How a Chicago Photographer Learns and Earns

Chicago-based photographer Patrick Warneka has been in the business for the past 12 years, shooting portraits, buildings and landscapes, and events.

Warneka recently chatted with the GoPayment Blog about how he keeps things fresh and why he loves processing credit cards on the go.

GoPayment: How did you get into photography?

Warneka: Oddly enough, I was doing some graphic design work and couldn’t find some stock photos that I wanted. It was silly of me to think I could shoot my own, but I started to enjoy it. It gave me a chance to get out there and do it. I felt like I was able to express myself.

How do clients find you?

I’ve actually been pretty lucky. I started shooting a lot of corporate portraits. I was quickly picked up by Fortune 100 companies in Chicago. I don’t advertise; it’s just my presence on the web. I know they came across my blog or website, and I’d just start doing some work for them covering their events. It’s nice to get a chance to work with the larger firms.

How do clients use your photos?

Some will use it for marketing material or PR pieces. Sometimes it’s photos they need to send [in] for a magazine article. Sometimes it’s just event coverage [that] might be used on an internal website.

What differentiates you from other photographers in your area?

There are a lot of great photographers here and in other cities. I have somewhat of a business background, so I try to use that to relate to my clients. Sometimes these other photographers will come in like an artist trying to talk to an accountant. I try to keep it very business-focused and professional. I deliver all my products on time.

Tell us more about the business background you mentioned.

In the ’90s, I basically started a couple different companies during the internet craze, so I had a startup company that used to take rent payments for landlords online. That led into using my sales background, using some business background — all of it kind of came out of building my own business. I try to understand where people are coming from. I’ve usually been in their shoes.

What is your biggest business challenge?

The hardest part is how cameras have become so commonplace. Most people have one or two cameras on them at any given time. That’s a tool. It’s like a hammer: You can hire a good carpenter or you can buy a hammer and try to it yourself. It’s not the hammer; it’s the carpenter. You can have the best camera in the world, but if you don’t know how to use it, you won’t get the desired results. They’ll say, “Well, I can buy a camera for that price.”

How do you respond to statements like that?

I just get the client back to the reason they want a photographer. I ask, “Do you want to end up hiring somebody who doesn’t know what they’re doing?” If they’re crazy enough to think they can just get a camera and do it, there’s a big learning curve. I just remind them, “If this is what you’re looking for, I’m the guy who can shoot it.”

What are the best and worst parts of running your own business?

The best part is you are in control of everything. You don’t have to check with somebody else before you make a decision.

The worst part is you can become stale or stagnant if you’re not learning and experiencing new things. If you don’t have different input coming in, your brain doesn’t learn and evolve.

How should small-business owners ensure that they’re always learning?

Read things outside your industry. I like reading business books, hearing music, going to museums, walking down city streets, and watching what other people are doing. You get to see how other people are doing things. Sometimes that can apply to your work. Also, taking seminars, not always photography related. I’m always trying to learn something new from somebody else.

Has using GoPayment impacted your business?  

I think GoPayment is great. It’s a very easy tool to use. I’ll use it when I’m at a client’s site and they change the scope [of a project] and I need the deposit for it. Or if I’m working with them for the first time, it’s easy to take a payment right there. If I’m selling some of my landscape work at a show, I can swipe the card right there and they get an immediate email. They can see exactly what’s going on. It’s perfect for small companies. They’ve got great customer service, too.

About Susan Johnston

Susan Johnston is a freelance writer and blogger who specializes in writing about business and personal finance. Her articles have appeared in or on The Boston Globe, Dance Retailer News,,, PARADE Magazine,, and other places.
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