My very long winded advice for new photographers..believe it or not I still could say so much more! If you have any further questions feel free to message me or comment below.
I’ve been a photographer over two years now. I am not going to pretend I know everything about photography because I don’t. I still have so much to learn and actually feel a little under qualified to write such a blog post. I just have had several photographers who are starting out asking me questions and so I figured instead of messaging them all this info every time it would be convenient for everyone to make this blog. I would love suggestions in the comments for anything I have missed or more info or just your opinion because I’m sure it may differ from mine.
This is information about those that want to get better at photography and not exactly for basic hobbyists. When I wrote this I had people in mind that wanted to turn it into a business. This is all just my opinion others may disagree so please keep that in mind!!
If you are not passionate about photography you probably shouldn’t be trying to make a business out of it obviously but I mean you have to WANT this. It is hard and takes dedication and if you aren’t thinking about it throughout the day you probably won’t turn it into a business, which is fine! But if you wake up in the morning and all you can think about is your next shoot and ideas and you can’t fall asleep because you’re so excited to photograph again, I’d say you have the passion.
2) The Camera
It’s kind of tricky to choose what camera to get when you have NO CLUE. It may seem like every photographer is talking in a different language when they are trying to tell you what they think you should buy and why. For me I picked Nikon because I’d used Nikon cameras more than Canon..that was it.
I don’t know everything about the two brands so do your research before you buy! I got mine refurbished and got a good deal on it and was really happy with my choice. (Nikon D5100) Later on I got the Nikon D750 (awesome for low light) which is a full frame camera. I don’t suggest you start out with a full frame because they are so expensive and you don’t need it when you are first starting out..most likely.
Some people think it’s all about the camera, which I think lenses make a HUGE difference. You can have a way nice camera with a crappy lens. I’d rather have a decent camera with a nice lens, personally. (Well I’d rather have a super awesome expensive camera but you know what I mean)
If you are a newbie newbie I would just stick with the kit lens (the lens that came with your camera) and play around with that for a while. I wouldn’t want to go spending all kinds of money on lenses before you even know what you want. (I know this sounds slightly contradictory to what I said earlier) There are different types of brands and different quality of lenses. I bought a 70-200mm and saved a lot of money by getting a Sigma lens. I also bought a Nikon 50mm (DX) and found that I really don’t see the difference in quality between the two brands (yes they are completely different lenses). But if you do want to compare the two just based on quality I prefer the quality of the sigma better actually. (Because the 50mm is a DX which means it’s not the FX for full frame so not super high quality) The 70-200 is a lot sharper and is my favorite lens I own. Making sure you get your camera and lenses calibrated also effect sharpness. (Check your local camera shops for more info)
The kit lens is great to learn on because it should have a great wide angle and there you can practice on your aperture and shutter speed just fine on it.
My other favorite lens is the 35mm because it is so wide and I shoot in small areas with boudoir and family documentaries.
Basically every lens has a different purpose and depending on what you want to specialize in you may need a different lens than another photographer.
I’d say get the 50mm first because it’s not too expensive and it’s a good starting point.
So you have the passion and the camera now go play! To start in manual mode is a bit daunting. It took me forever it felt like to grasp the concept of aperture and shutter speed. So, I started in Aperture Priority mode. I knew I liked to adjust how my background looked (Blurry or less blurry which is called bokeh) and so I would focus on adjusting that and the camera works out the rest! But it is important to get to the point where you can use manual mode, of course. (Manual mode means you control everything) Just don’t stress about it and enjoy playing and practicing. It’s not a race! I felt inferior to others who seemed to learn quicker or had better gear but forget all that. It’s just like school, we all learn at our own pace.
My husband wouldn’t let me practice on him, I didn’t have a pet or a child at the time so I sought out friends who wanted free photos taken! Offer to practice on anyone who will let you. Find people in your church, your work, your family, your friends, your neighbors..really anyone. Just practice! It’s ok if half of them come out blurry, you are learning and getting better every time you pick up that camera! You can’t get better if you don’t practice. Yes it stinks because you can’t capture the photo the way you want or you don’t get why your photos look so bad in comparison to others but don’t worry you will get better.
