Preface: Most of us start from the same place when we get involved in photography. We pick up a camera, fall in love with the process, become avid amateurs, buy more equipment, and sell photographs to pay for it. One thing leads to another and you find yourself doing more photography and getting some compensation for it. This is the fun phase.
Then for whatever reason we get it in our heads we can become professionals. In simple term a professional is some who makes money at what he or she does. Once you cross over the line from a fun-loving amateur to professional photography, a big change needs to occur.
For many professionals it will be a part time career and that’s alright. In fact if you are considering a full time photography career your odds are poor at best. Unless you have lots of capital, unique creative skills, and well honed business skills you are likely to fail. Anyway ,everything you do as a professional should revolve around improving your skills on a day to day basis as well as making a profit at what you do. Now for some tips!
1. Quality always trumps quantity. Most people over shoot when they use digital cameras. Turning over 200 digital proofs to a portrait client for there perusal makes no sense if many have poor lighting and little variety in poses and backgrounds. Photographing a wedding and delivering 3000 images is crazy. (in my opinion) What is the wedding client going to do with all the images. Chances are 2/3 of them are redundant, unnecessary, contain poor expressions, or substandard lighting or exposures. Shoot for good lighting, good expression, and good composition. Meticulously cull your work and show only your best. Photographers who shoot excessive images usually lack self confidence. You will never get paid what your worth unless you provide excellent quality.
2. Start charging for your work from the very beginning. Family and friends can be the worst about expecting your work from nothing. If you give your work away at the beginning you have set the pace for the rest of your career. Believe me, if people see you as a sucker handing out freebies you will be doing it forever. Offer a trade out if nothing else. Maybe your not to handy around the house but your brother-in-law is and you could use his help. Establish a value for your work and make the trade. As long as you don’t take advantage of your friends or families skills they will understand why you want compensation.
3. Educate yourself on a continuous basis. There are some free programs on sites like Youtube. Check them out by searching photography, lighting, photoshop, etc. Sites like http://www.lynda.com/ and http://kelbytraining.com/ have good information on improving your photography. Http://wwwShootsmarter.com and http://www.discovermirrorless.com are excellent sites. Most of these sites require a subscription fee but you should expect to pay for good information. Several forums can be helpful. Check out the forum page on my site. http://pro4um.com/ is an excellent forum if you want to keep up with the latest fads in professional photography. This forum has many talented photographers on it and is not cheap to join. The fee is over $200 a year but well worth it if you are serious about photography as a business. If you are purchasing new equipment check out http://www.dpreview.com/ This website has very comprehensive reviews of newly released cameras and equipment.
4. Learn to use photoshop. Photoshop is an expensive program but most true professionals use the program on a daily basis. Lightroom is also a must especially for wedding photographers who need to deal with a large number of images at a time. Software Cinema http://www.software-cinema.com/training puts out some excellent cds on how to use photoshop. I’d recommend getting the most recent version CS6. Photoshop cs6 must be purchased on line and downloaded . http://www.adobe.com/downloads/?promoid=JZEFW Versions come out every 2 years or so and you need be aware of the latest features. Plus if you buy a new camera photoshop cs6 will have updates that allow you to use the newest raw files in Adobe Bridge. If you have an earlier version of photoshop but a new camera and your raw files cannot be converted to jpgs in adobe bridge you can download DNG converter from the same sight. It will convert all raw files to a DNG format which older versions of photograph can open and convert to jpgs.
Other image editing programs are out there that can be used if you can’t afford Adobe’s products. Corel makes a good editing program Paintshop Pro X5. You can download a trial version at this site http://www.corel.com/corel/category.jsp?cat=cat4130083&rootCat=cat3610091 The cost of the software $69.95. Its not a hard program but there definitely is a learning curve just as there is with photoshop. Gimp http://www.gimp.org/downloads/ is also a photoshop like imaging program. It is free. You need to understand how imaging programs work in order to use it. Again most imaging programs have a learning curve.
