In 2016, careers mean something a little different than they did 20 or 30 years ago. Now, most of us still have full-time jobs, but in addition to the 9-to-5 grind, many of us also work side hustles. Maybe you sell jewelry on Etsy, maybe you’re a Lyft driver—whatever the case, if you’ve got a gig that gives you extra cash, an outlet for your creativity, or even just something to do on the weekends, you’re a part of the side hustle economy.
If you aren’t already a part of it, chances are you’re looking for a way to break in, and that’s what Get That Side Hustle is all about. Each week, we feature a successful hustler to tell you a little bit about the perks, the pitfalls, and even answers to the things you never thought to ask about the coolest side gigs. This week, Berry talked to New York wedding and portrait photographer Jeanne Sager.
Sager splits her time between a full-time career in journalism and marketing and a booming photography side business that includes everything from senior portraits to family photos to large-scale weddings. Here, she takes us behind the scenes of a typical shoot and gives us the lowdown on what it takes to go pro.
Like a lot of photographers, Sager’s been honing her craft since childhood, when she got her photo fix by carrying around a blue Fischer-Price camera.
“I had to pop in these odd little film canisters,” she recalls, “But I adored it. I took photos of everything. The images are crap, but looking back at them, they’re fascinating to me in that I can see what interested me.”
After being the designated photographer of her friend group throughout high school and college, Sager got her first job as a reporter for a small town newspaper. Taking photos to go with her stories taught her the ins and outs of the craft, and that’s where her side hustle was born. As Sager put it, “Suddenly something I loved doing became something I could actually do to help pay my bills.”
It’s easy to get it twisted and think photography is something anyone can do.
Thanks to smartphones, we’ve all got Instagram accounts and fairly decent cameras sitting in our pockets. But in reality, being a photographer is extremely demanding, even when you’re only doing it part time.
Sager meets with her clients months ahead of their shoot to explain the process, get their input, and have them sign a contract. The day before a wedding shoot, she’s busy prepping her gear, including packing extra memory cards, making sure her batteries are charged, and checking and re-checking each piece of equipment she uses. On the big day, it’s go time—sometimes for way longer than a typical eight-hour work day.
“What people don’t realize is the photographer is generally the only person who works the entire wedding,” Sager explains. “The florist gets to drop their work off and go, the officiant works the ceremony, the DJ and caterer work the reception. But, the photographer can start first thing in the morning at the hair salon and work straight through the entire reception. And then, after all of that, we have to go home and start editing.”
Being a photographer sounds glamorous, but like everything, it has its ups and downs.
One bonus? Having photography as a side hustle means you bring even more to the table in your full-time gig. “Being a photographer is a definite ‘value add’ on my resume,” says Sager. “Not only do I take photos for work sometimes, I also have the ability to use software like Photoshop and Lightroom, and I have some graphic design experience.”
The downside is that photography really is a hustle.
You don’t make money unless you go out and get it, and that can be hard depending on the economy and where you’re located. “I’ve thought about making photography my full-time business, but frankly it’s tough to make it financially,” says Sager. “It’s especially difficult because I live in a rural area, where people don’t have a lot of expendable income, so family photos are low on their list of needs.”
If you’re passionate about it, don’t let the challenging aspects discourage you. But there are some things you should know before you start chasing those dollar dollar bills.
First, you need to be honest about your abilities, Sager notes. She encourages aspiring photographers to ask themselves, “Do you think you can be a photographer because you have a great camera, or because you have passion for the art and an understanding of what it really takes to take a good photo?”
You also have to be prepared to spend money to make money. You can charge as much as $3,500+ for a wedding, and between $150-$300 for a family photo session, but that doesn’t mean that’s the amount you take home in profit. “I don’t just have a camera,” says Sager. “I have multiple cameras, lenses, lights, editing software, and much more. It’s not a cheap and easy way to make money.”
Mostly, you need to be prepared to put just as much effort into your photography biz as you would into your full-time job.
“With photography, you’re providing something people will look back on in years to come. It may be the one thing they have to remember a beloved grandmother, or a parent,” explains Sager. “Even if it’s a side hustle, you’re providing a service. The money they give you should be worth it.”