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Dear New Photographer | Setting Up Shop

Dear New Photographer,

I remember when I decided I would open a photography business. My experience had been working in the scrapbook industry for a few years and was getting published regularly. I had always been given the feedback that my photos were AWESOME. I was still a new photographer, I had taken a photography class, I had participated in online forums, and had a good understanding of the photography basics. I wasn’t shooting in Auto, and I could actually tell you what the modes were and how to use them. And since I loved taking photos, and because clearly I was so good at it I decided I would expand from just using photos for companies or magazines, and shoot for clients too.

I immediately set up a website/blog. I had never shot any clients yet so I used photos of my children or my friends kids. I ordered 1000 business cards. Because I had lofty ambitions. I started asking friends and neighbors to do shoots.

Looking back, I definitely jumped the gun. My exposures were still a mess, my horizons were crooked as all get out, and many more identifying flaws. And that’s OK, everyone starts somewhere. I charged accordingly and I took every steps I could to grow.

I haven’t taken the time to load about 30 CDs of back up images from the early early years to my computer so I can’t get you guys the really juicy stuff. But I did pull together some of my earlier client images, pictured below. progression of work

There are a dozen things I may have done right, but for everything I did right, I know I did an equal lot wrong. Here is a good starting point for a new photographer that is considering getting into business, and some things that I did, or could have done to help myself be more successful (and more talented) early on.

Suggestions for a new photographer

  • Read More. The internet is free. There are thousands of blogs/articles on photography. There are hundreds of books on amazon right now for less than 25$. If you cannot tell someone about your camera or how to use it, you should probably invest a little more time into it.
  • Take a class. They have local and online classes. I found one for $25 at a community college. Of course dinosaurs were roaming the earth back then and it was in a dark room. But, they are available and many at a reasonable cost.
  • Given myself a year of “building time”. Set up a website or Facebook page with solid work, not just your portfolio building. Once you’re ready and have some good representations, then open up and charge accordingly, or even start with a portfolio building rate. There are hundreds of business models to choose from, find one that works with you, and the skill level you are at.
  • Give myself time to find consistency. When you’re first starting out it’s like trying on clothes. You want to try it ALL. Contrast, saturation, sky overlays, haze, you name it, most newer photographers have tried it. Give yourself time to find out what works for you, and what your clients can come to recognize as your work. If you get repeat clients who have been shooting with you from the beginning, they will be able to see that progression in the prints on their walls.
  • Practice! I didn’t start shooting daily until I had owned an SLR/DSLR camera for 12 years. Dude. Can you say sloowwwwww to come aboard. Now I can give you my excuses till the cows come home, my biggest one being college, the biggest time suck in existence. But I would have grown so much faster. If you’re not interested in shooting daily, how about a weekly challenge or P52.
  • Get a prime lens. It is very possible to get great shots with your kit lens. I would issue that challenge to any professional photographer, but you will get much more polished looking photographs if you’re using a sharper, faster lens. Not to mention, a kit lens has a minimum aperture of 3.5 at its widest angle, usually 5.6 at it’s full focal length, that’s pretty stopped down for portrait work. (Note: If you couldn’t understand that just now, please, consider doing a google search for photography basics) A 50mm 1.8 costs you around $100. You can also get an amazing low aperture zoom lens, though they do get pricey.
  • Join a local group. Every place I have lived has has clubs, organizations, or Facebook photographer groups. Local meetups are a great way to watch and learn, ask questions, and make friends in your craft. I am from Alaska so this tip is for animals and unfriendlys, but I purchased some pepper spray that snaps right on my camera bag.
  • Do some searches on running a legal business. It is not as intimidating as it seems, but it is important, not only from a legal standpoint, but from a professional one too. A lot of places just require a business license or registering a DBA and a sales tax license. But these are important steps in ensuring that you’re legal. If this intimidates the heck out of you, I found this amazing resource that answered every one of my questions: Doing Business from the Ground Up. You can start as a hobbyist and still receive some tax benefits until you progress to a business.
  • Reach Out! I don’t know any photographers that don’t love reaching out or hearing from new photographers in the industry. While there is some etiquette involved, I know I am never bothered if anyone asks me a question within reason on my page.

progression of photosDon’t get me wrong, I am not a cynic. By all means, do it your own way and enjoy it! I absolutely love photography, it is a passion of mine and these are just some things that I did that worked, or things that I wish I had done. There are always more ways to skin a cat. Good luck!

And if you’re a brand new photographer, try this post with some more beginner tips.

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  • January 27, 2016 - 5:19 pm

    aj - loved this post- SO much of this resonates with me as I transition from craft and hobby to photography as well. I am still green and am still unsure about so much, and probably won’t ask too many questions, but I am silently over here reading what you are putting out there! :)ReplyCancel

    • January 27, 2016 - 9:53 pm

      admin - If you ever have a question, ask away! Or if you’re interested in seeing a post on something specific, give me a shout! <3ReplyCancel

  • February 8, 2016 - 1:26 pm

    Cindy J - This post is exactly where I am! I did some portfolio building in the fall, I submitted my registration for a business license at the beginning of the year and I booked my first paid session at the end of January! It’s all so intimidating and I find myself reading as much as I can online for tips and advice! I’m getting more and more comfortable with my camera and I decided to do a 365 project.

    I just found your website but I plan on spending a lot of time going through your archives! :)ReplyCancel

    • February 8, 2016 - 1:39 pm

      admin - Awesome!! Let me know if I can help with anything, or if there is anything you’d like to see me write about!ReplyCancel

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