5) Don’t Compare Your Work
It’s almost impossible not to compare your work to others. You should see what other photographers are doing and be inspired and get ideas off of them and all that. But if you envy their work too much that is not good! They have worked hard to get where they are with their photos and they are probably insecure about aspects of their work as well. But it will not do your work any good to feel like it’s crap and beat yourself up about it. On the other hand don’t get too cocky either. You may think hey I’m pretty good at this! But no matter what, always keep learning and growing. Don’t think just because you finally kind of understand manual that you’ve “made it”. This trade isn’t about hitting a plateau and staying there. You have always got to keep making yourself better. That’s the fun part about it. 😉
6) Do Your Homework
Study up! Study other photographer’s work and what you like about it. Rule of thirds, lighting, posing etc. I paid for editing workshops online and watched tons of youtube videos! One of the best recourses out there for newbie photographers is Creative Live. If you log in you can watch live video workshops for free! That means that those really expensive photography conferences people pay thousands for you basically can watch for free on your couch live! After it’s done you can purchase it at a very reasonable price. (No I’m not being paid to say this!) They also have great forums and groups on facebook you can join which I HIGHLY recommend. The beautiful thing about this day and age with photography is you can chat with photographers all over the world and get their advice instantly!
7) Join the Photography Groups
So like I was saying, join the groups on facebook. Just type in photography and you’ll see so many groups pop up. Some people are snotty and mean (we’ll get tot that later) but don’t worry about it they are just insecure. Most people are very kind and helpful (but blunt which is a good thing). Join your local photography group as well if there is one.
Get to know the local photographers in your area! Meet them for lunch, form a photo session together, practice photographing each other. I have loved getting to know the other photographers in my town! It’s good to have a sense of camaraderie in your town instead of intense competition. It’s important that you aren’t snooty to other local photographers (there will always be snooty photographers) but don’t be that one! If you aren’t rude and condescending to other photographers they will be more likely to refer business to you and work together with you. I know others in my town that I feel really uncomfortable around and they have snubbed other people as well and it’s just not good for your business or friendship. Some photographers in my town have become some great friends of mine! It’s way better to have friends right?
9) 2nd Shoot/ Assistant
Going along with networking..offer to second shoot for other photographers in town. I would offer to just hold their lenses at a photo shoot so I could see how they worked at a shoot and ask them questions as they were shooting like “What’s your ISO right now” or things like that. It’s such a good opportunity to learn from others (always) because you can see different perspectives and ideas. Stay out of their way and try to be helpful. At weddings don’t tell the bride to do anything unless the photographer gives you permission to do so. Talk ahead of time about what they want you to do and what things are no no’s especially with posting online afterwards and so on.
10) Find a Mentor
While you are offering to second shoot you should find people that you can feel comfortable asking questions to about photography. Some will be snooty and not offer advice (they feel threatened by other photographers) but some will be so kind and helpful and you’ll wonder why they are so nice to you! (Always thank them) Try not to bombard them with endless questions and messages-try to do your homework first. (Google, fb groups etc.) before going to them if you can. But it’s so nice to talk things out with someone and get their perspective and experience from him or her. What have they learned the hard way? What do they recommend? What lenses do they like and lighting equipment?
11) Try New Things
Sometimes we see what the photography trends are and what everyone else is doing and we want to do it too. That’s fine! But try to find who you are through that journey. What do you like to photograph and how? What’s your style and how can you own it? Being unique is not a bad thing. People are looking for all types of different types of photographers and they may prefer your style to someone else’s.
12) Don’t Get Frustrated
It’s easy to get frustrated in the beginning and all along the way. Don’t be too hard on yourself because this doesn’t come easy to everyone. (Some it does and you will get jealous but try not to) You will make mistakes, it’s inevitable. Apologize to clients when you mess up, be humble, be teachable, and be honest with yourself. But when frustration seeps in that’s when I’ve found my photos are lacking or my work is stunted because I feel inferior to others or lack confidence.
