Settling into a highly competitive industry like professional photography can be overwhelming and daunting for new photographers due to the diversity and creative variety present. There are about fifty things I wish someone had told me before pursuing a career in photography. Allow me to share some of these with you in order to prepare and give the extra helping hand I would have wanted. These are in no particular order of importance and are aimed at people who are wanting to make a transition from amateur photography into the professional field.
No 1. Fall in love with your craft.
Your camera is your baby. Fall in love with it and treat it with care. Fall in love with photography because at the end of the day, when you do make it big and successful, the passion is what will continue to drive you. It will also separate you from others. If you’re looking for a strong client base, they can smell a fake from miles away. They want someone who they connect with and who will push themselves to give the best product – passion is key. An important note to make at this point is also your relationship with clients. Make them feel like they are the only person in the world that matters. If you make your client feel valued and important, they will remember you.
No 2. Ask for help.
It can be difficult to ask for help when you are a new player in the game as it may sometimes feel quite embarrassing to admit a lack of knowledge. Please understand that although this industry is an incredibly competitive one, we are all here to learn from each other. The world of photography is constantly evolving due to new technology being released and the standards continually climbing upwards – we all need each other as a support team. Reach out to your favourite photographers or even just photographers in your community, asking them for advice and for input on your images. Be open to constructive criticism. This is also a great way to build relationships in order to expand your clientele.
Understand that you cannot join the game and immediately be charging butt-loads of money for your work. You need to build your portfolio and your client base. You may need to begin as a second shooter for a professional photographer in order to gain experience and confidence. It takes time, be patient.
No 3. Push yourself out of your comfort zone.
Although knowing your specialty is important, it is equally as significant to continue to stretch your borders and your creative mind. Just like anything in life, when it becomes routine it becomes easier. When you start working out, you need to constantly change your routines in order to continue to have an effective outcome, otherwise your muscles become used to the monotonicity of the actions and won’t develop beyond a certain point (at least I think that’s how it works – I don’t really work out). The same is true for your creative mind, you need to be constantly looking for new techniques to test and new types of photography to experiment in simply to stretch your mind and keep becoming a better photographer, rather than just being content with being a decent one.
No 4. Invest in gear.
Gear is expensive, we know. However; your arsenal will cover a multitude of sins. Don’t buy the cheaper lens because it’s ‘what you can afford right now’. Save until you can buy the things you really want and need because if you invest in it now, chances are you are less likely to need to replace it in a years’ time. It is beneficial in the long run.
Lenses are something to spend your big money in. The camera you buy today may lose half of its value by next year, whereas lenses often keep their value for longer periods of time. Lenses are adaptable. Opt for the best as they will be in your camera bag for the long haul. Camera’s are constantly becoming greater and better and chances are that you will need to buy a new one sooner than you will need to replace a lens.
No 5. Learn how social media really works.
Social media is your best friend. Learn how to use it properly. Learn what is the best time of day for your followers to see your posts. Use the right hashtags to draw in new people. Engage with your audience, make them feel valued. At the end of the day, these are all your potential clients. View your social media presence like a sales pitch. If someone finds you on Instagram – do they just see selfies and poorly framed images or do they see your best work? Watch the data of who your target audience is so that you know how to speak to them in a way that draws them in to click on your website or contact details.
No 6. Set goals.
When starting out in photography, everything feels new and exciting. Picking up a camera is a fresh experience each time and finding inspiration is easy, your surroundings come to life. The danger is, if you simply shoot everything which you see, you can lose your brand and identity. You need to know where you want to be in ten years time with your photography so that you will be able to plan appropriately. Because this industry is so over-crowded, finding your niche and focusing on it is important. That being said, that doesn’t mean that you don’t continue to take images of anything and everything that inspires you, it simply means that it is an important lesson to learn to know how to market yourself. And one cannot market oneself unless they know what direction they want to follow.
Do you want to specialise in wedding photography? Portraiture? Street photography? Photo journalism? Commercial photography? Real Estate? What is your stomping ground, your home field, your passion? What do you really want to pursue in such an oversaturated medium?
Once you have figured out your ultimate destination – start planning your little goals. Don’t necessarily give time frames as that may cause incredible stress on you, but give yourself little milestones in order to reach the ultimate goal. Make your dream a reality.
No 7. Don’t oversell yourself but don’t undersell either.
It’s important to know your worth. You need to make sure that your price quotes have evidence to back it up. If you are new to the game – chances are you won’t be able to charge the same amount as someone who has been in the industry for twenty years. As I said before – you need to build your way up. Continually analyse your work and see where you fall in the price bracket. Also, don’t be afraid to research what others are charging.
You may think you are the best photographer in the world but unless you have the portfolio to back it up – no amount of words will make anyone believe you. Know where you stand and don’t be afraid to build your way up.
No 8. Be your own worst critic.
Analyse all of your work. After every shoot that you do, look back through your work and see what you could improve on. Take note and keep constantly delivering higher quality. Never release material which doesn’t represent your best work. If you are unhappy with a product, do your best to salvage it and try to reshoot if necessary. One bad customer rating is enough to spoil your reputation. Think about how you could make your talent more comfortable when in front of the camera, what kind of precautions you could have taken to avoid certain mistakes, all that kind of thing.
No 9. Cut yourself some slack.
This is an important note after number eight. You do need to push yourself and keep growing as a photographer but you also need to know when it’s time to stop and breathe. You did a good job. Self-affirmation is important. If you make a client happy, treat yourself to an extra slice of cake – you’ve done well.
I remember the first wedding I ever shot. I remember the experience of walking in, completely sure of myself and taking out my camera, the rest is a blur. From there on, everything moved so quickly and I was incredibly underprepared. I remember returning to the edit suite and breathing a heavy sigh of relief as I realised that there was still some salvageable images from the session. I immediately began to criticise every single image which I had taken that day and the anxiety of the product I was delivering set in. However; as soon as those images left the suite and went to the client – they were over the moon. They loved the result and recommended me to others! I was shocked. That’s just an example of where I needed to cut myself some slack. As long as you do your best and you keep pushing yourself and learning – that’s all you can really do in that moment.
I hope that was able to put some minds at ease about joining the photography game. Just don’t give up. No matter how competitive and discouraging the industry may seem at first, it begins to calm down after a while and becomes the norm. You begin to find the right people who push you along the way and develop you as a professional.
About the author:
Viivi here. You may see my name on a few posts around here. I’m a photographer currently based in Plymouth, UK. I travel with Viivi N. Media worldwide covering weddings, engagements, portraits and family shoots. Head over to our Facebook group and let’s have a chat!