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Starting a photography business: FAQ

I am always humbled when I get emails from novice photographers with questions regarding photography & business. I have recently been receiving quite a few so I decided to write my very first FAQ. I will try to keep it brief & basic because if you’re somewhat ADD like me that’s crucial, that is unless I already lost ya! Anywho,  I definitely am still learning & in no way consider myself an expert in either field but I do have 3 years of experience under my belt…okay so maybe that’s not an impressive number quite yet. BUT I have learned the majority of what I know from other gracious, talented photographers & trial and error.  I run my business with the mentality that the more I help others the better I will become. I don’t have any “secrets” when it comes to starting a successful business  & try to be as candid and open as possible.  If you’ve sat down to talk with me about my biz, adoption, or anything else you know that I am very passionate about what I do & I’m pretty much an open book.  In my opinion the second you start worrying about others entering your business, “stealing” your clientele, discovering your coveted shooting location, stepping on your toes or God forbid become better than you, you will miss opportunities to grow & connect with others. I always tell people I love my job. It is true, I feel like I have a job that fits my personality & life style perfectly. So why wouldn’t I want others to experience that? Why wouldn’t I want others to pursue something they are naturally passionate about?  When I was in college and started playing around with the “silly” idea of starting a photography business I didn’t own a decent camera, I didn’t know any photographers personally & I definitely knew nothing about starting a business. One of the first things I did was reach out to local photographers who I respected. I was pretty bummed when only 1 got back to me, 1 out of 7 who I emailed took the time to write me back & then later meet with me over coffee to answer my questions. The ironic thing is she is what seems to be the most successful & busy out of all those photogs I contacted. She was the one that I wanted to model my biz after most. So yes, I was bummed the others blew me off but I took advantage of Kacey’s willingness to be honest with me & share a little bit about what she knew. I will forever be grateful for her! She is still one of my fav photographers, check her out here! I am failing miserably at keeping this brief, sorry. Below are answers to some of the questions I get most. Remember, this is just my opinion for whatever it’s worth:)

When you first started your business what did you charge, what types of photography did you do & how did you build your portfolio? When I initially decided I wanted to start shooting in hopes of starting a business I invested in my first DSLR, a Canon 50D & I used the kit lens, 18-200 mm. With that I began shooting. Seriously, I shot anything & everything that had a pulse or didn’t for that matter. I shot people, animals, buildings, trash, rocks, EVERYTHING people. My poor husband, he was my reluctant subject during that first year. I didn’t charge anything at first because I wasn’t worth anything. I was learning & so thankful for anyone who would let me shoot them. I contacted anyone & everyone who I thought would want pictures. When I heard someone got engaged I was the first to contact them asking to take their pics for free. I was building my portfolio & learning so frankly they were helping me out a ton! I didn’t charge anything for about the first 6 months. Once I had built a decent portfolio, created a website & had some time behind the camera under my belt I started charging. I think I began at $150 for senior & family sessions. I shot my first wedding at about 9 months in and charged $600 for the first 3 weddings I booked. I was floored these couples were willing to be my first wedding clients!!! To say I was nervous about the huge responsibility is an understatement. I remember driving to my first wedding like it was yesterday. I was nauseous the entire drive, what was I thinking!? I wasn’t sure I had shot enough to take this leap but I did and here I was on my way to go document the most important day in this couple’s life! The wedding went great, I learned a lot & the couple still loves their wedding images. What a blessing they were to me for believing in me from the start. I love you, J & R;) From then on I raised my prices gradually as I got busier. I didn’t make a huge jump I just gradually increased them by $50 for portrait sessions & $200 for weddings. Once I had about 5 booking at a current price I bumped them. I see photographers charging when they first start out & wonder why their businesses aren’t picking up. In this industry it’s all about referrals. It’s simple, the more people you get in front of your camera the more people you have who know who you are. Play it safe & don’t let your pride get in the way in that first year. You want potential clients to think you’re worth their hard earned $$$, once you’re having a hard time keeping up with bookings than you’ll know it’s time:) This will look different for everyone depending on how much time you have initially to shoot. I was a broke newlywed & we needed this thing to succeed so I shot almost everyday for several months. Looking back that is the best business move I made.

