A few weeks ago I had another mommy on Instagram ask how I got started with my photography business- which made me reflect on where I have come from in my business & where I would like to go. My love of photography began at a young age. One of the best birthday gifts ever given to me was an old film camera. I believe I was 11ish. It was so exciting. For the most part I just snapped away without ever really knowing much of anything. Dropping it off at Thriftys to be developed. In high school I had a wonderful teacher- Mrs. Ball. She was amazing and back in 2003 we still learned on film. We learned how to process our images as well as composition “rules” to follow. My mother still has all of my prints from her class. Film is so much different than digital. You carefully had to plan your shot- meter your light. Concentrate on exposure. Learning on film trains your mind to think about each shot differently. Film is expensive – and sending it to a lab is not cheap! In college I was told “get a real degree!” So I listened. I got a degree in Psychology and put art school on the back burner. My then boyfriend (now husband) bought me my first “nice” camera. It was a Nikon. For years I struggled through manual mode. I am not a tech person by any means- the camera really intimidated me. So I snapped snapped snapped away. One would be perfectly exposed. Then under exposed. Then BLACK, WHITE, PERFECT. The learning curve was huge. Meanwhile I graduated college with that “Oh So Important” degree (you know…the one I have never used) and right about the time the economy crashed. I worked in the wedding industry immediately after college as an event designer. I loved it. It was creative, exciting and always a challenge. I would bring my Nikon along and snap shots here & there. Sometimes I would even ask the photographer for a shot that would come to mind. Every now and again- I would shoot an engagement session for a client in a hurry to get out their save the dates. At my very own brothers wedding on of my favorite vendors & fellow wedding cinematographer told me “Halleigh- what are you waiting for- just pick up a camera already” She had been watching for years me asking photographers for “the shot.” I went home and thought long & hard about it. Could I really do it? So much fear was in my way- I was just doing this for fun! Around the same time a photographer who is insanely talented & I admire so much – Samuel Lippke (the handsome devil happens to be a friend) was selling of his old Canon bodies on Facebook. It felt like the cosmos sending a message. I didn’t believe in myself enough to buy his camera in that moment but shortly after I got the courage to at least ditch my Nikon & pick up a MarkII full frame. I started with just one lens- a 24-70mm 2.8L. Something wonderful happened for me almost instantly- everything I had been struggling with my Nikon (metering, exposure, custom white balance) just POOF like that went away. Shooting with my MarkII was effortless & easy. I tell everyone it is about 110% more user friendly- but hey I can barely use an iPhone. The famous triangle of exposure that Mrs. Ball has taught me- just clicked. I made a logo about a month or so later and then was up & running. At first to build my portfolio -I put out a model call on social media. I shot everything & anyone- engagements, maternity, babies, seniors, families & even food. If you where brave enough to get in-front of my camera – I was happy to work for free. I considered myself a hobbiest for the longest time. In reality – I jumped into with both feet – too fast- without really knowing where to start or how to be successful. Now 5 years later I am ready to share with you 5 things I wish I would have known from the very start.
NOW & THEN
*Shot on MarkII 50mm at 1.8 | ISO 100 | 1/150 |
Meet Andrea & Michael. My very first “real” engagement clients ever. I met them in Austin after reaching out to a local wedding planner who was in the area. I was traveling there for a few days and wanted to get an engagement session in while in a new city. Just by emailing an event planner I had never met – I was able to meet this beautiful couple. The left side has been re-edited to match my current style. The right side is the image I delivered to the client (Holy Hell. Yep I cursed. So embarrassed – but we all start somewhere.)
What I wish I would have known
- Brand yourself for success. Start with a great foundation. From you logo to your social media – BE CONSISTENT. Have a clear and defined voice that you want to portray to your ideal client. Who do you what to attract? Who is your ideal client? How old are they? What are they into? What do they value. I will give you a hint – its not “rich” clients. Most of my most loyal clients are not “wealthy” but they value the work I do. Clearly define your brand before you launch. Choose 3-5 words that really describe your work & aim to represent that graphically. It took me years of rebranding and jumping on every logo band wagon. Don’t follow the hot trend right now but something that is true to your brand. You don’t have to hire anyone to achieve this but if you have a graphic artist you admire – save the funds and take the plunge. You won’t regret it. Two of my favs : River & Bridge | Red Met Yellow
- Treat yourself like your own employee. Say WHAT? Thats right – owning your own business means you wear all the hats but you have to treat yourself like you actually work for an establishment – even if your doing 95% of it with dirty hair – yoga pants & no makeup on. Set business hours & stick to them. Reply to emails during that time. Cull, edit & market during those hours. If you don’t you will burn the candle at both ends and burn out quickly. When you work from home it is easy to neglect the time that you need to be present in your personal life when work consumes you. Clock in. Clock out. Set deadlines. Track workflow progress. This is something that baby number two has taught me. I had to really delegate my time wisely and when I finally did my business started to flourish and I was happier with my business. To help me keep my business on track I purchased this Studio Manager and its the best $80 I have ever spent.
