Jen wrote me an email asking if I have any tips for someone wanting to start out in photography, as several others have done before. Instead of letting her email rot in my inbox (sorry to all those who wrote me back in JUNE, I really want to get to your emails someday) I figured the best way to address this would be to write a post about it and then just direct people to the post whenever they ask.
I actually have plans to write a series of posts about things I’ve learned while starting my business, including the steps I’ve taken and mistakes I’ve made, but I think I’m not going to get to those for awhile, so I’ll do my best to answer Jen’s question publicly for now.
I think a lot of people don’t know that I did free sessions for months when I first started. Over a two month period I did 10 engagement sessions, 3 bridals, 1 headshot/portrait, 1 short Catholic ceremony, 1 rehearsal dinner, 1 tea ceremony, 1 newborn session, 1 bridal shower and was a guest at two weddings where the photographers let me take pictures. Every single one of these shoots was completely free for the subjects involved and I mailed them all a disc of all the images (usually about 100) once I had them processed.
It was, to put it lightly, the most extreme version of portfolio building imaginable. I didn’t make a dime from it directly, but indirectly the benefits have been huge. One of the free engagement sessions is hiring me from their wedding and I just got a call yesterday about a wedding guest who was at one of the weddings I guest-shot at and would like to interview me for a November wedding.
Overall I put in about 3 months of full-time work with no pay, which sucks. But my business has grown faster than I could have imagined and I attribute that in large part to all of those free sessions I did.
How did I get them? I advertised on the classified section of Weddingbee that I was doing free sessions and had all of those free sessions booked within just a few days. If you are wanting to find your own free sessions, first decide on your target market. If you are interested in weddings/engagement/bridals then advertise on wedding sites. If you are interested in the child/family market, go ahead and bug all of your friends. Hardly anyone is going to turn down free photos, especially of their kids.
I subscribe to many, many photography blogs. I spent a lot of time as a bride browswing photography blogs and learning to distinguish between what I thought was good photography and bad photography. I see a lot of new photographers who fall prey to “fads” that date them, and I believe it’s because they miss this crucial step of expanding their viewpoint concerning what photography is and can be. Exploring the style of different photographers can also help you better understand what direction you might like to head with your own photography.
Your name. Your colors. Your website. Your photos themselves. Your interaction with your clients. They should all speak toward the brand you are developing for yourself. If you want to grow quickly, you will start with a firm idea of what brand you want to portray, and every decision you make will further the brand you plan to develop. In my opinion, photographers with incredibly strong brands include Jasmine Star, Jose Villa, Elizabeth Messina, Justin & Mary, Max Wanger, Heather of One Love Photo, and Sarah Rhoads. There are countless books and blogs by experts and wanna-be experts on this subject if you would like to learn more.
I could go on and on, but these are the three areas I think new photographers don’t give enough thought before launching (myself included).