5. Get your basic business affairs taken care at the beginning. If you are running a business out of your home find out what the zoning laws are in your area. If you get busy, traffic can be a problem and neighbors may complain. Does your city require a business license? Apply for a state sales tax permit. Our county has a business property tax. Check with the country treasurer as to whether you need to file forms for this tax. Buy an accounting program such as quickbooks http://quicken.intuit.com/ and use it from the very beginning. Many community colleges will offer courses in quickbooks. I’d hire an accountant to do your taxes. A good accountant will call your attention to all possible expense write offs as well as any changes in the tax law and if you ever get audited you need an accountant to stand in for you at the audit. Make a point to show a profit within 3 years or the IRS will be checking you. Make equipment purchases based on your ability to turn a profit with them rather than just buying something because its the latest model with all the new bells and whistles. Business insurance is a must. If someone gets hurt on your property while picking up an order or during a photo session your home insurance will not cover the claim. I was in business for 25 years and had 2 claims from people falling on my property. Business coverage on your car is extremely important. If you have an accident while transporting equipment to a wedding your regular car insurance will not cover the accident. You must have a business policy for your car. If you have assets I would also suggest a business umbrella policy which will extend your liability to at least two million dollars. A spouse running a part time photography business puts the whole family at a big liability risk without insurance. Join PPA http://www.ppa.com/ because of their program that covers you if you screw up a wedding or have other legal issues. Over a 25 year period I dealt with PPA and their legal department twice on issues with senior pictures getting into the school yearbook. Have a lawyer write up a wedding contract for you if you do weddings. You can start with samples of wedding contracts from other studios but run the contract by your lawyer just to be safe. Many studios also have portrait contracts which their clients sign. Model releases should be built into these contracts. Model releases would be required for any images going on your business website since they are being used in a commercial way. Taking care of business early in the game will prevent many headaches later.
6. Develop a business plan. You can find an example of a business plan at this link: http://www.bplans.com/photography_studio_business_plan/executive_summary_fc.php#.UW12arWsh8F Define where you are wanting to go with your business and how you are going to get there. Recently, I was mentoring a young lady from the San Diego area via the internet. I asked her how much she wanted to make the first year she was in business. She answered $35,000. I had her break that down by the week to see how many sessions she might have to do to clear that amount of income. Her work at that point was mediocre at best and she had no plan at all how she would reach such a goal. After several months it became very obvious that she wasn’t doing what she needed to because she made no progress at all. For many, a business in photography is a pipe dream. It takes a huge amount of effort and there will be many frustrating moments developing a business even if it is part time.
7. Opinions will differ on whether you should have an html website or a flash website or a wordpress website. Each have there advantages an disadvantages. If you are just starting, ease in putting up a website is probably your main concern since funds may be a little tight. That’s one reason you might want to consider a wordpress site.
Develop a web site and a blog. WordPress is probably the most popular blog software and has tons of information available on how to set it up. Amazon.com has a large number of books on WordPress and some are free.
This is a link to a number of books, http://www.amazon.com/s/ref=nb_sb_ss_c_0_9?url=search-alias=stripbooks&field-keywords=wordpress&sprefix=wordpress,aps,299 Wordpress blog sites can be had for free a wordpress.com. Such websites are not “.com” and would be hard to find through searches. Here’s an example of a free wordpress blog : http://sgbode.wordpress.com/2012/09/18/our-pets-are-looking-for-someone-like-you/ You could still blog on the wordpress site and provide a link from your website. Blogs are extremely easy to update whereas websites are made up of static pages which can be changed but take more effort and time. You always have the option to register a “.com” name and use wordpress.org to build your blog. There are a myriad of plugins and themes available through the wordpress.org site, many of which are not available on the wordpress.com site. A number of themes must be purchased but allow for a much prettier site. You can have a website and a blog built with wordpress’es software.
