I am fairly new to the photography world, and even newer to the business side of photography. I have been shooting for about four years, and have been self-employed as a photographer for two years. However, when being a photographer is your sole source of income without having a “day job,” you learn a lot, very quickly! Here are a few things that I have learned in the past two years that I wish I had considered before. Note: I’m sure this list will be even longer two years from now, so I’ll update you then.
1.The Equipment Situation
I think a lot of us feel inclined to go on a shopping spree when we first get started because we want to make sure we have all the right equipment for the right situations. However, this can lead to a) having a lot of unused equipment or b) having a really high credit card bill.
The best way to avoid this is to figure out what type of photography you are going to specialize in. Portraits, weddings, fine art – they all require different types of lenses and lighting setups. Do your research, and figure out what other photographers who shoot the same subjects as you are using. Also, the try-before-you-buy approach can be a life saver. There are several online companies where you can rent equipment for a reasonable price. If I am interested in a new lens, for example, I will generally rent it for a shoot to see if I like it, before committing to purchasing. Aperturent http://aperturent.com/ is a great rental company, and top-notch in customer service.
2.Tunnel Vision – Very Bad
At first, I thought I wanted to be a wedding photographer because I really wanted to pursue photography full-time, but I wasn’t considering all of the different types of photography that were also available. I was just in the “I’m self-employed now, I have to make a living no matter what!” and weddings seemed like a good market. While I enjoyed shooting weddings, I quickly found that my heart just wasn’t in it, and I think, to be a wedding photographer, you have to really, really enjoy what you’re doing. I will still photograph weddings for the people I know and love, because I have an emotional investment in them, but I think that, by trying to brand myself as only a wedding photographer in the very beginning probably caused me to miss a lot of opportunities because I was so closed-minded. So, figure out what type of photography you love, but also keep an open mind.
3. Limit Your Time on Photo Sharing Sites
This one is a two-edged sword. Browsing sites like Flickr can be a great source of inspiration, but if you spend too much time looking at other peoples’ work, you can sometimes start to emulate others too much, and lose your own style in the masses. So, gather inspiration, but don’t spend too much time browsing.
4. Put Yourself Out There
Something that my husband, Evan, (he is a photographer and designer, as well) and I have learned just this year is that it pays to approach people, show them your work, and ask them if you can photograph them. While marketing and advertising will go a long way, sometimes it is helpful to approach people you are interested in working with. Evan photographs musicians, and designs concert posters, so he is constantly approaching different musicians and bands to see if they are interested in his work. This approach has been a great thing for us, because not only do we get to work with people who interest us, they generally recommend us to people they know.
5. Don’t Be Afraid to (politely) Say No
The jobs you take are completely up to you, but please consider the idea that you don’t have to take every single job that comes your way. Yes, we all have bills to pay, but if you get overloaded with too many projects, you will burn out, trust me. There is nothing more detrimental to your work than a burn out, and if you work is suffering, so will your income.
6. Develop a Thick Skin
Finally, and this is one of the hardest lessons I’ve come to learn, but as a photographer, you may often get discouraged or have someone hurt your feelings. Our work is something that is very personal to us, so when someone doesn’t appreciate our work, or says something derogatory, it feels like a personal attack. Trust me, I am extremely sensitive, so if I can get a good grasp on this concept, so can you. Having a thick skin, but also possessing a positive attitude and supporting your fellow photographers, is a large part of staying in the game as a full-time photographer.