into sailing the murky waters of businesses in a safe way.
If you are reading this, then it is very likely that you have already asked yourselves about how to price your work. Well, there are several ways for doing this, but we find that the hourly rate is the smartest way of answering that.
Finding an answer to that question is quite easy nowadays, even for entry and mildly level photographers. The rates can vary for photographers in the Middle East based on the many factors including the brand name, the industry, the market competition, etc.
For those, depending on the skills and level one might juggle between $25 to even $100 per hour of work. But don’t just throw a number, there are several things to consider before giving your photography clients a proper quote.
Project Mindset Photography is not something you can replicate in a series like a factory-made product. Each shoot and every session should be seen as a project that will require expenses that should be covered. There are several things that come into play when designing a photography project, and the only experience will give you the best skills for nailing it better each time. But we found a very useful tool that could give you an idea of how much a photography project could cost you to develop. This is the National Press Photographers Association, a calculator. This tool is oriented towards photojournalism of course, but you can change some names from “Health Insurance” to “Make-Up Artist”, “Hairdresser” or “Lighting Rental” for example. Also, this could lead you to properly design convenient packages if you are thinking about building a wedding photography business or similar.
The important thing is to brainstorm all the things that you’ll need to invest for each project or package, including your own gear devaluation, fixed business expenses, and your own salary! After all, profit is the main reason why we pursue a career based on our hobby and passion, otherwise, a cubicle job should be more interesting…
Next step, take your spreadsheets to accounting level and beyond by using invoice services like this one or this one.
The Middle East and Arab countries are filled with tons of different clients, some of them are highly valuable, and some others will require you to have a bit of patience with them. After all, you can’t refuse to work for all clients if you want to have a successful photography business.
In this path, you’ll encounter creative clients that will want Disney-like productions, Perfectionist folks that will ask for any changes, Smart-ones that will judge your gear and opportunists that will offer you “exposure” in order to work for free. You’ll also find wise clients that will know how much creative work takes to be crafted, and clear-minded ones that know exactly what they want. The experience will tell you better how to deal with all of these, but the wisest move you can do is to always ask for visual references. What might seem “simple” to your client could be a $20K production or higher, so always guard yourself and ask for these materials. Oh, and please, never give your talent away to people offering “exposure”. On the other hand, the trade could be nice.
Now, the next step would be for you to invest in marketing, branding, and beyond. Many photographers in the Middle East market like to do everything on their own. Don’t try to make this a one-man army thing, because you’ll just get exhausted and you will not have the time you need to focus on your photography skills. Hiring a marketing consultant or professional marketer can help you to promote and brand your photography business in the Middle East and Arabic local markets. Take it one step at a time and invest in the proper people that have become more experienced in those fields. The biggest mistake we can make when thinking about business photography is to think that we can make those stuff “because they seem easy to make”. Just like some people think that photography is just about pushing a button, right?