How do Photographer’s Spend their Time?

A while back, the ISPWP asked a simple question: how do photographer’s spend their time?  They published their results and compared it to what people thought a photographer spent time doing.  The thing is, the visual chart (which let’s face it, it’s what people look at the most) only contained percentages.  While waiting for my 3-month old to finally get to sleep for the night, I decided to put him in his Tula and let him snuggle with me while I sat here and did some math.

So according to the ISPWP breakdown, this is how many hours per week a photographer performs certain tasks normalized to a standard 40-hour workweek.

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Do you see the problem I’m seeing?  What wedding photographer spends less than 5 hours a week shooting?  Not very freaking many that’s for damn sure.  Now, before you go and say “But Erika, this is an AVERAGE” – I fully understand that.  The thing is… average’s aren’t realities.   I re-did the calculation and factored in 12-hours of shooting time per week.  This, I feel, is a closer representation to what a photographer’s busy season looks like (which, once you’re an established photographer, is actually almost year round save for possibly a few weeks off in January and Feb).

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There, that represents your time when you factor in how much we actually shoot… but do you still see a problem?   There isn’t nearly enough time for editing.  Before I go any further, I want to say that if you choose to outsource your editing, then this is a pretty good representation since when you outsource you really are saving a good chunk of time.  But if you don’t outsource, keep reading.

From my experience in the industry, I’ve found that it takes the average photographer 20-25 hours to edit a wedding (including culling).  Some are faster, some are slower but 20 seems to be a decent median.  If it takes you 20-25 hours to edit each wedding but you can only devote 10 hours a week to editing that means that you only have enough time in the year to shoot and edit 26 weddings at the very most – and that’s without ANY time off for holidays.  Can you really make a living on 26 weddings?  So many of us shoot much more than that.

So I decided to head back to the drawing board once again…

This time I accounted for the editing time necessary to stay on top of things; I factored in how much editing time you need per wedding you’re shooting that week.  See what happens?

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Yeah… you’re left with no time to run your business.  You’re literally shooting and editing and that’s it.  You’re devoting no time to marketing, advertising, networking, social media, blogging, etc.  You need to devote time to those things; they are an important part of your business.  If you think those are things you can just brush aside then I really do feel sorry for you because in a few years your gear is just going to be gathering dust because althought you may have talent, your lack of business skills will do you in.

So what the hell are you supposed to do?  

Well – you could work 6o or 80 hours a week... but hey, no one wants to have a heart attack when they’re 42 due to the stress of non-stop working and no one wants to isolate themselves from family and friends for months at a time during our busy season so it looks like being a workaholic isn’t the answer.

You can learn to do your job more efficiently.  Does it really take you 4 hours to cull a wedding?  Come on.  That’s too long.  Are you finding yourself writing the same emails over and over and over again?  Start saving your own email templates.  Are you spending WAY too long editing because you’re always correcting for something that you could easily correct in-camera if you were a little more aware while shooting?  When you’re your own boss you need to give yourself a performance review every now and then and really assess if you’re being efficient or if you have room for improvement in some of your abilities.  If you can start working more efficiently, maybe one of the timelines above can be achievable.

You can use your non-wedding weeks to be just as productive as your wedding weeks.  A lot of photographers are notorious for thinking that a week without a wedding means a week without work.  This just isn’t reality.  There are still so many things that can be done in your business if you’re not shooting and if nothing else, you can use these non-shooting weeks to become a better photographer!  LEARN!  Read some blogs, take a CreativeLive class, find a wedding photography workshop, do some wedding photography mentoring – hell, go out with a friend and let them be your model while you practice some new skills.  If you’re not shooting a wedding that week, you should be investing the time back into yourself and your skills.

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You can actually try working 40 hours a week.  A lot of you reading this article right now probably gave your computer/phone/tablet the finger as you whispered under your breath that I should go to hell for implying that you don’t work but let’s be honest… it’s easy to get distracted.  We’re at our computers, working, and then we have the urge to check Facebook.  We decide to hop on Instagram for a while.  Then we get up to make a coffee, come back and spend 15 minutes putting together a new Spotify playlist.  Then we go back on Facebook and check some of our favourite gruops and see what our friends and colleagues are up to.  Oh… that work we sat down to do?  It’s been a whole hour and you haven’t made any more progress on it because there’s no one here to police your actions.  If you were in at an office job and your boss saw you taking random 15 and 20 minute breaks on social media 5 times during your shift, you probably would be pointed to the door pretty quickly.  Find a time tracking app that you like, there are so many out there.  Or do it the old fashioned way and keep track of the ACTUAL amount of work you’re doing with a pen and paper.  I bet you dollars to donuts, once you actually have to record it you’ll not only be more aware of when you’re taking breaks but you may be shocked at how many hours you’re actually working versus what you think you’re working.

How do I spend my time?

My “shooting weeks” are on a schedule that accounts for about 15 hours of editing time per week.  I’ve learned to edit much, much quicker over the years and when I work, I stay impeccably focused so that I can be as efficient as possible and if necessary, I will use the help of an outsourcing specialist who has been trained in my exact style.  I also use my non-shooting weeks to prepare for my busy weeks and put plans into place to help me be more efficient with my tasks when I’m busy.  An example of this would be to write several blog articles and then set them to self-publish during the busy weeks.  There are also times when I will put in some “over time hours”; times when I do work more than 40 hours a week but I try to limit that to once every 3 or 4 weeks for my own sanity and work-life balance.

So you want to know how a photographer spends their time?  This is my take on it.  Let me know what you think in the comment section below.



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