I registered a domain name through http://www.namecheap.com/ Domain registration is relatively inexpensive. You will need a host server for a website. I use http://www.hostgator.com/
Cost will normally be under $100 a year. I suggest you download the following book from Amazon.com as a kindle book: How To Create A Website With WordPress And Start A Profitable Online Business: From Scratch Even If You Are A Complete Beginner http://www.amazon.com/dp/1481017195/ref=asc_df_14810171952468139?smid=ATVPDKIKX0DER&tag=pg-1583-100-20&linkCode=asn&creative=395097&creativeASIN=1481017195
The author also gives a link (in his book) to a series of videos he has produced on how to use wordpress. These videos are very helpful especially if you are new to the program.
No doubt you have been to a number of sites that use Flash. These sites usually open with a slide show and some will have music or something similar. Unless you are familiar with flash and other web software I’d recommend you have some set up your website for you. This is an example of a flash website http://basil.v01.marathonwp.com/. A good source for help in producing a nice website is http://www.marathonpress.com/ This company also specializes in direct mail pieces for professional photographers.
If you want to appear as a real professional a well designed web site is a must. You can refer potential clients to your site so they can see your work. Only show your best work on your site and show a a good variety. Do not use the same model over and over.
8. Join professional organizations. Two of the largest organization are PPA. Its membership fee is $323 a year. http://www.ppa.com/ One of the most important membership benefits is the indemnification trust. Below is a direct quote form PPA’s site discussing the indemnification trust.
” coverage (our Indemnification Trust) in case something goes wrong that is generally considered your responsibility, such as equipment malfunction, an error or unsatisfied clients (like the infamous Bridezilla).
With the Indemnification Trust you:
Call PPA’s customer service center (800-786-6277) and report a claim.
Set up the claim with the agent, who contacts the law firm of Meadows & Macie, the most experienced attorneys in the world at defending professional photographers.
You will be contacted by the attorneys really quickly, usually within a single business day, and they help covered members with their expert advice and guidance.
We’ll never raise your rates or drop your coverage because you have to file a claim.
If your problem cannot be resolved without litigation:
The Trust will appoint and pay for local attorneys to defend you.
The Trust will pay any damages awarded to your client.
You only pay a small deductible.
You will never pay an attorney’s bill. ”
PPA also has a yearly national convention called Imaging USA. As an aspring professional you will learn a lot at the conventions. PPA also publishes a monthly magazine which is part of your membership. Image competitions are held during each convention. You can learn a great deal by sitting in on a judging session. The speakers at the conventions are leaders in their field. You often will have otpions to buy additional materials from speakers at the convention. Be judicious on what you buy because you can overdo it. Information overload can be very confusing. If you really like what a specific speaker is doing you may want to focus on that rather than scattering your focus among too many different speakers. Take good notes, highlight ideas you wish to incorporate and review notes once you get home. Act immediately on ideas you wish to incorporate. If you procrastinate on this you will never incorporate those important things you need to. One other thing, Be sure to sit in on sessions covering business and marketing. If all you do is sit in on lighting and posing sessions you only have half of the information you need to run a business.
WPPI (wedding and portrait photographers international) is also a good organization to join. http://www.wppionline.com/index.shtml WPPI is offering 2 day photography workshops May- August in Chicago, Atlantic City, Los Angeles, and Los Vegas. WPPI also publish a magazine called Rangefinder. It a good magazine with lots of good ideas. Basic membership is $125/ year. WPPI also has a national convention every year.
One of the nice things about conventions is that they all have trade shows. As a newer photographer you can learn a lot from the vendors. If you are looking for a professional photo lab this is a great place to find one. You have to have some personal control at these trade shows or you may spend more than your studio operation can afford. The goal of your business is to show a profit. That won’t happen if you buy more equipment than your studio volume can justify. You don’t need all the latest equipment to be an effective photographer. Consider buying some used equipment. There is plenty of it out there.