Professional photographers often launch their careers as a side hustle while working a day job. The goal for many, however, is to eventually transition into a full-time photographer — someone who can support themselves entirely through their photography.
But how long should you expect to shoot before you’re ready — skill-wise and financially — to go full-time?
What Is Your Photography Workload?
If you’re frequently turning down new clients or are fully booked for the foreseeable future, you might be ready to take the plunge and turning your photography side hustle into your only hustle.
A hefty workload is one of the strongest indicators that you’re ready and able to shoot full-time.
Be careful, though. The amount of photography work you have should be enough to sustain you and your lifestyle. You don’t want to quit your stable full-time job only for your photography work to dry up and leave you penniless.
If you’re booking enough shoots and have a consistent demand for your work though, chances are good that you’re ready to start shooting full-time.
Set Financial Goals
While it plays hand-in-hand with your workload, it’s important to know how much money you need to earn over a given period of time.
Without a consistent 40-hour-a-week job, each shoot you schedule should make a significant contribution to your earnings.
Calculate how much money you require to sustain your lifestyle and grow your business, then use that information to properly price your services. How many shoots will you need to schedule per week? Will you need to book more weddings or sell more portrait slots?
If you earn enough from your photography to pay the bills and sustain your lifestyle, you’re likely ready to start shooting full-time.
Ensure Your Skills Are On-Point
Photography has a low barrier to entry. After all, anyone with a smartphone possesses the ability to start shooting photos.
But that doesn’t necessarily mean everyone’s skilled enough to launch a career in photography.
If photography has long been a passion of yours, chances are you’ve continued to hone your skills. Still, you need to offer potential clients a certain quality in the work you do. If you do good work, you’re more likely to get referrals and repeat business. Cha-ching.
But how can you tell your skill is at a high enough level to transition into full-time photography? Audit your portfolio to determine what level you’re at and continue to develop your techniques.
If you and your clients are happy with your work and portfolio, it may be the right time to turn that side hustle into a full-time job.
You’ve Built Up an Emergency Fund
Self-employment, especially in the arts, sometimes leads to a feast or famine situation. No matter how good a photographer you are, it’s wise to establish an emergency fund before quitting your current job.
Save the equivalent of three to six months of expenses (at least) before quitting your job. This money will serve as your backup plan if business dries up or it takes a little more time than you expected to ramp up your professional photography.
Keeping a personal safety net in place will give you some breathing room to fully establish your business and transition your photography from side hustle to full-time job.
You Understand Yourself
This sounds a little abstract, but it’s solid advice. Before relying entirely on photography for your income, you need to understand yourself as a photographer.
What are your strengths? What are your weaknesses? What’s your niche or speciality? Do you know the ins and outs of your equipment?
Most importantly, you need to be able to run a business by being yourself. Before you can capitalize on your strengths and overcome your weaknesses, you need to understand what they are and their impact on you.
Transitioning From A Side Hustle to Full-Time Photographer
There’s no one-size-fits-all answer for how long you should shoot before going full-time. The only right answer depends entirely on your comfort level and how you’ve set yourself up. Spend time preparing for the transition by building your skills, putting resources and a foundation in place, and preparing for the change.
Ultimately, you’ll know when you’re ready to transition your photography from a side hustle to full-time.