Last week I received an email that I've talked about in-person many times before. It was from a woman wanting to start a photography business. She has taken pictures for fun in the past but never professionally, and she wanted to know how to begin down that road. She had some great questions about how I got started and what I would recommend for her.
I realized that since so many of you have been following my journey from the beginning I've never written a blog about this - but with lots of newer faces around since four whole years ago, I decided to write about my journey and what I would recommend to anyone wanting to get started as a professional photographer. Here's my best advice!
1) Learn as much as you can without practicing. A lot of people want to jump straight into taking pictures - and understandably so! That is the 'fun' part, and it's why so many want to become photographers. Chances are you've already taken a lot of pictures, whether on your phone or a DSLR, so take the time to put your camera down and read as much as you can.
Learn what f-stop, exposure, and ISO mean. Read about the proper way to expose in bright light and then in dark rooms. Study pictures beyond just looking at the pretty parts - why are you drawn to that image? Is it the lighting, the posing, the framing, or something else? Read about how you can get better at all these and look at as many examples as possible.
2) Practice as much as you can after you have started learning. Once you have read and studied a lot, and in the midst of doing this, practice. Ask someone if you can watch them take pictures - and start out with a portrait session rather than a wedding. Take pictures as much as you can whenever you can, and always try to do something new or challenging. Find a photographer who will give you honest feedback on your pictures and listen to their advice. Make sure it's someone whose work you would like to emulate, and someone who is running a good and successful business.
Once you have photographed a few sessions, ask someone if you can assist on a wedding day. Carry bags, practice taking pictures, and build relationships until you can second shoot a wedding. That's where it all started for me!
3) Find one or two photographers (not ten) whose work you admire and follow them. I want to emphasize this again - do NOT go out and follow everyone who takes pretty pictures. The possibilities are endless and you will lose your voice if you're just looking at a bunch of other people. When I first started I followed Justin & Mary closely. I attended their posing workshop, then their lighting workshop, and finally later on in business I booked a mentoring session with them. While my business will never look exactly like theirs, I got a consistent message from two people whose art and business I truly admire, and I didn't waste time and money on everything under the sun.
Side note: be extremely picky about workshops you attend. Some of them are great, but some of them may not be worth your very limited budget when you are first starting out - or your time if you are still working a day job! Again, choose a photographer or two and watch what they teach - then weigh your decisions carefully.
4) Be humble. Always, always, always have a humble heart that is ready to learn. Be humble when you're first starting out and when you're 10 years into your business. If you ever get to the point when you think you know enough to not continue to read and improve, your business will start to fail. Take advice from photographers you respect, even if it means making some changes and working hard to improve. Don't think you know better than someone else. You don't have to take everyone's advice, but you should always listen.
5) Don't be afraid to photograph sessions for free. And then...don't be afraid to charge. When I first started out, I was terrified to just ask people if I could photograph their families. I didn't want to show that I was an amateur, and I didn't want people to know I wasn't at the point of charging yet! Thankfully my friends and family have been incredibly gracious, even when my talent was still very much in the growing process.
Once you've photographed people for free a lot, then don't be afraid to charge. Set a realistic price point based on your experience, and don't be embarrassed if you're charging less than someone else. This is your business, your time, and your talent - own it, and over time you'll figure out exactly what you need to charge.
There are a host of other things I could say to a beginning photographer, but those are my top five. What questions do you have? What would you do if you were just starting out? I'd love to answer more in the future!