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So You Want to Start a Photography Business


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Every once in a while I receive messages from budding photographers asking about starting their own photography business. Before I direct them to other resources that I feel are much better teachers than myself, I like to include a few words of insight and encouragement.


Cause trust me, I get it. Taking the leap towards entrepreneurship is not a small feat. And creative businesses are a roller coaster of emotions. There's a lot to think about and prepare for. But I've personally found the journey ridiculously worth it.


However, looking back there are definitely some things I wish I could've done differently to help expand my talents and business more efficiently. So I thought I would put together a blog for those who may be considering their own photography business.


I've broken up my quick tips of advice into two sections. The first is for the curious folks who are beginners in photography. And want to know how to first improve their skills so that they can build a business of it. The second camp is for those who are a bit more familiar with photography techniques but need some direction on how to take it to the next level of entrepreneurship.


So wherever you are between those two, I hope you'll find some of what I share below helpful. And keep in mind, there is no one-size-fits-all. The entrepreneurship journey is messy and imperfect. So don't get too hung up on anything that it prevents you from simply taking the next step and moving forward.


GETTING CURIOUS ABOUT PHOTOGRAPHY


1. Practice, practice, practice. The very first thing I tell people is to just *have fun*. Seriously just let yourself enjoy it and shoot as much as you can. At first, don't think too hard about it. It can be overwhelming to try something new. And to rush the process of being a beginner. But I promise you, it's all part of the journey of a successful and rewarding career. Allow yourself to shoot in all sorts of lighting conditions. Put together shoots with friends. And just practice. Give yourself the time and experiences to allow yourself to get comfortable behind the camera. And build your confidence through trial and error.


Eventually, the more you practice, you'll discover consistency in your work. The light and compositions you gravitate towards. Your persistent practice will unfold your brand and style. And this is where the magic is. So really don't think too hard about it. Just keep practicing your craft.


2. Know your camera. Honestly, I audited a class from the local Tech school just to understand what the heck all of the functions on my camera meant. Taking a class definitely isn't required. There is so much free content online nowadays via YouTube, Facebook groups, photography blogs. But the point remains. Become familiar with your equipment. Understand its capabilities. Personally, the class gave me a structure that helped me use my time efficiently. And because I wasn't taking it for a credit towards a degree, it was more affordable.


PRO TIP: It can be sooo tempting to get the best of the best and all the fun gear at once. But I'm going to share what was once shared with me. Don't rush the upgrades until you've outgrown what have. Work what you got to its max. You probably don't actually *need* the thing you think you need. There's tons of content out there recommending how to invest strategically. I encourage you to look into those words of advice so you're making financially wise decisions early.


3. Understand light. Everything that photography is, is all about light. If you don't have light mastered. Posing and location are irrelevant. So get familiar with light in all of its forms. Harsh, full sunlight. Cloudy and overcast. Backlit golden hour. On and off-camera flash. There's so much to learn about light and lots of content out there to learn this specific skill. This piggybacks really well from tip one. Practice, practice, practice. Learn how to shoot in every possible situation. And get comfortable bringing the light regardless of what the sun is or isn't doing.


4. Offer second shooting services. The Rising Tide Society is a wonderful resource for finding fellow photographers in your area. I learned so much from assisting other photographers earlier in my career that I met through this organization. I should probably write a full other blog post dedicated to becoming a highly helpful second shooter. It might take a bit to gain the trust of a photographer. Especially if you don't have much of a portfolio. But second shooting is a great first step to getting your foot in the door.


Be prepared to represent that photographer and be willing to bend over backward for them and the couple they are serving. If you're a beginner in your photography skills, show your value in your readiness to be helpful and professional. This will go a long way in being asked to second shoot more often and eventually increasing your rate.


Another incentive with second shooting is the potential referrals the photographer you assist may send your way. I've often referred out to photographers who have shot with me when I'm already booked. And I have often been on the receiving end of gaining referrals from photographers I second shot with when they are booked on an inquired date. When you're starting out, a lot of your early work is probably going to be via referrals and word of mouth. So this is a huge benefit of putting in the work as a second shooter.


If you're having trouble finding a photographer willing to bring you on as a second shooter. Ask them what you could provide or do to help change their mind. Maybe you could do a little styled shoot with a few friends to better show your abilities to them. Maybe you could offer to tag along for an upcoming wedding and just carry their gear for the day. Maybe you could swap a photo session with them so they can see you in action. It never hurts to ask when done so respectfully. Keep in mind they may just not need the service from you or feel you are a good fit. If that's so, thank them for their time and leave it at that.