13) Support & Criticism
It’s important to find those that support you and your work. My husband is really sweet about my business but he’s also honest. If a photo looks bad to me, he tells me. If I do a good job on something, he tells me. It’s nice to hear you are dong good sometimes but it’s also important to critique yourself and have others critique you as well. In a lot of fb photo groups you can post a picture and have others critique it. Be ready to make that skin thicker because it’s hard to hear that your work is imperfect. But at the same time you can only get better from it. Sometimes people will critique that you don’t’ agree with, that’s ok. Sometimes people will go out of their way to try to be mean (Read about my experience with a hater here) but that just means they are insecure in themselves. Let it motivate you to do better and not hinder your work.
14) Have Fun
I absolutely LOVE photography.I have fun at every photo shoot. If you feel like you are getting in a rut, do a fun photo shoot! Find a friend to model and just enjoy photographing. Sometimes it’s so fun to imagine up a shoot and put it to life. (Like my Alice in Wonderland themed photo shoot here) Don’t sweat the small stuff. Like I said before, this isn’t a race to become the best and most popular and richest photographer. Enjoy the journey, laugh at your mistakes. Take a moment at a photo shoot and look around where you are at the beauty around you! Have fun meeting new people and having experiences you never would have before! This job is seriously the best ever and be grateful for it.
15) Study Poses/Magazines
I subscribed to a few magazines I loved the photography in for a year. I studied the poses, lighting and images that I loved. I asked myself why I liked an image, why I liked a pose? How did they get them in that pose? How did they fill the frame? Did they use the rule of thirds or break it? I put together a book of the poses I liked and brought it on some photo shoots I had with some girlfriends and we tried out poses. I just had fun with it and experimented with new things. Some people think photographer is just about pressing a button or working a camera. It’s so much more than just that-for real though!
16) Know Your Strengths/ Weaknesses or find your Niche
When you know what you’re good at-capitalize on it! My favorite photo shoots also happen to be the ones I’m the best at. I get booked more sessions of what I’m good at because I’ve honed those skills and attracted future buyers. My weaknesses I am aware of and constantly I am studying and trying to get better on them. Some photographers find they have just one style of photography they want to do and forget the rest. There are different philosophies on that, just do what you feel is best. I personally specialize in Family Documentary Photography and Boudoir and it took me about 3 years to figure that out. It takes time to realize what you love and what you need to specialize in.
If you want to specialize in something you can spend more time just in that area and get really good at it and market to the clients just for the specific type of photography. In the business world this is highly recommended. But this doesn’t mean you can’t shoot different types it just means you focus on one area. You can do whatever you’d like!!
17) Social Media
Word of mouth is so vital! Social media will put your business on the map. Study study study social media dos and don’ts! Google online courses or youtube videos or watch creative live workshops on using social media. I wouldn’t go crazy and get an account everywhere at first. Start with the basics of facebook and or instagram. Some believe facebook is dying off but recently I read that they are putting a truck load of money in getting facebook to be even bigger so don’t give up on it just yet. Plus it’s a great place to invite all your friends to see your work, post your photos and link to your website. It may be daunting at first. Just take it a step at a time.
If I were you I’d first get a facebook page. Then while I was working on that, I’d get a free website (I recommend weebly for easy usage). I’d build that portfolio and build that website then publish the website and share it on your facebook page and your own profile.
Then I’d start an instagram account. Link it to the website which then links to your facebook page.
Then I’d work on a blog and link all of the social medias to the other ones. (I told you photography was more than just pushing a button) It takes a lot of work and learning but it can be fun to see your business grow!
18) Get Legal
Some photographers would say to do this first. Insurance is important to have especially working with people you don’t know..they could sue you and that would be very scary. I personally wouldn’t say you needed to be legal if you are just “building your portfolio” and photographing friends. (But don’t hold me to that-do become legalized!) Here in Utah if you make less than 1,200 in sales you are still considered a hobbyist and do not have to “be legal”. I’m not saying it’s the best idea to put it off but if you don’t have $500 (for all the different things you need to do to legalize your business) in your pocket to start out after buying your camera, it’s ok to wait a bit in my hummmmble opinion. Some staunchly disagree with me about that topic. But you should totally get legal and here is an e-book on the steps to in Utah. It may be similar in other states as well.
Recently I’ve found this FREE recourse everyone should use!
It’s called Score and they help you with ANY questions you may have for your business! So amazing! See if there is a location near you.