- Pick a niche. When your starting out its not easy to know what kind of photographer you want to be- but as soon as you get an inkling stick to it. Although I shoot families & newborns – my real passion is weddings. I market to weddings. If you visit my website – its geared for weddings. This is still a struggle in my own business but its because for too long I was a jack of all trades never saying no. Also I have bounced back and forth in-between pregnancies – Go figure no one wants a 9 month pregnant wedding photog. I get it. Its hard to say no. I once took a branding workshop and she suggested setting up separate websites for your different types of photography. If this works for you great. I know focus solely on weddings & portraiture. I have never separately branded my portrait work. Someday maybe. For now this is the pot calling the kettle black. Its my goal however to really focus on what I want to attract. Do as I say and not as I do.
- Get out of your box. After you have shot for your friends & family. You will start to shoot for friends of friends. But then what? Who’s next. How do you reach those dream clients? Its not going to happen by hiding behind a screen(or camera) or paying to advertise on Facebook. Social network growth is great but whats even better. Meeting people in real life. Join a local network. Take a class. Where would your dream clients be? Where do they hang? Are they into pilates? Are they taking cooking classes? Take a class. Where do they shop? Meet new people. If I see a waitress with a bright sparkley ring- I congratulate them and then tell them I am wedding photographer. I leave a card with my signed receipt. You never know who you next client will be when you get past the fear of leaving your box. Be shameless and fearless. Do you dream of being a baby photographer- take your OB a stack of cards? Visit your local maternity boutique. Network with other local photographers. Learning how to network early will set you up early & becomes a great marketing tool.
- Charge more money. Oh wait- your just starting out? You don’t think your that good. – Oh… I get it… your not as good as so and so. STAWP. I have heard it all. If your thinking about opening a business- that means you have to be making more money than a hobby. So the answer is- you ARE good ENOUGH. Photography is a flooded market. EVERYONE & their uncle is a photographer- but let me tell you- The ones charging $75 dollars for 1 hour shoot and giving them 300 photos- they won’t be in business in 1 year let alone 5. They are busy because they are cheap- which does not mean they don’t have talent but they are damaging everyone else in the their market. They also will suffer from burn out and eventually not able to pay the bills. Figure out your cost of doing business & how much your value your time. Not just that hour photoshoot but the hours that go into culling & editing. There will always be a cheaper photographer out there- and when you have a client reminds you of that fact- just remember “THATS NOT YOUR CLIENT“- repeat it. Believe it. YOUR clients will value your work. Your time. Your craft. Showcase 30-40 beautiful images from an hour shoot. Sell those images- don’t just give them 175 images to die in jpg hell. Produce quality over quantity. Encourage your clients to purchase the real the tangible. We live in a digital age- everyone thinkks all they want are digital files but let me tell you- not one client has ever regretted that 20×30 canvas print or that beautiful 12×15 wedding album. As photographers we are charged with stoping the clock- not just for likes on Facebook but for when our clients are old & grey- and memories of their beautiful wedding days or even sweet newborn babies have faded away. Charge your worth right out the gate and offer your clients tangible products. Even if this is your very first year- or your just doing it for fun- charge for your time & only deliver your very best. Not sure what to charge or where to start? Research your market- decide what your commission is worth (time & talent) and go ahead and start below that market average- and then promise me every 3 weddings raise your prices. Every 5 families raise your prices. Not by much but just enough to know that at the end of your freshman year in business you will be closer to your markets industry average. This will sustain not only your business but your passion that you had when you very first started.
There you have it. The five things I wish I would have known. Let me know what you think if I left anything out. This post has insipired me to write my next business related post: 3 mistakes new photographers make. If this has sparked any questions you might have I am also to happy to answer any questions you may have: firstname.lastname@example.org