Photographer being photographed from behind as she takes photo

6 tips for becoming a full-time photographer

September 2, 2020

Do you dream of making the transition from part-time to full-time photographer? Do you have no idea where to start? Keep on reading!

The idea of turning a passion into a career is a goal many of us have. To finally be able to make money and spend our days doing what we love is the reality many of us want. However, it isn’t always as easy as we hope. 

Before quitting your day job and pursuing photography full-time, read these helpful tips with insight from Marlboro Wang, one of Victoria, BC’s top photographers and a Focal partner. After going full-time with photography six years ago, Marlboro has learned the ups and downs of taking on a creative career full-time. His advice will help clear up many questions you may have such as when is the right time to quit your day job? And how do you stay efficient and productive when you do?

Photo: Marlboro Wang Photo

Here are 6 tips for becoming a full-time photographer. 


1. Switch Your Day Job to Part-Time

If you have a day job, don’t quit it right away. Instead, Marlboro recommends switching it from full-time to part-time. Photography isn’t the most stable of careers income-wise; it is seasonal and highly competitive. That’s why it is important to have a second stream of income until you reach a point where financially, it is smart to quit. Marlboro says that he wished he stayed at his day job a little longer to become more financially stable. Before launching into photography full-time, be patient and make sure this is a leap that won’t financially burden you.

2. Build a Time Management System

When balancing a day job and a side hustle, or just running your own business, you need a time management system that works. Whether this is scheduling your day to the hour or writing a weekly to-do list, make sure you are prioritizing time sensitive tasks and scheduling breaks. One helpful tip is to set a time when you will start and end your workday. Of course, you can be flexible with these times, but Marlboro advises you to figure out how many hours a day you are comfortable working and try to stick to it. 

When building your time management system, it’s important to overestimate how much time you need for a task rather than underestimate. Marlboro gives a great example for when it comes to editing photos. That is an essential part of any shoot but it can take a lot more time than anticipated. He recommends setting a number for how many final shots you’ll offer to your clients and based on that number, calculate how many hours you need on average to edit the photos. You can then add this time onto how long each shoot takes and it ensures you don’t accidentally spend the rest of the night editing photos after a full work day. 

The first step to a time management system that actually works, is scheduling enough time during your day to finish what you must get done without overworking yourself too much. Always overestimate the time it may take you. Never underestimate. 

Photo: Marlboro Wang Photo

3. Develop an Editing System and Stick to It

This goes hand in hand with the time management system tip, but editing is such a time-consuming task that it warrants its very own system. This will become routine for you because it is something you will do over and over. As time goes on, you will figure out what works best for you and your editing process. 

Marlboro reminds us that as artists, it’s very easy to get overly critical toward your own work and look for absolute perfection. However, you don’t need to be perfect to be profitable! You need to be very efficient with your workflow. That’s how you will be able to tell how much time you need for each type of shoot and not over work each shoot and get underpaid.

How do you develop an efficient editing system though? Here are 4 tips from Marlboro:

  1. Do Everything You Can During the Shoot to Ensure Good Photos -  Remember, editing is only going to enhance the photo. Do everything you can before and during the shoot to ensure a good exposure so you don’t need to spend hours and hours on one photo and get nowhere. 
  1. Reduce Photos and Stick with It - Although all the shots you take may look very good, only a few will make you money. Take more photos so you have more to work with and don’t sit down to edit, only to realize you have only a few photos to work with. Everyone must overshoot, but don’t over edit!
  1. Have a Workflow - 99% of editing can be done with the basic tab in Lightroom. After you put on your presets, you only need to adjust exposure, white balance, highlights, shadow, white, black, contrast, and clarity. If the photo doesn’t turn out how you want, pick another or move onto the next. If the adjustment can’t save your photo, it means the photo wasn’t exposed right. You may only need to put on your preset and the photo will look great!
  1. No Good Photos? Come Back the Next Day - Sometimes, we need separation before we can see the quality of a photo. If you can’t seem to get an edit right and you think it is the photo itself, come back the next day. Maybe what is missing from it will come to you, or at the least, you will be able to look at the photos and see the good ones waving at you.
Photo: Marlboro Wang Photo

4. Be Prepared to Work Overtime (but Reward Yourself That Time Back)

Whether you have employees working for your business or not, if it is your business then the early stages (and even later stages) involve a lot of overtime. Marlboro explains that you might have to say goodbye to your weekends for a while, especially if you are still working part-time at your day job. It takes a lot to get a business up and running, and that is just expected. Make sure you know this and are prepared to go the extra mile when you finally decide to begin working towards your own full-time photography business. 

If your part-time photography business is picking up and you find yourself getting overwhelmed with the amount of inquiries you receive, Marlboro encourages you to take on less but then raise your prices. Reward yourself for the amount of work you are receiving, but don’t take on extra! Otherwise, you aren’t working overtime, you’re working all the time.

Having that time management system I mentioned in the last tip will help when you have to put these extra hours in. When you have to sacrifice a weekend, you can plan when you will get that time back. What week can you take an extra two days off of? How will you structure your days to do so? Yes, you will have to give up a lot of time, but if you don’t eventually give yourself that time back, you will get burnt out and unmotivated before you even pursue full-time. 

5. Don’t Quit Your Day Job Until the Money Is Rolling In

When is the right time to quit your day job? Marlboro encourages photographers not to quit until your photography business is making you the same amount of money as your day job or more. Just because your photography business has a good month doesn’t mean the rest of the year will go as smoothly. Once you get a handle on things and build up a strong client list, it will be easier to make money, but do not quit your day job until the money is rolling in consistently. Wait six months and once your photography business’s income grows steady, see if it holds. If it does, congratulations! If not, keep your day job and keep putting yourself out there. Your time will come. 

If you want actionable tips for boosting your photography business, go and sign-up for our newsletter and receive our freebie, 7 Tips for Boosting Your Photography Business. Find it on our homepage HERE

6. Hold Onto the Excitement of Your Passion

"Don't let the excitement push you; let it become your source of energy. Rome wasn’t built in one day, so take it step by step and make every step count. You are on your way to quitting your day job, but always look at life, because it’s bigger than your passion and dreams.” - Marlboro Wang

Marlboro understands the enticement of turning your passion into a career because he has. However, like he says, “take it step by step.” There is no race. Putting the expectation of money on your passion too soon might make you grow to resent it. Keep your photography as a passion for as long as you can. Hold onto that excitement. Use it as a way to decompress and express yourself. When you feel ready to take the next step then do it, but until then, don’t let your excitement push you too far too fast.

Photo: Naomi Maya Photography

Remember to launch into full-time at your own speed. Not because you think you are going to be late to the game or because everyone else is, but because you feel it’s time. That is honestly the most important thing to take away from this post!

If you want more help taking the leap to full-time, check out our free mentorship program. Our founder, Lachlan, and talented team of partner photographers are here to help and answer any questions you may have. Book your free one-on-one session today!

Good luck!


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