How do you pose your clients & get them to feel comfortable in front of the camera? To give a brief answer I talk with them from the second they arrive & get to know them. When people are talking about themselves they tend to relax and feel more at ease with you. I would practice posing in the mirror at home to see what looked good also. I know it sounds silly but it works! I also looked at other photographer’s work to see what poses looked most natural. I have my favorite poses I do at every session but I always like to try new ones too. Sometimes they look amazing, other times they look awkward. Not because of my clients but because of my inability to direct them properly. This is also something that gets easier with time & practice.

Are there any books or websites you recommend for beginners?  Yes & no. Yes, check out Jasmine Star, Melissa Jill & Stephanie Fay. These ladies are my favorite wedding photographers and they are known to give great information regarding photography. As for books, I have to admit I am not a reader. Don’t judge me. I just prefer to search the web for great talent & advice. When I first started out I got a humungous book on photoshop. It intimidated the crap out of me so I never really opened it…it sure looks nice in my office though;) I’m sure there are helpful books I just haven’t read any.

What equipment do you use? I currently shoot with a Canon 5D. All my lenses are Canon also, my favs currently being my 50mm 1.2, 24-70mm 2.8 & 70-200mm 4.0 (even though I only use this guy for weddings). My baby of all is the 50mm 1.2. I started with the 50 1.8 which is super cheap & ever since fell in love with the way prime lenses shoot. My advice before buying a lens though would be to rent it first. I use the Canon 580EX for my flashes & have been happy with them. I have other lenses but those I listed are the goodies:)

What do you use to edit? I primarily use Lightroom & Photoshop (CS4). I do all my pre edits in Lightroom & detail edits and batch editing in Photoshop.  Both take a little time to get familiar with. Be patient with yourself as you learn. It’s impossible to learn them over night. Heck, I am still learning how to operate them fully. Google became my BFF when I was learning how to use these beasts.

What is the best time of day to shoot? Most natural light photographers will tell you the hour after sunrise or the hour before sunset. Since I am not a morning person I almost always shoot in the evenings. I start my sessions about an hour & a half before sunset. During weddings you don’t usually get the luxury of shooting at the perfect lighting times so it’s important to practice shooting in full sun situations…especially if you live in Arizona like me! Knowing how to shoot in all lighting situations is important in becoming an adaptable photographer. Again, practice, practice, practice.

How do you find good locations to shoot at? I sometimes drive around to find locations & other times I ask other photographers where they shoot. If I see a location I like, I email them. Most of the time they will let you know. I always let people know when they ask.

Is photography your main job or do you do something else? Yep, it is! Thankfully I am able to pursue photography as my second most important job. The first being a mommy, of course!

Why do you shoot just weddings & engagements? I decided over a year ago that it was time to reevaluate my business. To be honest I was starting to get burnt out! I was at the time shooting every type of portrait session. Although, I loved the diversity of photographing so many different things I was starting to regress in my creativity & passion for it. So, over a glass of wine one night with the hubs he asked what I love shooting most and it took me about a minute to answer “Weddings!” From that point on I started only booking new client’s weddings & engagements. I still do family, senior & newborn sessions for my couples and previous clients but I no longer shoot new ones. I refer them to a few of my fabulous photographer friends:) Since making the shift to wedding photography I have found myself becoming better in that area & overall able to manage my career more effectively.

Phew. All done. If you have any other questions please email them to me & I will do my best to answer them. Have a fabulous Wednesday!!

Alex White - October 10, 2012 - 4:12 pm

Hi my name is Alex White. My dad Jim White coached your husband John at Seattle Christian. I am a senior at Gilbert Christian this year and wanted to talk to you about doing my senior pictures :)

Ashley Brown - December 31, 2013 - 9:28 pm

Hello there!
Thank you for such an insightful article! I wanted to ask- for your 70-200mm, would you recommend getting the 2.8 over the 4.0 for weddings? Or do you prefer the 4.0? Also, when you first started photographing weddings, what types of flash equipment did you use?
Thank you so much!
Ashley

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