Also, look up contract templates for your photo sessions. They could save you some grief!
19) Forget the Haters
Which brings me to the haters. There are so many haters out there! (Click HERE to read about what I did when someone criticized my photography harshly) There are the photographers who have been doing this for a long time that get so uptight about new photographers. They criticize the mistakes they make and how they don’t know how to use a camera. Maybe they came out of the womb holding a camera and shooting in manual mode, but not all of us do. Don’t listen to them! I can’t tell you enough-they are insecure and take it out on you! If someone is snooty, just move along. I try to distance myself from negativity as much as I can. Yes I can get caught up in it too, I’m a human. But you need to surround your self by a good support system if it’s in your local photog group or online or both. Just cling to the good things people have to say. There will always be those that doubt you, say dumb things and make you feel lame about your business. Try to not let that bug you. Focus on what you are doing RIGHT. Not always what you need to improve on. After a shoot I like to go over all the things I did well before I think of what I did wrong because then I at least remember, “but I did this really well” before I tear myself apart.
20) We were All in Your Shoes at One Point
We’ve all made mistakes! Recently on a group I’m in there was a conversation photographers were having about all the mistakes they have made recently and throughout their whole business. Some photographers I really look up to admitted to making some pretty sucky mistakes. We don’t all advertise our mistakes for the world to see, most of us hide them..but believe me, we all make them. We all had to suffer through learning to use a camera. We all have people that criticize our work. We all have self doubt and wonder if we’ll book another shoot or compare our work to our heroes too much. Don’t worry-you are not alone!
21) Write down Goals
Set those goals! I’ve accomplished several of my goals I set 2 years ago and it really makes you eel proud of yourself and recognizes your progress. You will achieve those goals if you want to and are willing to put all the effort that is needed.
22) My Social Media
I don’t think you have to use exactly what I do but just in case you were wondering I’d tell you the social media I use in case you want to try them out for yourself.
Blog: WordPress (It was confusing at first but now that I’ve gotten used to it I enjoy it. It’s very popular so I can google almost any question and find it online
Website: Weebly. I used to use a paid wordpress site but it kept crashing. So I put my money into weebly and it’s so user friendly and I feel like I swear less while using it. I don’t get frustrated with weebly like I do other sites. However, I recently purchased a website that is coming out in June that is an AI Website service that if you buy now you get the same low price forever AND it’s cheaper than my weebly site I’m using now. It looks pretty cool but I will have no idea until June! If you want to also purchase The Grid (the AI website), use my link because if I get 3 other people to join I get it fo free!)
Facebook Page: I have on my website a “how did you find us” section and most people hear from a friend or family member or on facebook so I highly recommend a facebook page
Instagram: This is a fabulous tool for displaying your images and gaining followers. You can use hashtags to help get local people to find you as well.
23) Keep records
Write down all purchases, keep receipts, schedule out appointments. Stay organized.
Editing can be pretty overwhelming at first. A lot of people recommend Photoshop but if you don’t know how to use Photoshop I HIGHLY recommend starting in lightroom over Photoshop. You can easily edit pictures faster and I promise you, even though editing can be fun, it gets pretty old when you have shot a wedding all day and have a bazillion photos to go through. I recently purchased Kylee Ann Photography’s One Hour Workflow which helped bring some great ideas and programs I had never used before. Below I will list the programs I use. I can get into more detail on editing on another blog.
Shoot in Raw/JPG helps you see the bright colors that jpg captures so then you can practice editing to patch up the jpg image. It takes up more space but when you are starting out I recommend this way because you can see the photo in jpg but also be able to fix it up really well with raw. JPGs are harder to edit and change. Raw is what most photographers recommend to shoot in. But the files will be huge so be ready!
The Programs I Use
My main programs:
Back up Files onto an External Hard drive. (I use Toshiba & My Passport for Mac)
This is where I chose what images I want to edit. (Culling) It’s fast and it’s so helpful to get through the photos that you want to edit and export into a file to edit.
Great for editing multiple pictures fast. I’d say most photographers use this program primarily.
Great for editing individual photos.
For editing in photoshop and lightroom I solely use GTG Actions and Presets. They fit my editing style perfectly. I’ve tweaked them all a bit but I’ve used several different types of presets and actions and this is the only ones I’ve been happy with.
