When I decided I wanted to be a photographer, I honestly thought this job was going to be a fairytale. Doing what I love every minute of every day, choosing my own hours, setting my own prices, all while making people incredibly happy—sounds like a dream, right?
You’re probably thinking the answer to that question is, “Duh.”
Well, you’re right…to an extent. I love what I do. I love creating beautiful images. I love that thrilling burst of joy someone experiences the first time they see their photographs. There really is nothing like it.
As much as I do love it, there are a few things I wish someone would’ve told me before I began my photography career, and I’m going to share them with you in hopes that you don’t make the same mistakes I did.
If you can’t afford top of the line equipment right away, don’t fret. I struggled with this for a really long time. For a while, I had a lower end Sony DSLR. I had no professional grade lenses. All I had to work with was what came in the kit, and I had no idea then, but at the time, that was all I needed.
If you’re just a beginner, don’t spend a ton of money on those shiny, expensive DSLRs like the Canon 5D Mark III or the Nikon D800. You don’t need those yet. Purchase a lower end DSLR and master the basics of photography like achieving correct exposures in manual mode. Once you’ve done that, you’ll be ready to invest in a higher end DSLR.
Don’t constantly compare yourself to other photographers who have already established themselves in the industry. This is a constant problem for me. I literally struggle with this every day because for a while, I fell into the harmful habit of scouring my favorite photographers’ websites every time they posted new images.
You know what I’m talking about. You do it too. You might even be doing it right now here on my site. You look at their images and think “I’m never going to be that good” or “I’m never going to book that many clients” or maybe even “Maybe I should just give up.”
Stop. You’re falling into the same trap that I did. By looking at all of those other photographers’ images, you’re doing nothing but making yourself unhappy and killing your business.
Instead of constantly filling your head with thoughts of how you’re just not good enough, go out and do something better than you did yesterday. Practice exposures. Experiment with more aperture manipulations. Memorize every page of your camera’s instruction manual. Whatever it is you choose to do, do it better than you did the day before. If you live every day with that mindset, you’ll eventually be just as good as those other photographers and a lot happier too!
If you have to convince someone that you’re worth what you charge, he/she is not your ideal client. Let me elaborate a little. When you first start booking clients, you’re most likely going to offer discounts in order to build your portfolio. Along the way, you’re going to meet a client that will ask you why you charge so much. Trust me, it’s going to happen.
To them, a couple hundred dollars is way too much for “just pictures.” They don’t understand how much work goes into those images once the session is over. They don’t know how many hours you put into perfecting their skin. And you know what? It’s not your job to convince them that your images are worth the money. If they don’t already know the value of a good photograph, they won’t no matter what you say to them.
When you come across that type of client, and I guarantee you will if you haven’t already, politely inform them of your services and pricing and expect not to hear from them again. If they contact you again, hooray! If they don’t, no big deal. By focusing on clients who adore you, your business will thrive, and you’ll be so much happier.
Being a full-time photographer involves about 70% business and 30% actual photography. It’s true. There is so much more to this profession than just photographing subjects when you decide to go full-time, but when you think about it, that makes perfect sense.
You’re starting your own business. Yes, it’s for a creative art, but you will spend a majority of your time, especially in the beginning, gathering everything you need [i.e. contracts, tax forms, insurance, etc.] in order to be successful and make a profit. You have to develop your own brand, market yourself, and create an experience that sets you apart from your competition. You have to target a certain demographic, find your niche in the market, and pay taxes, even the occasional employee. You’re a business now so you’ll be doing many business-related tasks. That leads to my next point.
You do not have to attend art school to be a successful photographer. This may sound obvious, but some people don’t realize that you don’t need a “fine art” degree to make it in this industry. To be honest, it’s a waste of money.
I’m currently attending an art school, and I want you to know what it’s really like. In short, for a large sum of money [close to triple what a typical public college charges], you will take a bunch of very easy general classes mixed with a few classes that actually apply to your major. After that, you’ll be required to take many a pointless class that you will not enjoy, and you will find yourself wondering why you’re even going into debt to be there. By the time you realize this, you’re trapped. Your credits won’t transfer so you can’t leave. You have no choice but to stay, finish out the rest of your time there, collect your degree, then run as far away as possible.
Have no fear though. There is a much smarter alternative: business school. Remember what I said in my last point? Photography is a business so if you already know you want to be a full-time photographer, I highly recommend going to school for a business degree. While you’re doing so, spend your free time shooting and watching online tutorials. This way you’ll spend more time shooting what you want instead of being forced to shoot something you have no desire to shoot in the future.
Don’t give up. This is my last and most important point. Never, ever give up on your photography. There will be days when you want to quit. There will be times when someone unintentionally says something that hurts your creative spirit. There will be clients that get on your very last nerve.
But then you’ll experience the moment that bride sees all of the gorgeous images you captured on the most important day of her life. You’ll read emails full of sheer delight from the mother who just saw the images you captured of her adorable children. You’ll see an image you created as someone’s profile picture on Facebook, and it’s got over a hundred likes on it.
And then you’ll remember that it’s absolutely worth it. You have one of the most rewarding professions in the world. Do it because you love it, and never, ever stop.