Well what started as a little idea blew up into a great adventure of tossed emails, Facebook messages and even a Skype session stretching 4 time zones.
Each conversation gleaned some fantastic information and perspective from these visual artists that will hopefully give some of you insight and a more prepared head start if you are interested in the photography business.
Please take a look at these artists sites if you haven't already, they are a cornucopia of talent and information.
You have been warned.
Let's start with our first question:
Not spending enough time playing; I’ve learned you have to take risks; try things that may not work, try things that shouldn’t work.
In my opinion, the biggest mistake is advertising yourself as a professional and then charging prices so low just to beat out other photographer's whom you know have been doing this for way longer and are more advanced then yourself. I myself never proclaim to be a professional, and I always state that there is much more for me to learn and strive to accomplish.
Comparing themselves to others. The "I want to be as good as him" or "Why can't I get my shots to look like hers" are what holds new photographers back. While it may help to emulate someone else's style, especially if the style is popular... It doesn't help you grow as a photographer and eventually you'll come to a plateau. Each photographer is different, with their own unique vision, but a lot of times we get too wrapped up in our idols.
From what I have observed and seen, the biggest mistake that can be made as a photographer beginning in the industry is to assume you are at the same level of photographers who have been shooting for many years. The honest truth is that your not! Regardless of your background, it is going to take time and patience to form a name for yourself.
The biggest issue I am seeing with today's photographers who are just starting out is they don't know how to take a photo. Anyone can simply pick up a camera, say smile and push a button, but most of the time they don't know what goes into the shot. They are not taking responsibility for 100% of the photo. Being a photographer isn't just owning a fancy camera and some lenses, its understanding the mechanisms that go into it, problem solving for last minute issues and capturing exactly what you see in your mind. If it's not exactly how you envisioned it - it's a shitty photo.
New photographers should be assisting and helping other photographers. Learning from them before they even think of calling themselves a photographer.
Two things: they underestimate how much work it is going to be... and they think it is all about photography. The function of building a business is (from) a fundamentally different muscle group than the function of taking a picture. There’s tonnes of great examples of people documenting this. I talk about this in my books, but you know The E-Myth by Michael Gerber... if they haven’t read that – they just have to, it’s standard, they have to think entrepreneurally about what they’re up to.
Biggest mistake: thinking that after they graduate people will call them and just pay them to take photographs of them. The next biggest mistake is setting pricing according to where they think their work 'ranks' among the competition.
Simple; develop a reputation for being trustworthy, sincere, and dependable. I honestly believe you can’t take a great photograph of someone unless they have trust in you and your abilities, and you put them at ease so they’re not afraid to be real. For me, those are the most important things.
Never stop learning; never mistreat your client (not only because it is not polite but also because word-of-mouth is a huge way for people to learn about your work); and mind your business (do not interfere with drama going on between other photographers/models/designers etc.)
Second, if you're doing it to make money... make sure the end result is what the customer wants. Just because you think something is artistic, doesn't mean the client will. Just because you think something is tacky, doesn't mean the client will.
Third... progress. Never stay still. Never be complacent. Always learn and always move forward.
My first and foremost top priority is to deliver quality images that represent myself as a photographer and a person. Never give anything less then what your happy with, even if it means cutting out a couple of images. Quality over quantity!
Secondly, ALWAYS continue learning. You can do so by simply taking photographs and learning something from every photo set you do. Or reading books and/or taking classes to help develop and build your skills.
Lastly, have pride in your work and never settle for less then what you deserve.
3) Hire an accountant. You're a photographer; not an accountant.
I’d get clear on the mark I want to make, so kind of what's your vision for your business? For example, I was in a conversation with a photographer I'm trying to help out right now, who in really broad strokes likes photography, likes events, likes corporate. But he's just very general in his perspective and as a result he's invisible; no one knows who he is and he's really good. What's required is for him to get clear on the mark he wants to make, and once he gets clear on that he can execute it.
Until you're clear on where you want to go, you're not going to get there. So the first thing is to know where you're going, the second thing is to know where you're at and the third thing is realize how much work it is going to be to go from A to B. You have to commit and focus everything you have. You have to work your ass off.
A vision for exactly what they want to be. i.e. wedding, commercial, etc. - it doesn't matter what it is, but they need to be self-aware of who they are and what kind of photographer they will be.
Methods and policies. Set them, create them. Automate anything you do more than once. Automated email, client booking files, edits, photoshop, etc. It makes expansion easier when there are simple and defined steps of how things are done in your business. The only creative part is shooting. The rest is business related. Automate it as much as possible.
1. Know your craft, and your camera. Gain experience, go to seminars, get together with other photographers, and ask questions. Back in the 1990’s I used to talk with an awesome local photographer whom I admired, and he was always giving me advice on how I could improve. I still talk with him from time to time, he is always a source of inspiration for me and others in my area.
2. Keep good business records like receipts, purchases etc. Your accountant will love you, and you will know the cost of running your business.
I think the biggest stress is just making sure that you’re always pushing yourself to work harder and better; always wondering if you’re pushing yourself in the right direction.
The way I handle the stress is to know what I can and can not handle. Never over-promise yourself to your client and you can normally always exceed their expectations that way. I also try to take a few breaks a year where I will not shoot anything but personal photos or what I love to shoot for a few weeks, be it nature, animals, etc. Just shoot for myself, for fun, to remind me why I got into photography and why I love it so much.
Just relax and take it one step at a time. With anything, stressing about things only makes things worse. Be disciplined in your work, but don't hold on too tightly.
