I have at least three friends who are currently working to start their own photography business. And I’m thrilled for them! Photography, aside from my own family of course, is what I live and breathe for. I love it so so much, so when someone I know shares my passion, I get pretty pumped up. That being said, I’m a full time mommy to three-year-old twins, and I run my own photography business completely by myself. I barely find the time to juggle my own marbles, so my ability to help others reach their goals is pretty limited. It’s my strong belief however that we should be building each other up in this industry. I choose to support my friends and any other fellow photographer out there with a desire to succeed. So I decided to sit down and write out a short list of helpful tips that I’ve picked up on my own journey as a professional photographer and small business owner. I’ll preface this list by saying there is SO much that goes into running a photography business. It’s not just photography (which is the part we all love); it’s marketing, advertising, accounting, coding, REASEARCH, and so much more. So take these tips for what they are, a starting point.
1. Upgrade Your Gear
You will hear this over and over again…. it’s not about the gear; it’s about the artist behind it. I couldn’t agree more! You can take breathtaking images with any DSLR camera if you know what you’re doing (though the fancy bells and whistles sure are nice). That being said, if you are going to charge people money for your services, I strongly believe you should show up with professional gear. The Canon Rebel T5i and the Nikon D5200 are both fantastic cameras, and for personal images, they’re sure to get the job done. But I wouldn’t show up to a paid gig with the same camera my client has at home. This doesn’t mean you have to go crazy. One professional camera body and one decent lens is a perfect place to start. And yes, they are expensive. But it’s expensive to start (and maintain) any business, so get used to spending money now. You may need to get a small business loan or use a 0% interest credit card to get things going, but if you’re serious about making a career of this, it’s a small price to pay. Plus, new gear is so exciting you guys!
2. Shoot in Manual
Not only does this allow you the creative freedom to really flourish, it also forces you to truly learn the fundamentals of photography. Again, you can get great images in Aperture or Shutter Priority mode, but if you’re planning to take on clients and charge them for your services, I feel it’s pretty important to know the ins and outs of the exposure triangle, among other things.
3. Shoot for Free (in the beginning)
Now, don’t get me wrong. Once you’re established, it’s crucial that you value yourself as an artist and small business owner, and that’s no easy task. You’ll feel awkward taking money from people in general, let alone the amount of money you deserve (there’s a LOT that goes into a session beyond just shooting it, and you should absolutely get paid for every bit of that). But in the beginning, you’ll need to build a portfolio. And to do that, you’ll need to offer free sessions. This takes the pressure off. It affords you the freedom to make mistakes, which is so important! You’ll learn how to deal with clients, you’ll learn about session workflow, you’ll learn how to navigate your equipment in different lighting conditions, and you’ll most likely gain lifelong PAYING clients from it. I probably shot 30 or so free sessions before I started charging people, and every single one of those free sessions eventually turned into a paying gig.
4. Have a Professional Website and Domain Name
Everyone knows that social media is an invaluable tool for small business owners. It’s free advertising (generally speaking) and it’s a fantastic way to reach clients. I get new clients from my Facebook page all the time, and as a business owner, you should definitely have an active social media presence. But when push comes to shove, when you move past the point of being a hobbyist, I think it’s crucial to have a professional website to refer your clients to. It should have information about you, what services you provide, how much you charge for those services, and most importantly, a decent portfolio. You should also have a domain name that’s all your own. Pay the $15 for the custom domain (www.yourname.com) and skip the subdomain (www.yourname.blogger.com, or www.yourname.wordpress.com). Trust me. Aside from just looking more professional, it’s better for SEO. And once you start getting actual traffic to your page, it’s too late to change it unless you want to start all over.
5. STUDY, STUDY, STUDY!
One of the many things I love about photography is that anyone can do it! At the same time, that’s not exactly true. You have to have a burning passion for this. I would venture to say that most of the photographers I admire and look up to are completely self-taught. Their formal schooling is totally unrelated to the art; they just spent hours upon hours scouring the Internet for knowledge and fine-tuning their skills. That’s absolutely what I did too. I lived and breathed photography (I still do!). I was up way too late every single night obsessing about shooting techniques, editing styles, and the like. I studied other people’s work. I figured out what I liked and what I didn’t like, and then I researched the tools to achieve those things in my own unique way. I took workshops. I Googled questions until I felt like I had reached the end of the Internet. And I loved every second of it. Truth be told, this advice isn’t just for the fledgling photographer, it’s for everyone in the industry. Your thirst for knowledge should NEVER end. As a paid professional, you should still strive to learn new techniques regularly. It will keep you fresh and ignite your creativity when you’re starting to feel burned out. I take several photography workshops every single year. In fact, I’m in the second week of a photography workshop called Skin Deep with Summer Cates right now, and I’m learning (and applying) things I never knew!
(Aside from studying actual photography, you should also research the competition in your area so you can price and market yourself appropriately. You should learn everything you can about SEO while you’re at it too)
6. Shoot Every Single Day
Seriously. Every single day. It can be your kids, your pets, some flowers in the backyard, whatever. Just make it a point to get your camera out everyday and practice your art. Start a project if it helps you to be accountable to something. A 365 project is a great way to improve your skills. And let’s be honest here, there is ALWAYS room for improvement. Even if you’ve been doing this for 20 years. Because things change! What you like will change, the equipment available to you will change, etc. We all start somewhere; my own work when I started a few years ago is borderline embarrassing (seriously, go check out the old images on my Facebook page…yikes!), but the more I shoot the better I get, and I have no intention of slowing down now. I have so much left to learn!
7. Join a Photography Forum
Community is key. I belong to two wonderful photography forums and they are crucial to my continued success (In Beauty and Chaos and Clickin’ Moms). I can ask questions, submit images for critique, take workshops, or just chat about photography and gear. Submerge yourself in a similar forum and take full advantage of everything it has to offer. They are generally pretty cheap (about $100 a year) and they are worth their wait in gold. You’ll need those connections as you continue on your journey. Trust me.