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Hello all. I'm new to this site as a poster but I've been following the great info here for some time. I don't have a lawn business but I'm a commercial photographer working in the service area. I've been mowing 5 acres of my mother's property, dodging 100 trees and flower beds, hitting nearly buried stumps at 5 mph, and doing all this on two older Sears lawn tractors that break down every other time I mow. So I feel like a veteran and have found some useful tips on this forum.

If you think you have it bad with equipment costs then check out photography. Pro digital cameras start at about what a new Scag ZTR costs and that doesn't get you a single lens. A medium format digital back for a 6x4.5 camera can reach $30,000. That's no lens and no camera body. And what about a backup if on a shoot it breaks down? This has become a serious problem for Photogs. Then add the costs of a studio that isn't used that much because many shoots are on location, lights, stands, employees, other artists, props, also a vehicle that can haul something at least 10 ft. long and of course a stack of expensive software that goes with a multiprocessor workstation computer to process the images and which becomes worthless in 3 years along scanners, storage and a laptop for location. Add to that paying a rep., advertising and the fact that the US is losing manufacturing like a sinking ship loses rats.

Now comes the fun part. Doing a great job for a client only guarantees that they may let us bid on the next one day job. So each time we have to be very careful or some other guy will out bid us. And every Joe Blow with a digital camera can bid against us. There is also the problem that a serious photog will be insured but most fly-by-nights will not be and aren't required to. A hair stylist has to be licensed, same for a plumber, electrician but not a photographer. Yet a bad or inexperienced photog can cause some expensive damage. Have one screw-up the photos of your daughter's wedding and see how angry you become.

I try to get $150 and hour if I can -- sometimes more and sometimes less depending on what I'm doing. Now this sounds good but start subtracting the expenses and the fact that jobs don't happen every day -- maybe not every week and -- as I read here on a poll -- you are making $40-$60 an hour AFTER the expenses, I'd say you are doing better with A LOT less headache and stress. I can work through the winter but we have slow times of the year also -- like January or around ANY holiday week or special event. We get rained out too if the shoot is outside and requires nice weather.

To try and put this in perspective let's say that each time you mow you have to show pictures of your previous job, quote against 5 other people, have the client change the schedule of mowing three times, have the yard be twice the size you quoted, or have them cancel and not call back, then have to hire models at over $200 an hour to ride the mowers and a makeup artist to get rid of the bags under their eyes from last night's drunken party, then mow and have to spend an equal amount of time afterward making things look good because they didn't tell you about the 50 piles of Great Dane poo dotting the yard. When you're satisfied you mail a bill and then the owner pays you in 90 - 120 days if they pay at all.

Contracts? In 31 years I've never seen one. And if I would present one I wouldn't get a job.

So at age 60 I may start my own small mowing business because from where I sit it doesn't look so bad.
BC
 

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Yes many photogs rent those expensive backs IF they are available -- usually only in a few large cities.

But I pose this question: You can rent mowers too -- so why not rent one when you need it? The answer is that it would be too expensive if you used it a lot and it is a mistake to think that kind of expense can or will be absorbed by the client. And that is why a busy photog would not rent but would own the equipment. Leasing is a different matter and many things like mowers or digital camera backs can be leased for a few years then turned over for newer equipment.

If I was going to mow twice a year then renting a mower would make sense -- but I wouldn't think it would make good financial sense to rent even for once a week.
 

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Thanks for the welcome. New Business asked if I find work a lot -- short answer is not for the last two and a half years. Stock photos, archiving (re-using old photos by clients), and just the plain dismal business environment have eroded a once lucrative profession. The creative work has always been with the agencies but they are drying up with the loss of manufacturing. Agencies also hire the cheapest labor they can get like other businesses which mean the art directors that design the ads are young and inexperienced and like to work with people their own age rather than someone as old as their dad like me. Working directly for manufacturing provided us with catalog and brochure work that paid the bills and was our main course -- the creative work was just the icing for the cake. Now we're left with beans I guess and it doesn't pay the bills and I would not recommend getting into the profession if it is called that now. I graduated from Brooks Institute in 1977, so for my investment I've had to ride this pony as long as it could stand on its feet..err..hooves I guess -- 31 years. :)

Digital is a boon and a bane. Image making became easier -- color control and proofing and processing -- with the introduction of digital but it also let a bunch of people into the profession that didn't have the foggiest notion on how to control film or light a product and they have brought the quality and price down. (and the client's respect for what we know) I have both digital and film systems but have only used digital for the last 5 years. Without a doubt a pro digital camera makes great closeups of products but I would still use film for landscapes and my personal opinion is that people look better on film. Sometimes digital makes people look like lifeless cartoons.

For RonB:
It is good to hear that someone else has traveled the path that I thought would be a good one. I only need to work about 5 more years and the thought of starting a wedding photo business at this age doesn't interest me. Just making the prints and proofs now is a pain with digital unless the client wants to look at them on a computer. And I've shot 3-4 weddings on digital 12 mega pixel and I don't like the way black clothing looks -- you know trying to hold the bride in white against the black tux of the groom -- because film had more latitude and all looked fine. But now a lot of image tweaking has to be done to get the tux black and hold detail in the white dress -- then try that in bright sunlight and the odds are against it. I liked the results from my Hasselblad film system and now I shoot Canon digital and I've shot a lot of 8x10 on Deardorff and Sinar too -- I'll still take those for landscapes. My site is here if this is ok, if not I apologize: www.connerphoto.com

I'm buying an Echo 251E this weekend and will give it a try at controlling weeds and edging. It comes with .095 or .091 line and I think I will move that size up a bit. Right now I'm using .155 on a Troy Bilt rolling vegetation juicer (me being covered in poison ivy juice). Hard to roll that thing on rocks I will say.

As an amateur weed whacker, I like the short cut pieces of line but my guess is that pros like the spools -- what is your preference?
 

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For Intricate:
From my perspective being in the photo business, large format IS the way to do the big commercial work -- just like you wouldn't mow an air base with a push mower -- you would get a mower that would cut the biggest swath and do the best job. The small format (film) is good for sports, journalism some other things but medium format was the film workhorse and shared with 4x5 film for perspective control. Now my workhorse is a 12 megapixel "small format type" digital camera -- but it shoots like medium format film. Over the years I've known a lot of photogs and only one that I knew used 35mm exclusively. I shot 8x10 film for over 11 years in an 80,000 sq. ft. facility. 35mm just wouldn't cut it.

Also I just realized that I've sort of been in touch with the mowing business all along -- American lawnmower was one of my accounts some years ago as well as Preen and I've shot for Dow crabgrass control too -- doing growth studies for different formulations of pre-emergence crabgrass killer.

For Bruce32:
I once heard a friend of my father's say that he retired from an executive job with Cummins Engine Company and wanted something to do in his spare time -- so he bought a corn dog stand that towed behind a truck and went to local town fairs. He said he made more money in the summer than he did all year working as an executive.

Also I have a cousin that sold a landscaping business and moved to Florida to retire. He also wanted some spare change so he bought a used stump chipper and went around to homes where he saw a stump in the yard. He said for every stump that was in the front there were two or three in back. By the end of the year he was making $60K. He did it one more year then sold the business -- then moved to another state and did the same thing.
 
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