Commentary # 41: May 2010
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Photography as a Second Income:

It is a "Risky Business"

May 2010

- by Craig Wassel

The explosive sales of DSLR's and use of digital imaging software over the past 5 years has led to countless number of photographers starting home based businesses. A quick Google search for photographers in any region will certainly return more links than you can shake a stick at.

The digital explosion has also yielded countless articles about the abundance of part time photographers is lowering the overall value of photography and driving down prices as emerging photographers offer services at low rates. There is serious discussion that all this is putting photography as a full time profession and the earning potential of full time professionals at risk.

But this commentary (actually I hope it is taken as REALLY good and important advice) isn’t about that risk. This is about how photography itself as a second income is a risky business. How can making money taking a photos be risky if you are not bungee jumping with your camera or chasing tornadoes? Well, I strongly encourage you to read on if you don't know.

If you are starting your photography business and you have earned your first dollar, let me ask two questions: Do you know how much you have spent in total on your gear? Hopefully you know the answer, because without that you are not able to answer the second question: Could you afford to start over if you lost some or everything you have invested in so far, and do so without incurring significant debt?

For too many, the answer to question number two is a hesitant “no”. Many who would answer “no” are running a risky business – a risky photography business. Many of us don’t even know we are at risk because we don’t know the rules of the majority of homeowner’s, renter’s, and car owner’s insurance policies.

Let me cut to the core. Unless you have one of those rare insurance policies, your gear is NOT covered by any of them as soon as you earn your very first dollar using it as a paid photographer. Now, if you experience a significant loss you might be able to get away with a little dishonesty (Insurance companies prefer to call this “fraud”. Hint, hint.) and not disclose you use your gear to generate income. In this internet age, though, most upstart photographers already have a website. If you do, it will take your insurance company 30 seconds and one Google search to find you. You are not invisible if you are on Flickr, Pbase, or the similar sites either.

Get the point? Get properly insured. Now.

Now, let me cover the “but, but, buts”:

  1. “But I am covered if I have loss or theft that occurs within my residence – true?”
    Not true.

  2. “But the loss occurred when I was using my gear for personal use – not on a shoot. I am covered, right?”

  3. “I was on vacation and my gear was stolen out of my car. I am covered, correct?”

  4. “But you are not an insurance expert - right?”
    Okay, you are right on that one.

I am not an insurance agent or expert. I could list many more of the “buts” that some photographers mistakenly believe BUT it will NOT change this fact: As soon as you earn your first dollar, your gear is no longer covered under most policies. Just like how the government then considers you a small business, so do insurance companies. You need additional insurance to minimize your risk. If you have not done so, I strongly urge you to speak with your insurance agent.

For so long, I was not following this good advice and not carrying small business insurance for my photography. I am one of the lucky ones who has not had to learn the hard way. I have an acquaintance though who had a nice upstart going in real estate photography. He could not have hit it at a better time - just before the market started to rock and head toward its peak. Not long after the market headed downward and his income began to slump, all of his equipment was stolen out of the back of his truck. You guessed; he was not insured, and there was no way he could possibly refute he had been earning income with his gear.

There actually is one last “but” to address:

“ . . . but I can’t afford it . . .”

The truth is you cannot afford NOT to invest in it. Note that I specifically use the word “invest”. This is because so many photographers also mistakenly view small business insurance as only a cost of doing business. They do not view it as an investment – a really GOOD investment.

Why is it an investment? First, it gives you a marketing advantage over other emerging photographers who cannot say or prove they are insured. Get insured, and make that fact visible on your website and the information you provide about your services. You may never be asked to provide a certificate of insurance, but rest assured if you ever are and you are unable to provide one and unwilling to get insured, you will not land the job.

Second, small business insurance is not just to protect you; it is there to protect your clients. Here is a scenario: Despite all your conscientiousness, a child pulls a heavy light stand with a fully charged 400 watt studio strobe over onto himself/herself. It very nearly happened to me. I was quick enough to catch the stand that time, but I was also un-insured at that time, and very, very lucky to prevent an injury.

Maybe you don't do "people" photography and feel you have no legitimate risks. I can only continue to encourage you not to make any more excuses. Small business insurance for photographers is an investment that protects you from loss, protects your clients in the event of a mishap, and turns your risky business into a better business.

" . . The trouble with photographing beautiful women is that you never get into the dark room until after they've gone . . "

~ Yousuf Karsh ~

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" . . . it will NOT change this fact: As soon as you earn your first dollar, your gear is no longer covered under most policies. Just like how the government then considers you a small business, so do insurance companies. You need additional insurance to minimize your risk . . . "

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