One of the biggest questions a part-time photographer wants an answer to: when do I make the jump to becoming a full-time photographer?  I’ll make it easy for you. Actually, it might frustrate you: It’s different for everyone!

There are so many ways people I’ve seen people make the leap:

1) Formally Educated. They went to school for photography. When they graduate, that’s what they were going to do. They’ve been a photographer since they were teens. Or earlier.

2) Work-Load. They’ve been a very successful part-time photographer and they simply didn’t have enough time for both a day-job and passion-job.

3) By Accident. They were a part-time photographer and wanted to make the leap. The stars and moons aligned a certain way and they fell/forced into going full-time.

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Honestly, I think #3 is by far the most common way I’ve seen photographers go full-time. That’s how it happened for me. I sort of had this revelation and thought it was “now or never”. And I did it. I certainly didn’t have the workload I wanted. It was more of feeling.

I read an article where it said the number of new business applications was at its highest this year than in many previous years. I completely understand that. With Covid-19, many people were laid off. Okay, so people who were thinking about it made the jump. They would have the time to develop the business with the unemployment insurance they would receive. When the emergency is over, they’d be ready. Makes complete sense to me.

I’ve seen people put so much thought into when to make the move. Try to figure out every little scenario. But what I think it really is: fear.

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Yes, making ‘your own’ money can be scary. Especially if you have others who depend on your income. Because it’s not about the art of photography or how good you are. It’s about marketing, sales, customer service, business operations and business. It's about business. Maybe 5% is about the art. But as a colleague of mine once said "But that 5% is really really great!".

Before I got into photography, I had an IT consulting business for 15 years. I had to learn ‘the business’ side of having an IT company. Honestly, it wasn’t hard. I made mistakes. But the bottom line is this: if you’re good and do your best for your customers, everything works itself out. Totally.

For me, I knew I couldn’t have the career I wanted in San Francisco. I knew I would have to move to New York. The fashion photography world revolves around New York in the United States. And really, the world. While photography is done for products in their respective countries, all the biggest fashion magazines are in New York. For me, it was very obvious I had to move to New York. And moving to another city may be something you have to do as well. I mean, there isn’t going to be much business photographing expensive automobiles in a poor country. Right?

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The biggest revelation when jumping into photography full-time happened months into my first year. This year.

I have a cloud-based-customer relationship application that I’ve used for years. It helps me keep track of clients, tasks and projects. I think I’ve had this particular program for about 4 years. I spend hours on it every day. But I had never run a report on the number of tasks I complete. Why should I? I know I’m working hard. For kicks, I thought I would do it. Again, a revelation.

When I was doing photography part-time, I was completing approximately 500 tasks a year. Roughly, 40 tasks a month. Not too bad really. 9 hours of the day job. 1 hour travel each way. An hour to prep and an hour or two to rest. Doesn’t leave much time to get things done. I would squeeze photography work into my lunch hour by calling people or catching up on to-dos.

This year, I’ve completed THREE THOUSAND tasks!!! Think about that for a moment…. I basically completed 6 years of part-time photography work into one, full-time year….

Capture One Catalog - Image: Ricardo Gomez Photography

People would say “Well, you had the time as you were locked down by Covid-19. You had time to do things”. While most of the work was focused on operations, it would’ve been replaced with client items if Covid-19 hadn’t come into the picture. Absolutely.

During the lock and slow-down, I didn’t let it go to waste. When current circumstances cleared up, I wanted to be 100%. I rebuilt my website. Twice. I got marketing materials done. I took classes in photography business and applications. I smoothed out my client-work flows. I updated documents. I did a tremendous amount of work. In fact, so much, I’m still having to fight burn-out. 12 – 14 hours days hammering a day takes it toll.

Me on a typical, late Saturday night: editing photos. The life of a photographer!

And here’s another revelation…. And I’ll try to be brief…

When you have a day-job and you’re putting 100% into it, you are probably quite tired by the time you get home. It’s just naturally harder to learn things after a hard day’s work. Things that I’ve been trying to learn and understand were absolutely simple when I attacked them with a fresh brain. Especially in photoshop. Not only is my photo-editing improved with speed and quality, I can now, easily make my own marketing materials! Now, I don’t have to hire a graphic designer! You know how much money that’s going to save me?

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In the end, when you do make the jump? You pretty much know when you feel it. It’s going to be hard. Life is hard if you want to really do something with it. Wouldn’t you rather be doing something you love?

Ricardo Gomez Photography

Originally from San Francisco, Ricardo is now a New York-based photographer specializing in editorial and commercial photography.
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