Trained fine chef Sean Odette was studying in Winnipeg, Canada, when he was introduced to food photography. Now, it’s his full time job.
Sean Odette stumbled upon photography as a career by accident, and almost for free.
It was 2016, and the trained chef was running a temporary restaurant two nights a week and working in culinary research at Red River College in Winnipeg, Canada. While developing new recipes for college clients, small and medium restaurants, he had an idea: He and his students could stage and photograph food to help those clients advertise their business.
Odette soon realized he had a knack for business and began taking on his clients for food photography two years later. Use school cameras, lights, and backdrops to keep costs down.
By 2020, he’s got enough business to invest roughly C$20,000, or about $15,200 USD, in new equipment. He quit his job and became a full-time photographer.
Last year, Audet brought in nearly $133,900, according to documents reviewed by CNBC Make It — more than he earned in higher education or as a chef, he says. He adds that the majority of this work came from clients on the Fiverr freelancing platform.
Quitting a steady nine-to-five job to become independent was risky, but Odette says he had to give it a try.
“Every now and then, I’ll stumble upon something that gets me really excited,” Audet, 30, tells CNBC Make It. “No prompting, I’ll just start working an extra 12 to 14 hours a day on something that interests me. And when that happens, I feel like you have to pay attention.”
Here’s how Audet expanded his side business into a full-time job, and how he plans to use his interest in artificial intelligence to make more money.
Odette studied biochemistry at the University of Winnipeg. His plan after graduation was medical school, until he got a job at a nearby restaurant during college and fell in love with the kitchen.
So, after graduating in 2013, Audet went to culinary school instead. Become a sous chef And she started the pop-up restaurant, which has a seven-course tasting menu, with a friend in Winnipeg.
His friend turned business partner was also in touch at Red River College, and suggested Odette fill in teaching “pastry arts” in 2016. He was earning both a teaching job and a pop-up, roughly $56,500 a year, he says.
Audet at Red River College, where he learned he had a talent for food photography, in 2017.
He loved teaching and became involved in the school’s research department, where he first learned “the marriage of cooking and photography”.
“Spending nearly a decade eating fine dining, fine dining plate has helped me get hooked on this niche,” he says. “It really helped me, and I started booking bigger clients almost immediately.”
Those larger clients didn’t result in bigger paychecks, or at least not at first. Audet estimates that he only brought in $19,000 his first year, not nearly enough money to quit his full-time job.
In 2019, he raised his prices and his reputation got more work, largely from returning clients who offered him regular projects. As a result, his income doubled.
Pursuing photography while co-running a pop-up and working in college was exhausting, and cost Audet almost all of his free time, he says. He regularly worked 12-hour days, seven days a week, juggling three roles and pushing himself to pick up new photography skills along the way.
In 2020, he left his spin-off research and business position at the college. At the time, he was making approximately $76,000 USD through photography.
As his business grew, so did the costs. Now, Audet estimates that he is spending up to $23,000 USD To hire lighting specialists, models, make-up artists and other contract workers to shoot photos. But, even with those expenses, Audet still brings in six figures, nearly double what he earned in two jobs.
Audet has no plans to change careers again, though he is already learning new skills to keep his interest. It uses AI tools like ChatGPT to craft customer emails and build individual business plans.
“I think automation is the key to reducing your workload,” says Odette. “When a client first reaches out to me, I need to be able to quickly provide a range of information about services and costs, but I need to be able to do it in a nice, concise, and personal way. I think that’s how I get and keep really great clients.” .
Odette says he can’t rely on these tools just yet to do work at a higher level. He’s experimented with image editing in other AI programs, such as Midjourney, but the technology isn’t to a degree he’s comfortable using on professional projects.
“If technology can do 90% of the job, it’s not good enough when you’re working with high-paying clients,” he says. “So its impact on my work is still relatively low.”
Conversions from Canadian dollars to US dollars were made using OANDA’s conversion rate from 1 Canadian dollar to 0.75422 US dollars on July 14, 2023. All amounts have been rounded to the nearest dollar.
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