Learning from our mistakes is key to growth and success as a photographer. I am sure many of us could write up a list of things we wish we would have known or done differently as a beginner. I am going to share with you the top 10 things that I believe every photographer should know when just starting out. Please feel free to add any of your tips or lessons learned in the comments section below.
1. Pricing: One Size Does Not Fit All
What should I charge? This is not a question that can be answered by any photographer other than yourself. Several factors go into pricing and should be carefully considered.
CODB (Cost of Doing Business) takes top priority when it comes to pricing your services and prints/products. Consider all out of pocket costs to you as a business owner: business license, studio rental, gear, editing software, attorney fees, insurance, taxes, gas mileage, online gallery fees, educational workshops/classes, and marketing. Do you use props, stylized wardrobes, hair and make-up artists? Factor those in as well.
Then you need to factor in time. How much time is spent on one session or event? Take into consideration time prior to the session consulting with your client, time spent traveling to and from the session/event, time spent during the actual session/event, time spent culling, editing, and delivering images after the session/event.
After factoring in all costs to you as a business owner, decide how much you are looking to profit. After all, if we aren’t profiting, what’s the point in attempting to run a business? Do not get caught up in what everyone else is charging. Charge what you are worth based on skill, out of pocket fees, and enough to do more than just “break even.” If you aren’t turning a profit, you will likely burn out fast.
2. Market, Market, Market!
We all strive for “word of mouth” referrals. Leave your clients feeling satisfied and they will recommend you to others. However, this comes with time and experience. The more sessions and clients you have under your belt, the more your name will get tossed around to the general public.
In the early stages of launching your business, you have to put yourself out there and make yourself seen and heard. Build a well-put-together website showcasing your best work. Take advantage of social media: Facebook, 500px, Instagram, Twitter, just to name a few. Purchase quality business cards and have them on hand at every session or event you attend. The goal is to make those local to you know who you are and what you do.
3. Learn to Get it Right in Camera Before Learning to Edit
Editing becomes a crutch for so many photographers. If you are constantly telling yourself, “I’ll fix it in Photoshop later,” you are doing a disservice to yourself and skipping the crucial step of getting it right in camera. Sure, we all have those images that need to be corrected or saved in Photoshop, occasionally. However, do not get comfortable with this being the norm when it comes to your work. Photoshop should not be used strictly as a way of fixing your mistakes. Photoshop is meant to enhance your “already well-executed” images. The less you HAVE to use it, the more beneficial it will be to you.
Exposure Triangle (aperture, shutter speed, and ISO), Composition, and Depth of Field are three things you really need to research, become familiar with, and practice before even considering opening up any editing software.
4. Actions/Presets Are Not a “One Click Fix”
You will find many resources to purchase Photoshop actions and Lightroom Presets. As with all products, some are put together better than others. There is nothing wrong with using actions/presets AS LONG AS YOU UNDERSTAND THEM. Do not look at samples using actions and assume you will automatically get the same results. This just isn’t the case.
You need to understand how they work in order to benefit from them. In fact, SLR Lounge offers a great selection of Lightroom Presets and tutorials/workshops to ensure you understand them and are using them in ways to get the most out of them. Learn what each step in the action or preset is doing and how it affects your image. Learn how to turn some of the layers/steps off and adjust opacity as needed. Make sure you understand layer masks so that you can brush the adjustments on and off where needed. You can also use actions as a learning tool. Run the action, dissect the steps, and take note of how all of the changes affect your image overall. Overall, just make sure you are in control of any actions or presets you use. Otherwise, they can completely ruin your image.
5. Do Not Wait Until the Day of a Session or Event to Seek Out Advice or Tips
“I have a newborn session in a few hours, any tips on posing?” Seeing posts like this in groups or forums makes me cringe. Yikes! All sessions and events require planning. If you are waiting until the day of a session to do your research, you are setting yourself up for failure. Allow yourself plenty of time to show up to your session fully prepared and confident in your capabilities. Trying to absorb too much information in just a few hours will leave you feeling anxious, and it will show in your work. Also, keep in mind that it is perfectly acceptable to turn down jobs that you aren’t capable of doing. Learn to say no and stick with what you know.
6. Mind Your Own Business
This one is pretty straight forward. Spend more time focusing on your own photography and business and less time on what all of the other photographers are doing. We all share the same frustrations. However, I can assure you that getting too bent out of shape and worked up over what “Sally” the photographer down the street is doing will get you nowhere. Let “Sally” learn from her own mistakes. We are all just a small fish in a large ocean of photographers. Keep your eye on the prize and invest your time and energy into being the best photographer YOU can be.
7. Your Family and Friends Lie
Okay, so I know they mean well. When I first started out my family and closest friends told me how amazing my work was, which looking back, was obviously a lie. They either tell you what you want to hear to make you feel good about yourself or they truly don’t understand the technicalities that make up a well-executed image. Do not assume you are awesome because your Mama said so!
8. Embrace Constructive Criticism and Advice from More Experienced Photographers
As a photographer, this was probably my biggest “lesson learned.” I always felt the need to defend my work and mistakes. I had to learn how to disconnect my personal attachment to my work in order to grow. There will always be someone who knows more than you; and there will always be someone who knows more than them. I started seeing the most growth in my work when I learned to sit down, shut up, and listen.
9. Prints Are Important
I’m not going to go into the whole prints versus discs debate. Everyone will run their business in a way that works for them and their clients. Regardless of how you deliver your images to your clients, I would suggest you at least attempt to encourage your clients to purchase high quality professional prints through you. The look on your client’s face when they see their images in print really is priceless. When I hand over prints or canvases, it is that moment that I feel I have completely fulfilled my duties as their photographer.
10. Do Not Cross the Line Between Inspiration and Imitation
There are many places to find inspiration on the web. Photographers of all genres showcase their work across all social media outlets. Yes, chances are most ideas you come up with have been done before. It is perfectly acceptable, flattering even, to have other photographers look to you for inspiration. However, when you copy everything in an image to the point of duplicating it, you have crossed the line. Joel Robison was recently a victim of this very thing. You can find the article with examples here.
A few examples of ways to lose respect in this industry really quickly:
As a beginning photographer, you WILL make mistakes. The key is to learn from them in order to better yourself as a photographer and business owner. I hope these tips will help you avoid making mistakes that many before you have made. Stay open minded, remain humble, use common sense, and be ready to take advantage of every learning opportunity you encounter. The photography business can be tough. Always strive to be the best photographer you can be. With the right mindset, you can be successful as a photographer.
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