Starting a photography business- tools of the trade

Those of you who know me personally, Know that I’ve run a successful Photography business since 2006 and have been doing photography since 1999. I’ve recently decided to take a hiatus due to a series of reasons, ie; scheduling, burn out etc.. Although photography will always be my passion, hence the aperture tatted on my wrist LOL, My career goals have shifted over the past year, being in Graduate school, single parenting and working full-time ultimately has taken up the majority of my time. I’ve had many interns over the years, I love to share my experience and teach others what I’ve learned, fundamentals through basic photography school in the Navy to, hands on information, to flat-out common sense business practices. I’ve noticed in the past two years alone that my clients and friends have even taken a liking to photography which I think is awesome, the world can never have too many photographers. I’m gonna list some common mistakes I notice people make when they decide to embark on the journey of being a photographer, I’m also gonna list some helpful tips that have worked for me and may work for you and the success of your new business.

Common Mistakes

  • Not shooting enough ie; not enough practice- as with anything practice makes perfect, in photo school we had the most mundane randomest projects ever, but in the long run it all made sense
  • Charging people- ok so you just bought your camera yesterday, you’re super stoked! “OMGAH I gotta book my first shoot, I’m gonna charge these people, cause I gotta get paid for my time”- skurrrrrrrrt pump your brakes, at what point in time between your decision to become a photographer and the purchase did someone elect you as a professional worthy enough to even charge someone a fee? you don’t even know what a shutter is, or the difference between a 50mm 1.8 lens and a 50mm 1.4. In practicing, you are to find any and everyone who will ALLOW you to photograph them FREE of charge cause guess what, this is the only way you’re gonna learn and with any business you have to invest, you’ve already invested in your gear, now you have to invest your time to learn your trade.
  • Big headedness- Confidence is cute but Be humble, you’re a squirrel in this world tryin to get a nut, Your work may suck at the beginning, and you think it’s the flyest thing ever, ask someone, get feed back from established photographers, Research, research, research! cockiness is not cute, your audience can smell it a mile away and will be reluctant in supporting you.
  • Trying to buy the hottest gear- you can have the hottest and most up to date gear out there, but not knowing how to use it is pointless. I’ve owned cameras that cost $299 to $6999 guess what, there’s no difference between the two if you have no clue how to use it and ultimately, I’ve always loved the cheaper cameras. simplicity is a must unless you’re shooting for a magazine. You wanna spend money, spend it on books, classes at a local college, hell spend it on establishing your brand.
  • Putting the camera on auto- so you’re one of those point and shoot photographers, not gonna bother to figure out what the other settings mean or even take the time to learn the full extent of your camera’s capability?
  • Not investing in quality editing software- sorry all I know is Photoshop and yes it’s not cheap, I’ve never used anything else, I’ve tried I just couldn’t. You on the other hand may like the other products Adobe has to offer for editing or whatever else is out there that’s fine, just don’t go trying to use any free software cause guess what, your client, if they can do the same thing with that same free software, there’s no use for you.
  • Graphics- ok so you’ve come up with a name for your business that’s awesome, should it be the biggest thing on your photo? no. This goes hand in hand with other corny graphics that are constantly abused by newbies, the vignetting tool, the blur tool, over saturation, over contrasting, unless your shooting for Disney, your photos should not look like a cartoon, your subjects should not look plastic.
  • Attire- SO you’ve been practicing, got atleast 80-90 photo shoots under your belt, then through word of mouth someone hires you to shoot their event. Theres no such thing as being over dressed in this field, You will not show up to someone’s event in flip flops and shorts and think them or anyone else is ever gonna call you back again. It’s all about professionalism, people are sitting around during this event and guess what they’re doing, picking you apart, from that messy bun you got atop your head, to the tight ripped skinnies you’re rocking to the dingey t-shirt you’re wearing, to the top that’s bearing way too much cleavage and is only getting worse because your camera strap is pulling your top down even further unbeknownst to you, get my drift? yea, dress appropriately and professionally at ALL times.
  • Posting pics- ok so you’re proud of your work, out frickin standing!, you wanna show the world, you start a fb fan page cause you want people to track your progress and see your stuff, awesomesauce. So you’re gonna post your entire memory card, and with every photo, you’re gonna post the black and white version, the sepia tone version, the retro rainbow version. stop. Post your best work, save that other stuff for a blog or something not where potential clients can see and are overwhelmed with the amount of stuff your posting, they want to see your talent, not that you know how to add a zillion special effects to the same damn pic.
  • I take pics now so I should have a studio let me go find a place to rent- first off are you even licensed? do you even know the licensing regulations for photographers? are you insured? are you making enough to pay rent at a commercial location? plus utilities, renters insurance etc..? I started off doing photography right in my living room. and ONLY, I repeat ONLY decided to get a studio because i had between 25-30 people in and out of my home daily and it got overwhelming, business was definitely booming but I really started to get uncomfortable with the amount of traffic in my home on a daily basis not to mention my kids live there, so it was time to expand. My first studio was a double office, I went down to city hall to get the letter of occupancy and ensured that my license was up to date and was good to go. I made sure I had renters insurance just incase anything happened to the building in my absence.
  • Business name- Your business name should be simple, it shouldn’t include anything derogatory if you’re trying to be successful or hope to have any chance in retaining a decent client base. That is all.
  • If you’re male, getting half-naked girls in front of your camera is fine, if that’s what you want to do by all means, have  at it, there are a zillion chicks out there that will pose for you, if that’s the industry you want to remain in. If you’re asked to shoot a corporate event or someone’s wedding and they ask to see your work and all you have to show them is Suzanne sprawled over in thongs in the kitchen holding a pot, do you think they’re gonna be impressed by how wonderfully you had the fill light hit Suzanne’s ass cheeks and how great the exposure is? Negative, not saying you have to go out and shoot every avenue of photography but be flexible just in case you ever wanna shoot anything more besides half-naked chicks. SN: with that being said, Every woman is not gonna want to shoot with you, there’s this random stigma of pervy guy photographers out there who are far from professional. Make sure, if you’re not a perv to be professional, might even help to have a female assistant or something.
  • Not investing- Investment doesn’t stop at just buying your camera, cameras need external flashes unless u  just want to use the cheesy on camera flash, your photos will say professional no where on them, Props, if you’re shooting kids go to your local flea market or thrift store and pick up little nick nacks that can make a good prop for the tots, Backdrops, if studio type photography is your thing, take the time to go online and get the PROPER backdrop material; buying a king sized sheet from walmart to use as a backdrop is great for practicing and just starting out but as you get more serious, those wrinkles wont work and you’re gonna want a more professional setting ie: seamless paper.

