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Tips & Tricks

10 Things New Photographers Need to Know

By Sparkle Hill on May 14th 2015

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.

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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.

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Sparkle Hill Photography

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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Sparkle Hill is a photographer based out of Canton, Georgia. She specializes in children, high school seniors, couples, and families. In early 2015, she began venturing into more artistic composites.

Sparkle strives every day to find the balance between marriage, three children, her photography career, and reaching out to advise beginning photographers however and whenever she can.

And yes, that is her real name. :)


Q&A Discussions

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  1. Donald Jones

    Is this article a “sticky” in the forums…it should be!! Great information

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  2. Joseph Prusa

    Great tips

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  3. Jesper Ek

    My advice would be practice and pre-shoot all your gigs in the beginning. Then you at least know all obvious problems that you have to overcome, because on the day of your shoot you will have new ones to handle.

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  4. Chuck Eggen

    Nice list.

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  5. Thomas Swindal

    Great list. Keep it simple, focus on the fundamentals, and always keep searching for good advice and meaningful criticism. It’s so basic, yet is probably often overlooked.

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  6. Lester Terry

    Good direction. Thanks

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  7. Sparkle Hill

    Sounds like a tough spot to be in! I’m assuming with the town being small they already have a few established photographers?

    I would treat it the same way as trying to make it in a big city with a photographer on every corner. Bring something unique to the table. Set yourself apart. Even if just means with the products you offer. Find local vendors to partner with. Make yourself known on social media. Attend town events and maybe set up a booth.

    Just a few suggestions. :) Good luck!

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  8. norman tesch

    what is your advice for moving to a small town. im retired military after 20yrs. i moved to a small town. i did not grow up in this area. they are soo small minded i tried to get into local gallery and since they didnt know me they actually did a background check on me because they thought i was a sex predator. of course they found nothing but who knows how many half truths and gossip they caused people to look the other way for buisness. its so bad i travel 3 and 4 hours to shoot models and seniors but i cant get jobs here doing seniors, sports teams or prom.

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    • Sparkle Hill

      In addition to my below comment, I recommend starting a senior rep program. Let the seniors assist in marketing your services. ;)

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    • norman tesch

      i shot sports events. put them shrank down and put them on fb and put full size on my pay site to purchase. i was shooting 4000 pics a mo. and yet i cant get the job of shooting team i dont give anything away. i figured that it would be nice to have someone around shooting and not just coming around when a photographer wants money. i guess i was wrong

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    • Thomas Horton

      I guess I gotta be harsh here

      “they are soo small minded….”

      It is always easiest to blame the customer for not recognizing our awesomeness. It makes us feel better.

      But that is not the way to approach it. Put the blame where it belongs…. on you.

      Instead of blaming other people, ask yourself, “why have you been unable to demonstrate your awesomeness?” and follow it up with a plan that will allow you to demonstrate your awesomeness.

      Being from the military, you should recognize that you are the photographic FNG. Just like when you were the FNG in the military, it takes a lot of time and effort to garner even basic respect.

      It would then be up to the customer to determine if you are as awesome as you think you are. Hint: We often think that we are better then we really are. :) It is more important how other people think we are.

      A professional photographer should not blame the customers for poor business…. that’s poor business.

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  9. DeOren Robinson

    Thank-you for the pricing info. That is my main struggle, and I do not want to undervalue my services.

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    • Thomas Horton

      At the same time, you don’t want to overvalue it either. It is a delicate balancing act.

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  10. Sparkle Hill

    Very good tips, guys!

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  11. Rafael Steffen

    Study a lot and practice the things you studied to see if you grasped the knowledge. Watch videos of great photographers and learn from them. Printed material is the true valuable in your work.

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  12. Paddy McDougall

    Thanks for the tips, here’s my tuppence worth.

