I received my first digital camera when I was in eighth grade. I’d always been artistic – constantly drawing and making things with my hands, but I quickly realized that photography was something different…it was just my thing. In high school, I took photography classes, purchased my first (used) SLR, and worked hard at improving my editing skills. People started noticing, and as early as my junior year I started getting requests to do senior portraits, weddings, etc. It was a very exciting time for me; I got paid for doing something I loved! But being a professional photographer is not that simple. There are many things that I wish I’d known when I was starting out, it would have made things a whole lot easier. I still don't know all there is to know, but here are some things I wish someone would have told me when I decided to pursue photography professionally.
Have a plan.
Where do you want your business to go, and how are you going to get there? What equipment will you need? Do you even want to do photography professionally? Having a mentor can help you answer a lot of these questions. Many photographers offer mentoring sessions, and you could even be an intern or second shooter. You can learn about how the business end works and determine if it’s something you really want to do. There is NOTHING wrong with just doing it for fun.
Friends and Family Can Be Difficult to Work With.
This isn't necessarily their fault, either, although it can be. In the beginning of your business, friends and family can be instrumental in spreading the word about your services. Because they are very supportive, many people assume that working with them will be a breeze, but often times it doesn't work out that way. It can be very awkward to charge friends/family and establish a contract with them, but it’s necessary to set up those parameters at the beginning. I know plenty of people who don’t even give a discount for friends/family, but I also know many that do. However you want to do it is up to you, just make sure you stick with it.
Don't Be Pressured Into Doing Everything for Free
At first, you’ll have a lot of people telling you that doing a session for them will be “good for your portfolio” and therefore, should be free. While you WILL need to build your portfolio, you need to make a decision on when you’re going to charge, and when you're willing to do something for free. For instance, when I was starting out, I’d ask people I knew to be a part of themed shoots I’d organize. It helped me create a diverse portfolio. At a certain point though, I started getting more experience and requests, and had to start charging. Photography is a lot of work, and equipment is expensive. Anything of quality costs something. Don't be afraid to charge.
Don’t get caught up wishing you had someone else’s style just because you love looking at it. I absolutely love looking at wedding photography, and because of that, I decided I wanted to only do weddings. While I love it, it really isn't my favorite thing to do. I got super burned out after only a couple heavy wedding seasons. I figured out that I love more of a variety: styled shoots, seniors, couples, model portfolios and bridals. It may take some time to figure out what kind of photography you want to do and what your editing style will be. Make sure you’re doing it because you love it, and not because you WANT to love doing it.
Use a contract.
Whether it’s for your friend or someone you've never met before, use a contract. It will protect you legally and help manage your client’s expectations. There will be less “he said she said”, because it’s all laid out in writing and signed.
Starting any kind of business can be discouraging, but it’s also very rewarding. If you’re thinking of starting a photography business and need advice, I’d love to hear from you!