I have learned a lot of things about photography the hard way. One should learn from someone else’s struggles. In this case learn from mine and be a better photographer.
1. Make friends with other photographers – Starting out you have this idea that everyone is against you. At least I did. I looked at all the other photographers that I saw as scolding and disapproving. They were ‘Let’s face it better than me photographers’. I steered so far away from them that I was literally an island unto myself. Isolation doesn’t make great personal or business sense. Once I realized that the other photographers I met where actually wonderful, kind and helpful professionals, it opened up my world. I can’t count how many times a lesson was learned from the person sitting next to me at a workshop. They taught me more than the person speaking. Make friends with a professional photographer that you can to talk to and, bounce ideas off of.
2. Find a mentor – This is beyond making friends with a photographer. Find a photographer who has already achieved success and learn from them. Starting out I always knew I needed a mentor. There was so much I didn’t know, and I was literally waiting around for someone to teach me. I had it in my mind that some amazing photographer would find me, take me under their wing and like a fairy godmother transform my career. Well that never happened! A few things wrong with that. I was not taking control nor responsibility for my own learning. People that are successful at what they do work very hard to get there. They are not going to give their valuable time away for free to show ‘little ole me’ how to do my job. Nor, should they. Find someone you look up to, who is good fit for your career plan and pay them to mentor you. You might also develop a great friendship out of it.
3. Invest in Education – I have discovered through continuing my education how much more there is to learn to grow as a professional. The truth is that you are never going to get better just by repeating the same processes. In this world educational options are unlimited. Do not create excuses for yourself. There are online streaming classes, online workshops, in person one-day workshops like the ‘Texas Ten’ or week-long workshops like ‘Texas School’. I can honestly say that I have learned more about business and portraits in one week at Texas School than from my four years of my university photography. The university taught me basic skills and art. Texas School taught me how to operate as a business. I very highly recommend a week long intensive workshop if you can swing it. If you can’t, take one Saturday out of your month or one hour out of your day to learn something new.
4. Network – I know that social media is the hottest concept now, and that social media will be part of our future. You’re on Instagram, “fantastic!” Did you get any today sitting at home browsing Instagram and snap chat? Get involved with your community. This is where you live, this is where your potential clients live. Go meet them. Contact your local chamber of commerce. Google networking events in your area. You don’t have to join everything. Just go to visit and meet people. Get your face and your brand in front of other people. If you have zero bookings then get up, dress up, go introduce yourself and be genuinely interested in everyone you meet until you get a booking.
5. Your clients care more about who you are than price – Stop talking about price all the time! Most of your clients don’t really care. Yes, they will ask but that is a default question for them. What they really want to know is: whether you know what you are doing? Can they trust you? Will you make them look good? Will you make them feel comfortable? Do you value the same thing the customer values? Explain your process to them. Show them examples of your work. Show them testimonials if you need to. Show interest and talk to them about their family. Relate with them and have a real conversation. Establish a connection with your client.
6. Make the experience enjoyable – Earning money is great! However, I have noticed that when I am photographing paying clients for an extended period I get very focused on just making them happy. I forget to have fun! I love being a photographer and I want my clients to see that. I try to incorporate one shot at the end of each client session that is creative just for me. It keeps me refreshed and excited for my clients. Also, don’t limit yourself to only shooting clients. For instance, if you love landscapes and flowers then schedule yourself time to go on a hike and shoot landscapes and flowers. If you want to try a contemporary style you don’t currently shoot, just do it! Try and shoot at least one thing for you per month. It will keep your creativity flowing and all around happier.
7. Work with what you have – This may be the number one thing I wish I had truly taken to heart sooner. It is so easy to see how other people shoot and equipment they use and think that you must copy their style or process. You believe ‘that’ you WANT that. Instead, create a vision board and put a new lens, camera, lighting system, outdoor landscaping on there. You should create something to work towards. Don’t give up if you see an advanced photographer using six lights to create a shot or incredible image while you are just using natural light and your camera. If you have a reflector use it. If you don’t, make one. It is pretty easy. Do you have only one strobe light? Perfect, then practice with it. Learn how to bounce light off of a white wall to get the light you need. You only have a tiny bedroom with a window? Get creative. I have seen some Rockstar photographers that have started in studio apartments shooting with natural window lighting. They weren’t embarrassed about it, they owned it. Don’t use what you don’t have as an excuse. Remember to invest in education and learn how to develop what you have.
8. Practice – I think this is hard for photographers. We are constantly told not to give our work away for free. That is kind of a “Catch 22” when you’re starting out and trying to build your portfolio. You need to practice and practice often. Photograph your family, cousins or neighbor. Promote a model call, find someone to shoot for a shoot. You can’t sell portraits if you do not have portraits to show. No one wants to hire an inexperienced photographer that no one knows or is not using. How do you offset developing experience by not giving your work away for free? By being strategic in who you choose to practice with. Don’t do free work just because someone asks. This can be a never-ending pitfall and the potential for business exposure can be tempting.
Treat your portfolio clients as real paying clients. They may get something for free, but it doesn’t have to be everything. You still need to be professional. The crucial point is continue flexing your photography muscle. You can include something for free and still stay in control of your business.
9. Everyone wants to give up – I don’t think I have ever met a photographer who loved their job and thought they were awesome every single day. Everyone has days where confidence slips. Honestly, I think this can apply to every profession. You’re going to have bad days every now and then. Lick your wounds and move on. When unexpected things happen, evaluate what went wrong. Own your work and accept responsibility for it. Learn what to do and what not to do different the next time. Keep going.
10. Be in control of your time – When I first started out, there would be several weeks without a client and then bam, bam, bam. A bunch of clients wanted to book all at the same time. I thought I needed to schedule all the work I could. The impulse reaction was to satisfy the clients schedules and agree to photograph all of them on the same day. Oh, and then I needed to rush and get these client’s images edited right away. I had so much going on that I felt as if I could not get it all done. Then the next week was back to crickets. I learned that just because they all called and asked if I could photograph them on the same day did not mean that they all NEED the same day. Remember that you are the boss and you get to set your own schedule. Do not rush your work just to satisfy someone else’s schedule. It is as simple explaining that you are already booked on that day and offer an alternative date. Most of the time, an alternative date will be totally fine. Controlling the schedule will leave you better rested and better prepared. Quality will bring more consistent work. Editing three or more sessions all at the same time cannot be done proficiently. I am doing better quality of work by controlling my own schedule. I DON’T have to stay up all night editing. The client may WANT their images the next day, but do they really have to HAVE that? You need sleep, you work better with sleep. Be in control of your time. Space it out. Everything will be fine.
Chelsea has quickly become the “go to photographer” for Headshots and Beauty Portraits in The Woodlands area. She has a bachelor’s degree in photography from Sam Houston State University and is an active member of the Professional Photographers of America and Texas Professional Photographers Association. Chelsea was also one of the Texas 10 Workshop instructors in March.