Remind yourself why you started photography to begin with. Was it to photograph the general public and do portraits or boudoir? Were you interested in Fashion and Beauty Portraiture? Artistic nude? If your not doing the type of photography that you love, then there is a better chance that you WILL be stressed out. I sometimes get frustrated, or upset or drive myself crazy with photography but that stems from my love for my craft and my perfectionism and drive to create images that are beautiful and reflect my name correctly. It’s the best kind of stress!
Brian & Karen:
Separate work from home. Buy a point and shoot and take photos with it for family and memories. Never lug all your gear around for fun stuff, because then you will feel like you are working.
Well what if the stress wasn’t stress, I'd reframe the context. I feel stress all the time; I'm a father of four; I'm married; rent is expensive; Christmas just came and went; how am I going to pay the bills next month? – those are realities for everybody.
In the stresses I have to ask myself the question,”What is the most resourceful way to tell myself the story about my life?”
Let me give you an example.
So I'm three years old, my dad dies in a car wreck and I could tell a lot of stories about how I'm a victim, and how I never had a dad and how I got betrayed by God - that's one story. Or I can say,”That's not very resourceful, what's another story I could tell myself that would be as resourceful or more resourceful than that?” like,"What if this was all a big set up for me to become a certain kind of person that would set a great example for my son to have a great life or my daughters to have a great life?" I would say the second story is more resourceful than the first story.
So when you find you're telling yourself a story about how stressed you are – stop it, and tell yourself a better story. What stresses you, is making up meaning about the circumstances that you can't control.
My friend Amit Gupta, who runs Photojojo, has leukemia. He could tell himself a story about how awful life is for him right now - he's waiting for a bone marrow transplant, he's trying to live – or he could tell himself another story, like,"Hey, I could rally the whole world, because I have a massive reach and influence, for people to start swabbing their cheeks so that people(needing marrow transplants) could begin finding matched donors and possibly a match for me...", so instead what he's done is leverage the moment and tens of thousands of people have swabbed their cheeks ... that means thousands of lives will get saved - even if it's not his. I would think that is a more resourceful approach to dealing with stressful moments. It is always bigger than yourself if you let it be.
When you run your own business, there is always going to be stress on some level. I'm in no place to be giving my expertise on that. It goes back to knowing what you are. If you're shooting what you love and setting and surpassing your goals...it's all good. No stress.
Be super organized and never procrastinate with what needs to be done, always have things done before they need to be done. Map out a plan of attack, create a workflow and stick to it, from the first contact with your clients until delivery of the final product. It will make life a lot less stressful. It does for me anyways!!
4. How do you know what to charge for work?
*twitch* - That’s always a difficult question to answer. I try to calculate a rate that potentially covers all related expenses around the shoot, and a few extra dollars I can reinvest into my work. Larger commercial shoots are always a bit more complicated to price, but honestly it is part calculation - part negotiation - and part guesswork.
This is probably the hardest question to answer because you do not want to overcharge for work that you are still learning, and you do not want to purposely undercut other photographers in the business. I did a lot of research when it came to my own prices; I put a price on my time, work and product and added it all together. Then I compared it with other photographers work in the city that I thought my quality of work was parallel with just to ensure that I wasn't undercutting them or way overpricing myself.
Check what other people are charging for your skill level, and be HONEST. Realistically, no matter what you set your prices to, someone will tell you they're too low and someone will tell you they're too high. Just remember when taking advice from other photographers - that this IS business. They may not have your best intentions in mind - no matter how good the advice may sound.
Honestly, if your just starting out with photography or DO NOT have the skills yet to take photographs to suit your clients needs, it is best to NOT charge than insult the professional photographers who are trying to make a living. Once you feel your skills are good enough to charge your clients you need to weigh the costs of your gear, living and overall time with the client to determine what your rates should be.
Ask. Ask your peers and other professionals. Don't just toss numbers out there. Also you need to find out what it costs you personally for every hour you work. Decide how many hours you want to work a year, after a bit of math you will figure out what your minimum cost is, then add profit. It's not simple - but it's far from impossible.
Thankfully my partner is an artist as well, so he is pretty accepting of the long hours; especially the nearly non-stop post-production work sitting in front of the computer.
Over the past few years I’ve tried to keep a limit to the number of shoots I have booked for any day, week, or month. I’ve found that if I have too much work in front of me, I have to fight the urge to rush through the editing; rushing things never benefits anyone.
Honestly, I don't. My home life is pretty much my photography life. It's the love of my life, for better or for worse.
I shoot away from home a lot, especially over the winter so we make time to travel together and take time away from it all. Marse (my wife) gets away with the girls from time to time as well so we always make sure we are having fun.
Man that's a long answer. Sorry.
I had the honor once of meeting a well known film photographer in my town who came to our photography club once; a very inspirational man. He mentioned to us that because he was usually booked on weekends for most of his career, he missed a lot of important milestones in his children’s lives. He was so busy with clients and their weddings, portrait sessions, etc, he hadn’t made time for his own family. Those are things he could never get back.
Family comes first in my book. I refuse to miss the important things in my family’s life. Make sure to always take time for yourself, be it weekends off, birthdays, Christmas. Make memories for your family!
Otherwise, I’d say start taking more risks more often, and start working with other talented people to push each harder to put out the best work possible.
Take business classes and hire and accountant.
It's pretty simple. Put in the time and you will be successful. If you don't think your work is good enough to be at such and such a price, get a part time job and get better at photography. Get 'that good'. Shoot for free until you are 'that good'. If you keep comparing your work and prices to someone else and don't feel you measure up...get 'that fucking good'. Don't bring the market down with your shitty photography. Get better. It's not instant; but it's not impossible. It takes time and investment in yourself.