    1. Get a good contract for your customers to sign that protects you and sets their expectations about what service you will provide. Always get them to sign.
    2. Under promise and over deliver. Unexpected small extras increase your rep
    3. Backing up always comes before sleep
    4. You’ll do more hours than your current day job but you’ll do something you love.
    5. It’s not always a good thing being a jack of all trades. Find your niche
    6. Take time out to do other things and find inspiration
    7. You are not alone, if you need help ask, collaborate, get specialists do what you aren’t so good at web design, accountant touch up etc

    Finally, you don’t need to be a full time pro straight away or at all to enjoy photography or to make a some money from your craft. It’s the journey not the destination that is important.

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  13. Easton Reynolds

    Great Advice!

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  14. Rob Harris

    Tip 10 – Do not cross the line between inspiration and imitation – is applicable to professional shoots. However, when learning how to perform certain techniques or implementing specific ideas, it may be necessary in order to learn. But those times of imitation should only be practice sessions.

    Once the technique is learned, THEN our own creative style can and should be applied to that idea in order to make it our own. For instance, once someone learns to perform the photoshop techniques necessary for the magnification glass photo, they would be prepared to complete many other creative photos using many different types of items besides magnifying glasses.

    But overall, I agree with the list. Thanks for sharing.

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    • Sparkle Hill

      You are welcome. And thank you for your insights. I think even when using an image in a way “the guy” did in Joel’s article, asking permission is necessary, even if strictly for learning/educational purposes. I also don’t feel that simply removing a subject and replacing it with another is beneficial to learning anything. Now trying to recreate an image, as you mentioned, for practice purposes only, can be harmless. But if you go as far to post and share said images and claim as your own without giving any credit to the artist who inspired you, it’s misleading. Giving credit where credit is due is so important.

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  15. Ian Johns

    Oh, and great article yourself, Sparkle. I’m saving this one.

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    • Sparkle Hill

      Thank you! And yes, I encourage everyone to read the article by Joel. Copyright is something you don’t play around with!

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  16. Ian Johns

    It should be noted that #10 begins involving copyright infringement — not something anyone wants to deal with. Joel made note of this in his (great) article and it’s worth mentioning here.

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  17. Thomas Horton

    Just a nit to pick. This article should have been entitled “10 things a professional photographer needs to know”. Three of the 10 tips only pertain to professional photographers. The majority of photographers are not professional after all. :)

    I think it would be better to have separate articles for what pertains to the business of photography from articles that are focused on photography only.

    That nit being picked enough, I would like to comment that rule 6 is probably the most important. :)

    I think a lot of photographers (people) would benefit if they paid a little less attention to what other photographers (people) do. :)

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    • Sparkle Hill

      Thank you. When I sat down to write my list of top 10 things I would advise to new photographers, either professionals or those looking to go professional, it was a combination of business/photography tips. :)

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    • Ralph Hightower

      I agree with Thomas. But I absolutely agree with #5 Do Not Wait Until the Day of a Session or Event to Seek Out Advice or Tips!
      I finally got to check off a 30 year old bucket list item: watch a Space Shuttle launch. Since it was the last of a lifetime, the final Space Shuttle launch, I sought out advice. I emailed a reporter at Florida Today asking for their photographers’ tips and provided my gear, Canon A-1, 80-205mm f4.5, 400mm f6.3, Slik tripod with pan/tilt head.
      Malcolm replied back “Classic camera. Since it’s a day launch, shoot ISO 100 film, underexpose by 1/3 stop.” But the third tip was most helpful; he said mount the camera backwards on the tripod so the tilt lever doesn’t impede tilting the camera upwards in the sky.
      Finding ISO 100 film in my city turned out to be a scavenger hunt. Ritz/Wolf Camera inventory was lacking and they didn’t stock film. I found a store run by university students that had two rolls of Kodak Ektar 100. I bought their inventory.

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  18. Rene Diaz

    Great article and tips!!!

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  19. Brandon Dewey

    great tips

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