PRO TIP: At the end of the season. Mail thank you cards with a small gift to any photographers who had you a part of their team. Communicate how much you appreciated working with them and all they taught you. It's so important to build a healthy community with fellow photographers. And the little things go a long way.


EARLY ENTREPRENEUR NEXT STEPS


1. Build An Attractive Portfolio. I'm in the camp that believes websites are a worthy investment. And with hosts like Squarespace, Wix, and Shoot and Share, it's affordable and just about painless to create an online home for your business to exist.


When putting together your portfolio, you really don't need a ton of photos. Your credibility isn't going to be defined by quantity but rather quality. People really don't care to see every photo you've ever done, they just want to know what you're capable of. So showcase the best of your best to display the range of your talent and style. And keep in mind your portfolio attracts the work you will create. So only include images you want to shoot more of.


PRO TIP: Styled shoots are a really fun and controlled way to showcase the content you want to shoot more of. Reach out to a handful of local vendors and see who would be willing to join. It's a great way to create more valuable content and highlight some other wonderful businesses that could equally serve your future clients.


2. Go above and beyond to serve your current and future clients. Underpromise and over-deliver. Write them thank-yous, send them Christmas gifts, and showcase their special moments in blog posts. Respond promptly. Treat them kindly and respectfully. Show them their investment and trust in your business matters.


Always behave as if your future clients are in the room. On a wedding day, you never know who could be watching you work or listening to you speak. Your next client could be one of the bridesmaids or one of the guests. This has happened numerous times. How you make people feel when they are in front of the camera matters and is memorable. Your presence is always marketing for your business. And it's up to you whether it's helping or hurting.


3. Collect testimonials. Testimonials are GOLD! I cannot say it enough. And word of mouth referrals are lifelines in the entrepreneur world. I was too scared to get reviews earlier in my career cause I feared everyone regretted working with me. And I didn't want the honest truth. So my advice is to not let fear stop you. Looking back, I wish I allowed myself to gain any insight. Positive or negative, so I could know what I could improve for my clients.


So individually invite your clients to write a review following image delivery. Some of them won't, but most of them probably will. And it will help you tremendously when people are searching for a photographer.


4. Charge accordingly. Okay, pricing is a can of worms. I know. But it's a vital part of business if you want to be profitable. Here are my two cents. When you're first starting out be bloody honest and upfront with your clients that you are building your portfolio. So to accommodate the growing pains your rates are lower for a time but will go up to accurately represent your valuable services.


And after doing this for a controlled period. Increase your prices to accommodate a fair wage for yourself. That consists of the value of your unique and gained skills while shooting per hour, editing, administrative tasks, bookkeeping, gear expenses, taxes, etc. Come up with your pricing based on those facts, not your feelings of what you think other people want to offer from their wallet. I'm not a fan of cheap pricing. It's not sustainable and sets an inaccurate standard for the industry.


PRO TIP: Wear the hat of a CEO early in your career. Create your pricing and your policies. And stick to them. Sure you can negotiate, trade services, and shoot for free if you want. It's your business, you technically can do whatever you want. But that's the thing. If you want to run a business, you have to treat it like a business. And make decisions like a CEO. There are valuable reasons for the pricing you create and if you don't follow them you will eventually not be profitable. And that's not a business, it's a hobby.


5. Consider being an associate photographer first. In 2019 I joined the STP team as an associate photographer. I was pivoting in my work and wanting less of the demands of wedding photography, but didn't quite want to stop. Becoming an Associate has been such a blast and the perfect blend. I have loved the doors it has opened for me. I wish I would've done this earlier in my career.


I plan on writing a more thorough blog about being an Associate photographer and why I love it so much. The thing is owning a business is a lot of work and it's not for everyone. So I highly recommend that if you have a passion for photography, but are intimidated by the leap of entrepreneurship. Becoming an associate might be something wonderful to consider.


6. Keep trying new things. Sometimes running a photography business can feel a bit monotonous. So it helps when I allow myself to just play. To create for the sake of creating for myself and not for anyone else. It might help to separate the professional from the personal sometimes. I have had to learn that I don't need to always be a professional behind the camera. I can turn it off and just be a person. Who gets curious and breaks all the rules. And presses the shutter without much of a plan. So don't get too comfy and cozy. Keep pushing your creative limits. And allow yourself to evolve and expand as an artist.