Editor’s Note: All images taken by the author.
I’ve been shooting for a long time but it was only recently that I made the jump from doing this for fun to doing this for work. The transition went far more smoothly than I expected — mostly because I’ve gotten a lot of really good advice from some really smart people. If you’re wondering how to make photography a business — not just a hobby — I know what you’re going through. I was there too… and it wasn’t all that long ago.
I’m far from an expert on any of this stuff but I’ve learned some things along the way — and I wanted to share them with all of you. I’m not trying to sell you anything — this post doesn’t include a sales pitch or affiliate link. I’m just sharing the love because I’m 100% on the “community over competition” train.
So with all that in mind, here is my best advice for new photographers:
Don’t be afraid to invest in your business.
Yes, I own a lot of bikes and camera gear but the reality is that I’m pretty freaking thrifty. I have a hard time parting with my money but pretty early on in this adventure I realized that if I wanted to be successful, it was going to cost me. Especially early on. I’ve enrolled in workshops (more on that later), upgraded equipment, paid for software, ordered samples, bought presets, and done all the boring things necessary for starting a business (hello liability insurance, registering an LLC, etc.)*. I’m not telling you to start throwing money around wildly (please don’t do that) but I am saying that you’re going to have to be OK with spending some cash.
*As a side note, if you’re wondering why photography is so expensive, this is why.
Don’t be afraid to invest in yourself.
Shortly after I started taking this thing super seriously, a spot opened up in a popular, sold-out workshop. It was expensive and on the other side of the country. I sucked it up and registered anyway. It felt indulgent at the time but I am SO glad I did it. Yes, I learned a ton (OMG did I learn a ton!). It was a commitment of time, money, and energy, and once I had made it, I felt like there was no going back. I was all in. I’m hoping to make this an annual thing (I’m dusting off my passport for next year’s workshop!). I’ve also spent money on online classes, local workshops, and shootouts and I’ve never regretted any of it. You are not throwing money away. You are investing in yourself.
Find your tribe.
I was going to title this “network” but, to be honest, it never really feels like networking to me. I’m an introvert (a very outgoing one, but an introvert nonetheless) and everything about “networking” kind of gives me hives. I initially found my tribe online (which was perfect for a quasi-hermit). I joined photography groups on Facebook, which led to other photography groups on Facebook. I learned stuff. I met people. I got clients. I got inspired. And oh yeah, I also made friends. Having people to go to for advice, critiques, and inspiration? It’s been invaluable. This leap would have been a lot slower and harder without getting help along the way.
Find your niche.
Look you guys, there are a lot of freaking photographers out there — and a lot of them are very good. It’s competitive. You don’t want to compete on the quality of your photos alone (not because you’re not good but because A LOT of people are good) and you don’t want to compete only on price (the race to the bottom is one you don’t want to win) . You need to find what you’re good at and what you love and then foster the hell out of it. For me, I love photographing authentic connections between fun, adventurous people in the outdoors – and that is what all of my efforts are geared towards. And while you’re finding your niche? Make sure it’s authentic. Because clients are smart and can see right through it when it’s not. Be you – even if “you” is someone who is pretty informal, is obsessed with dogs, and really loves “that’s what she said” jokes. (Hi, I’m Jen. Have we met?) Your clients will appreciate who you are and the ones who don’t are not your clients.
Shoot with other photographers.
I don’t think this can be said enough. SHOOT WITH OTHER PHOTOGRAPHERS. Do it at workshops. Second shoot at weddings. Sign up for shootouts. Meet up with randos you met online and go take pictures of each other. Shooting with other people was super intimidating for me at first. To be honest, I was sort of terrified. But now I realize the value in it and I do it every chance I get. You will learn SO MUCH about how to shoot, how to pose, and how to connect with your clients. You will learn how you like to shoot … and how you don’t. And all of it will be helpful.
Be prepared to work your ass off.
I used to have a regular 9-5 job. I sat at my desk, put in my hours, and at the end of the day I’d go home and not work again until I went back in the next morning. That’s not the case anymore. If you follow me on social media you see that I spend a lot of time outside during normal “working” hours — hiking, mountain biking, hanging out with my kid and my dogs — but don’t let that fool you. I work way harder now than I ever did before — I just do it at different times of the day, on different days of the week, and on my own schedule. I heard someone say that you have to work 16 hours for yourself for every 8 hours you worked for someone else. It’s true — and it takes a boatload of discipline. But don’t let that scare you because it’s also super satisfying.
Be good at being uncomfortable.
You guys, I was so anxious before my first paid shoot. The day leading up to it was pretty much ruled by fear and anxiety. I was scared. And while the nerves have subsided a good amount, they are still there. If you get nervous before a shoot I’m here to tell you that you’re not alone. I still get nervous (although much less so now) every single time. And ya know what? I’m OK with that, mostly because I believe the nerves actually help. They keep you on your toes. They keep you constantly pushing to be better. They mean that you care. I’ve heard photographers who I look up to who have been doing this for years say that they’re still terrified every single time. Maybe it will get better. Maybe it won’t. Either way, it doesn’t really matter. So ya know what? Embrace it. Be good at being uncomfortable — learn how to deal with fear. And yes, this applies to way more than just photography.
I hope this was helpful to someone out there in internet land. What did I miss? What advice do you have? And if you’re new and trying to make the leap, tell me what your biggest struggle is. Maybe we can help. We’re all in this together, y’all. Leave your comments below!
Author pictured above.