Every photographer has their different editing styles!
Great for quick layouts and advertisements for facebook and instagram
The program I use to deliver my photos to clients. I love the presentation of it but sometimes my clients get a tad confused on how to download their photos so I created a blogpost to help clear some things up HERE.
It’s not a program but it’s a necessity. Log in and enjoy the live workshops daily! If you are looking for a workshop to show you how to use your new camera and learn the basics-this is your site! If you are looking to learn more about newborn photography, wedding photography, how to advertise online, instagram, facebook etc..this is your site!
This program comes with tons of actions and presets already to go!
Wonderful plugin for Photoshop and lightroom. It’s like Exposure where it has a ton of actions that come with it and you can hover over to see what your photo will look like with it.
Program I use for advertisements, layouts, business cards etc.
Plugin for photoshop, great for editing skin
It’s a great read about her starting her photography business and a great pick me up throughout any stage you may be in
Advice From Other Photographers on Starting Your Photography Business
Another Blogpost: 10 Beliefs That Suck the Life Out of Photographers
“Read your manual. Seriously, as a fellow nooby, it’s my best friend! It answers so much!” –Shani K Photography
“There’s no need to put a huge logo on your photos. It detracts from the photo and if someone is gonna steal it, they’ll steal it.” -Freddy S.
“Shoot, shoot, shoot and shoot.” – Mike of Endless Photography
“Don’t use the fonts papyrus, curlz or comic sans for your logo. It’s all about credibility.” Christian C.
“Don’t be too hard on yourself and don’t compare. Oh, and HAVE FUN!” -Antoinette of Vivid by ACM
“Read the manual!” –Mandy of Shooting Star Photography
“Make lots of pictures, look at lots of pictures, be in lots of pictures, and read the manual.” –Levi Sim Photography
“The more you shoot the better.” -Riley S.
“Take pictures of ugly things until you can see the beauty in everything.” – Scott H.
Join PAC (Photographer Adventure Club) wherever you are located.
“Beware of bad photography names. I wouldn’t hire someone with a cheesie name and I’m serious. Do you know any famous photographers with dumb names for their brand? I don’t.” -Kimbal R.
“Make your photography facebook page accessible on your personal facebook profile.” -Stacey J.
“Learn your camera inside and out. Get legit before you accept money, and start with the business you plan on having. And trust your gut.” -Kate of GSquared Photography
“On my 13th year and still loving it! Advice – don’t do a wedding until you have mastered every lighting situation possible. Get your contracts and business stuff in order right away. Don’t get discouraged when your results don’t quite match up with what your brain sees at first. That will come. Surround yourself with uplifting, but honest people. Pay for information (workshops, schooling, creative live, etc) rather than bumming it off of your photographer friends – it’s easy to make them feel taken advantage of. And do your research about gear before buying a bunch of lower end stuff. One or two nice lenses will go farther than 5 kit lenses. Good luck!” –Rachel Red Photography
“Understand the business side of being a professional photographer and do not undermine the profession.” -Michelle R.
“I liked comparing my work to other photographers, trying to improve my technique, reading blogs on what to do, what not to do. Buy this lens, use this Lightning ect. I still believe in self critique, mentors, and in professional improvement. But I was so dead set on doing everything the “right” way, that I wasn’t enjoying … Playing, fun, just taking photos, I wish I would have remembered the simple Idiom, there is more than one way to skin a cat. No one, on this planet knows everything, and everyone pulls up their pants the same way in the morning.” -Denette K.
“Don’t go into debt when you’re starting out! just ease into it, save every penny, and do a lot of research before investing in gear.” –Portraits by Cynthi
“I feel every one should put in the hard work and investment to learn how to get where others are and not just have all the info handed to them on a plate!” -Liz J.
“Don’t do online galleries for portrait sessions- start with in person sales” -Trina H.
“Don’t be afraid to take a chance.” –Tepe Suz Photography
“Don’t undercut the market; you’ll only alienate your colleagues and help drive the market rate down. You’ll also gain exposure as a budget photographer and every time you raise your prices you’ll be looking for a whole new client base.” –Nicole of Sweetness and Light Photography