Abby, I have been following you on Instagram and love your photography. I would really like to pursue photography as my career as well because I LOVE taking pictures. Can you tell me what you did to start out and build a business?
I love that at least on a weekly basis someone asks me some form of advice or tips about photography because that means that their is passion out there. Passion to want to learn this wonderful field of photography that I dove head first into so many years ago. I remember being eighteen with my first DSLR which was a Canon EOS Rebel XTi camera with it’s kit lens the 18-55 mm feeling like I could so do this. I wanted to get out there and photograph families loving on each other and couples dancing in the middle of the street… all that beautiful imagery that I would see others do. I didn’t have a teacher or mentor at the time so I walked the aisles of Barnes and Noble searching for Photoshop training books, manual shooting handbooks and any form of training I could find on Youtube. Every one that allowed me to shoot them for free, I shot. I did this for quite a while by just randomly asking a mom I knew if it was okay for me to photograph their family so I can work on my craft and build a portfolio. Some of them said no but most of them said yes and those were my first “official shoots”. Looking back on those images now, they are absolutely horrible. So many misses and maybe one or two hits. But it was just me and my little rebel and I wasn’t giving up.
After a couple handful of these practice shoots I decided I needed a website to ‘showcase my work’. Back then, we were in the early stages of blogging, so I opened a blogspot account and started posting images from each of my sessions. I emailed my cousin who at the time was a web designer for a firm in Tallahassee about helping me create a logo. He was very skeptical and quite honestly didn’t know how to shoo me away and tell me that I was no good so he worked something up for me. I had a logo and a website and I was well on my way of making this a legit thing, or so I thought.
I then talked to a local photographer, one that presumed to “help” me, about what other lens I can invest to start building a kit. I had a few written down on list, all Canons, and he told me that because I was such a beginner I shouldn’t spend so much money on a professional lens. He then referred me to some he thought would best suite me. Being the novice I was, I followed right along his view, I shouldn’t buy a nice lens now. I will just get one of these for a fraction of the cost to practice my art. Big mistake, simply because that person didn’t believe in me and never thought I would grow so they viewed my dreams as a waste of money. Almost like they were saying, “Hey why would you spend $500 when you can easily buy this knock off for $200.” Those lenses are still sitting in my case never to be used because they were just that a waste of money. So as a caution flag, don’t follow people that try to bring you down. We were all beginners once and although I know no one is giving every single secret they have ever learned for free, there are people out there genuinely interested in helping you in a positive way. That photographer that “tried” to help me in my book isn’t even a real photographer now when I come to think of it. He didn’t believe in me and instead of not saying anything at all he sent me down a wrong path; I should of known better. But there are positive influences out there. Go down the rabbit hole of google and find inspiration and photographers that are really passionate about teaching and offering tid bits that will help you.
In 2009 I shot about 100 sessions, some on my own, some as a second shooter for local photographers, but overall I practiced. I purchased my first real camera, Canon 5D Mark II. Along with an array of lenses I still have now. Every dollar I made during a session was invested back into my business. I was able to do so because at the time I was working a full-time job at a hospital downtown. My work place allowed me to reach out to my co-workers and visitors about my on-the-side photography fling simply by showcasing those pictures on my desk. It was easy marketing.
Those first sessions I shot I didn’t know what to charge or what packages to offer, so I wouldn’t be the greatest as to giving advice in that area. If I made $50 as a tip for a free shoot I was happy. Little by little I started pricing my services according to the demand I was having. I also joined a network of photographers on Facebook and they helped me tons as to what I should charge. Still to this day, I am so thankful to those folks for being a friendly face and taking me in their group. Teaching me tricks of the trade and sharing a cup of coffee with me while we each edited our sessions.
So what can I advise a new photographer or maybe you wouldn’t even consider yourself a photographer yet and more of an enthusiast? Practice. Shoot with whatever equipment you have in hand right now. Even if that means you are and iphone-tographer. The image below was taken with that rebel with the kit lens on auto. Yes, sometimes having fancy equipment lucks out a great shot. But if I were to show you the full session you would pretty much close your eyes. A great camera isn’t going to work itself.
Whenever you are not getting yourself into debt for it, upgrade your camera. Start building a kit with your lenses little by little. I’d say, don’t buy a new lens until you have learned the ins and outs of the one you currently have. Learn how to shoot 100% of the time on manual on your camera by watching Youtube videos, investing in another photographer’s beginners workshop or reading books. Then go out there and practice on any willing subject. Even if that just happens to be your dog. 🙂 No one is born knowing the technical and artsy side of photography. It’s a craft you perfect with practice. The more you practice and evolve, the quicker you will improve.
I would get into the business aspect of photography but that’s a monster on its own. We will save that for another post. So as a recap these are my top five tips for those of you who are starting to dip your feet into the photography world:
- Practice with whatever equipment you have now. Go out there and shoot anything that inspires you to shoot more.
- Save to upgrade your camera.
- Don’t be afraid to reach out to others. Whether it’s a really charming couple you would like to shoot or another professional you would like to collaborate with. The worst thing that could happen is that they say no, and well you get to move along to your next idea.
- Curate what you share. This is something I have learned to do myself throughout the years. Meaning you don’t have to share every image you take. Share only the stuff you are really proud of.
- Have fun. So many professionals quit half way through their journey because they find no joy in it anymore. This is a tough market because we are over-saturated in every city or town with photographers. Don’t let that bring you down. There is room for you too. You will bring something special to the market, which is your take, your story and your voice. How you choose to express it that’s all up to you.
If you would like a peek into my camera bag, you can click here and check out the full list of things I use. I am constantly trying out new things and will updating it with the seasons. But don’t be fooled, you can still take a great picture with WHATEVER equipment you have. The market will try to sway you into spending money ALWAYS. Already there is a new release of a Canon Mark IV and guess who thinks she wants it… this girl.
If you would like to see more of these kind of posts, comment below! I would love to inspire you and help you along in your journey. There is so much to share as far as experiences and learning and by all means I truly value the sentiment of community over competition, so don’t be afraid to ask. Have a great weekend!