From a wide lens, Sean Audet’s career looks random: He was a biochemistry student, trained fine-dining chef and local college lecturer before picking up photography.
Audet’s background as a chef landed him a recipe research and development job at Red River College in Winnipeg, Canada, in 2016. He also taught a “pastry arts” class there, and learned to stage meals for cameras when the school began helping local restaurants plate, photograph and advertise their food.
Then, he tried taking the pictures himself, and realized he had a knack for it. He borrowed a camera from a friend, and picked up a couple of clients of his own. By 2020, he had enough momentum to quit his other jobs — at the college, and as a chef at a pop-up restaurant — to pursue photography full-time.
His freelance work is now the most lucrative job of his life, Audet says. Last year, his business brought in roughly $133,900 in U.S. dollars, according to documents reviewed by CNBC Make It. Most of his business comes from Fiverr, a freelance platform where he finds most of his clients, he adds.
He works up to 60 hours per week, but the power to control his own schedule while being creative every day is priceless, he says.
Here’s how Audet got his photography business off the ground, how he manages his freelance budget and what he plans to do next.
Building a new career from scratch
Audet couldn’t have jumped straight into full-time photography: He needed to live on paychecks from his other jobs while learning the ropes of his side hustle.
When Audet started taking photos in 2018, he was earning around $56,500 per year from the pop-up restaurant, which he started with a friend — complete with a seven-course tasting menu — and his college job.
Adding photography into the mix came at a price: He regularly worked 12-hour days, seven days per week, spending any spare moments watching YouTube videos to pick up more camera skills.
“Juggling two or three jobs … it’s going to be time-consuming,” Audet says. “You’re going to have to make sacrifices. But often times, it’s just a necessary part of building something up.”
In 2018, Audet’s side hustle brought in $8,403, not nearly enough for him to leave his other jobs. He didn’t make enough in 2019, either.
The tide turned in 2020, when Covid-19 shut restaurants down across the world. Audet spent even more time on photography, finding and working with clients from the comfort of his home. He invested about $15,000 of his own money in new equipment like lenses, lights and backgrounds, he says.
He closed his pop-up restaurant and brought in $53,276 that year. With all his attention focused on photography, and higher-quality equipment, Audet nearly tripled his revenue over the next two years, booking major clients like McDonald’s and Campbell’s.
Today, he charges anywhere from $1,000 to $17,500 per shoot, he says, noting that each shoot has “wildly” different needs. Sometimes, those needs are expensive: Audet spent $19,000 last year on production factors like location rentals, models, stylists and additional on-set help.
Audet doesn’t plan to switch career paths again, he says. That doesn’t mean he’s done expanding: In addition to food-based shoots, he now takes on beverage and cosmetics projects, too.
He wants to expand his footprint beyond Winnipeg, while simultaneously turning his city into a production hotspot — reaching out to other area photographers in the hopes of working together and growing Winnipeg’s artistic reputation, he says.
And he’s keeping an eye on generative artificial intelligence tools like ChatGPT and Midjourney, which he says have helped him fix small imperfections in his images and cut down on time spent communicating with clients.
“Working as a freelancer comes with challenges, but for me, I feel like it’s mostly benefits,” says Audet, adding: “The agency it gives me over my time [and] lifestyle … is, in my opinion, invaluable.”
Conversions from CAD to USD were done using the OANDA conversion rate of 1 CAD to 0.75422 USD on July 14, 2023. All amounts are rounded to the nearest dollar.
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