We’ve all been there. We have a great idea, passion, talent/hopeful talent and want to start making money on it. This is specifically for those of us who enjoy being behind a camera, but I think it applies well to people in lots of business ventures. One of the hardest parts is breaking into the market and being respected in your field by your peers and those who’ve come before you. After being in the photography world for almost 10 years, we’ve seen a lot of beginners come and go, and have learned a few things about what it takes to fit into your field.
- Stay humble! No one likes a guy who bought a semi-nice camera and a cheap version of Photoshop and calls himself a photographer. Or even those who have some money to blow and buy a really nice camera and all the latest software and then call themselves photographers. It’s fun to play around and we certainly think photography is the bomb, but it takes a lot of time, sweat, training, and practice to get to a point of quality work. People will have much more respect for you and will be more willing to give you paying gigs if you’re humble about your skills. You’ve got to walk before you can run, so get out there and learn the ropes before you go around acting like a big shot.
- Reach out to respected professionals. There is so much good that can come out of learning from those you look up to. Most photographers love to talk about photography! That should go without saying, and if you come across someone who is unwilling to help you, then run away quickly and find someone else. Everyone we know and associate with in the business would love to let you tag along on shoots, do an internship, an apprenticeship, whatever you want to call it. We have an intern program in our company, and are getting to work with an amazing college student with a passion for photography right now. She is getting to learn a lot, build up her portfolio and resume’, and earn a little money to boot! No one is stopping you from doing the same. And hey, it never hurts to get one someone’s contact list for second-shooters while you’re still learning. I know she’s at the top of ours!
- Make sure you have some second-shooting under your belt to build up a portfolio. Before doing wedding photography, you absolutely need to have some experience! Of course I’m using weddings as an example, but they are stressful! We’ve seen many a photographer get way overwhelmed and in over their heads because they had no idea how fast-paced and demanding it is. Like I said before, work with some other professionals, have some shooting and experience on your portfolio, and have someone else look at your work often to make sure you’re ready to break into the world of professional photography.
- Be teachable. Don’t let your fear of a bad critique get in the way of humbling yourself to ask others’ opinions. Asking a professional to do a portfolio examination often will set you apart from the rest and instantly gain you respect among your peers. Editing can be tricky stuff and technique is what separates people with cameras from those who deserve to be making money doing photography. Reach out and ask for help as often as it takes to be ready to market yourself as a professional photographer.
- Stay away from cliché work. Nothing screams “I’m new and don’t know what I’m doing!” more than posting tired, cliché stuff on social media. We’re talking your train track poses, making a heart with your hands, and you know, all that is the sunset photo. Don’t do it. There are plenty of lighting and editing clichés too, but we’ll let your selected professional mentor handle that one.
- Learn how to market yourself in the type of photography you want to do. Starting out, you’re going to be doing a lot of stuff for your friends, and that’s great! But keep in mind what kind of photography you ultimately want to do, and target what your clients see most based on that. For instance, we ultimately want to market ourselves more to bands and musicians, but we do A TON of family, landscape, wedding, etc photography as well. What we choose to post and feature of those shoots is work that will still market to that music crowd. When choosing your featured work from your collection, focus on photos with the color scheme, posing, and general mood that will best fit your target audience.
- Volunteer! This is one of the fastest ways to get in with professionals and to be able to serve at the same time. There are a number of charities geared at photography, but the one we serve in most prominently is Help Portrait. There is a branch in most major cities and it is a charity that does photos for families in need around the holidays and for high school seniors in the spring. They will have everyone come and set up “studios” usually in church classrooms and will schedule “clients” in 30 minute sessions for you throughout the day. A good way to get involved up front is to volunteer as an ambassador or an assistant in your first year with the organization. Other ways to volunteer are to donate sessions to your pastor, someone you know who volunteers a lot of their time to worthy causes, or have people sign up for a drawing to donate a session to someone they know who deserves it.
- Invest in a professional website. This one is important. Running your business off of Facebook may be fine for a very short while, but if you are serious about getting into this line of work, invest some funds into a working, clean-looking, professional photography site. If you are starting out and don’t have the cash-flow just yet, pay a graphic design student a small amount to get you up and running. This will invest in their future and give them some good practice as well. Make sure they give you the rights to edit it, so if needed, you can later have a more skilled professional designer touch it up.
- Let your pricing and marketing reflect your skill level. This key item goes all the way to the beginning of the list in staying humble. If you’re just starting out (this includes your first 2-3 years), there is zero chance you are skilled enough to be charging professional pricing. Don’t be vague about your skill-set. Be up front with your clients in that you are just starting out and don’t market yourself as a master photographer and charge them like one. This will likely lead to frustrations on both ends with the work they get back and will definitely lose you a referral. It’s better to leave your client pleasantly surprised by your great work than very unpleasantly surprised by your lack thereof.
- Have fun with photography and remember why you love it. Every photographer struggles with keeping it fun and not just a job. We encourage everyone to grab their friends from time to time to practice new techniques, new poses, new lighting, and just to have fun with shooting and editing! When you’re starting out, this is absolutely essential for practicing and building your portfolio as well. It is great to have those beginning photos to go back to and remember why you even wanted to do this in the first place. (And to keep you humble on your beginnings!)
Starting out in any field is rough, but following these key elements is a great start to being respected by those who have committed to hard work to get to where they are. We’ve all put in our time and hard knocks along the way. No one was born perfect at this amazing line of work that we are privileged to be a part of. If anyone acts like they know everything there is to know, then stay away from them.
We say all of this with love as people who have been beginners. We’ve learned so much along the way and want to be able to help others succeed. People with cameras (Are you catching on that this is a common term among people in the business?) just cheapen the market and slay the reputation of good photographers. You definitely don’t want to be passed off as a cocky amateur early on in your career, so stay humble, reach out to those you respect, and put in the work and you’ll be just fine. Welcome to photography!