Now that we’ve gone through most of the mistakes (that I can think of right now) lets talk about the helpful tips

  • RESEARCH RESEARCH RESEARCH!  google and youtube is your best friend, yea I went to photoschool back in 99 by no means do I think im more educated than the next photographer, my experiences taught me, shooting photography on an aircraft carrier’s flight deck taught me, The photography I learned back in school? film developing and dark room techniques do NOT apply to today’s photography, I’ve basically had to learn on the job and teach myself along the way. There are SO many resources out there its ridiculous, I’ve had people come to me for help the first thing I did was send them to google. I’m more than willing to help if you put forth the effort in researching.
  • Learn your gear, inside and out, that’s your baby you should know every intricate detail about her, read the manual get familiar, and shoot till your finger is numb
  • Using friends and family, my kids knew every time I whipped my camera out that i was coming for them LOL I had live in guinea pigs, I shot them till I was blue in the face.
  • Find out what TYPE of photographer you want to be- what excites you? I tried to be the all in one photographer, it didn’t work, shooting kiddos in a city full of kiddos of course made business boom but at the end of the day, or during post production was I still excited? not so much, I realized I was more into fashion photography and anything industry related. I also learned that i HATED the studio and I felt more at home in a tick filled forest with my model swinging upside down from a tree while I laid in mud to get the shot. THAT!!!! made my lady parts smile, that! made me wanna rush home and get to editing! figure out what you LOVE, yea its about the money but really it isn’t…
  • Get licensed- its like $50 a year
  • Get your business name Patented- downtown at the court house for $14.95
  • Don’t compare yourself with other photographer or get discouraged- everyone is their own unique individual, photography is an art,no two artists are the same, be yourself.
  • Don’t steal people’s work- I had an experience when I first started out where a lady on Lejeune Yard Sales used my photos to advertise her photography, this is beyond the scopes of lame and there is a special place in hell for people who do that, stealing is a crime and well its just lame, get your own work, if NOT then give credit to the person you stole from, period.
  • Don’t overwhelm your audience, if they like you, they will come, they will support, they will do everything to let you know you’re doing an awesome job, don’t force yourself on them ie: facebook fan pages, theres a link to suggest the page to your friends, use it and shut up, do not harass your fb friends and force them into supporting you, they’ll do the opposite.
  • Word of mouth is everything- do people right and do a good job and this will be the bread and butter of your business, you won’t even need to spend money on advertising because the clients will come to you unsolicited.
  • Volunteer- this is part of investing, you may need to do 30 or so free shoots, you might need to shoot some free weddings, events etc… just to get your name and face out there, its worth it if you think you are.
  • Keep your opinion to yourself- don’t bad mouth other photographers, its lame and well, it says alot about you and a business professional and personally.

Hope this post helped, feel free to comment with any questions you might have or if I missed anything


6 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. yeahshesaidit
    Jul 03, 2012 @ 11:48:37

    Great post, many of your points, if not all, work for businesses across the board.


  2. trevieta nolen
    Dec 05, 2012 @ 11:23:17

    I have read this blog a couple of times! I’m sure I will be referring back to it quite often. I found it to be very useful. I am finally getting my camera in today, and have also been jotting down ideas as they come to me. I am looking forward to taking better quality photos of my family because the camera on my phone is shot! Lol. I am very excited to get these ideas out of my head and into reality! Thanks Dani!


  3. hytekblue
    Jun 28, 2013 @ 17:37:36

    This is an excellent how to article for any entrepreneur not just photographers… Keep up the great writing… you have me cracking up… great stuff!


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