Flashback to 2017...
I'm fresh faced and wide eyed, ready to take on this new adventure of being a photographer. I'm ready to dive in, offering up senior shoots for just $50 and shooting my first wedding entirely on "auto" mode. I'm inspired - visiting a local art museum, stopping and staring at this series of black and white silo photos that really made me think for a second. I'm carrying a Canon Rebel t6 with a 50mm and kit lens, shooting whatever comes my way, taking whatever experience I can get - friends, baby showers, Christmas decorations. I decide to start up a photography page over on Facebook and people start taking me a little more seriously. They're complimenting me, mom and dad are proud, this could be good!
oh hey, 2020.
3 years ago (whoa) I made the decision to pursue photography as my career, starting the journey towards full-time. If you would've told me then that I'd lose two jobs and be thrown into taking photos full time during a global pandemic, I would've laughed. But here I am - and the craziest part is that I'm actually succeeding. 2020 is funny like that I guess.
I didn't go to school for this, I have no degree - the only education I do have is from free online workshops and a 2 week branding class from Michelle Knight. Just about everything I know, I learned on my own, and I've taken inspiration from so many along the way. It's not often that I sit down and reflect on the journey that I've had, how I got here. But tonight I did. Here's 13 things I've learned over the last 3 years - I hope you learn something too!
I wasn't kidding when I said I shot my first wedding all in auto mode, aside from the focus. While it's helpful to switch to auto when you're learning framing, composition, and angles, it'll hold you back in the long run! Shooting with auto exposure, shutter speed, and ISO might be comforting, but your camera isn't always right! There are so many different styles, so many different ways to shoot. It's important to learn how to shoot on manual mode as soon as you're ready - it opens so many doors creatively! You'll also feel way more professional.
Michelle Knight saved my life when it comes to branding. I thought I was doing it all right - posting on Instagram, creating a makeshift logo, business cards, and a "business" name. Little did I know that branding dives way deeper than that. It's all about knowing who your ideal client is, who you want to reach. In my world, it's who I want to photograph. From there, you can establish a logo, color palette, website, all the fun stuff in order to market and sell to your target clients. Until you know who they are, you can't get in front of them. Another part to it all is your story - you are your brand at the end of the day. You really have to take time to dig deep into who you are, your morals, your "why." It all makes up your story. And trust me, there is POWER in storytelling. Branding is SUCH an important thing - when I started implementing these strategies and got a clearer picture of what my brand was, the bookings started coming more frequently.
So that leads us to marketing. I have a love-hate relationship with it. This is where I get to have fun creating sessions and packages for my clients, crafting and planning events and mini marathons. It's HOW I sell to you guys. Marketing can be fun, but it's daunting at the same time. It's spending hours on Facebook advertising and commenting, writing blog posts and captions. It's the nights I sit here trying to come up with creative ideas, figuring out how I can get in front of new audiences. It's scheduling branding sessions for myself, networking with local wedding vendors, and collaborating with other photographers. It's overdelivering and being totally fine with it (more on that shortly).
it's okay to experiment
There are SO many styles and types of photography, I can't even name them all. I feel like it's really easy to get stuck in the niche that you worked so hard to find, which is important, but it's also important to remind yourself to try new things and get outside of the box. That's really the part where you learn and grow. For me, experimenting comes from my creative sessions with friends - you guys have seen them around the holidays. I usually always do fun Halloween and Christmas photo series', and sometimes I branch out more and get inspired by certain makeup palettes or songs. Speaking of.. spooky season this year is gonna be KILLER (haha).
actually photographing is only part of it
There 's so much more to owning a business than just your talent. There's a ton of behind the scenes the work that goes into how you show up that people don't see. The planning, number crunching, website creation, digging deep into your brand, the time it takes to edit your galleries. That's one thing I wish I would've known. I knew it would be hard, but I didn't actually know how MUCH goes into owning and running a small business, especially by yourself. I wouldn't change a thing, though.
shooting for free is okay
I cannot stress this enough. When you're first starting out, it's totally fine to shoot for free! How else would you build your portfolio? I still shoot for free even now, doing this full-time. Often times, networking and collaborations are done with no profit in return, and even then.. you don't lose. Shooting for free doesn't mean it's a loss. You'll still gain experience, fresh content, and even new connections that you didn't have before. Not to mention, you'll be fueled and satisfied creatively.
find your style and own it
This one took me over 2 years to figure out. No matter how long it takes, it's important to experiment with different editing and shooting styles, different poses, the whole nine yards, until you find something that is true to your brand and speaks to your soul. This is the most important in regards to editing. Having one specific look will make you reliable, give your brand a cohesive look, and it'll make you known for one thing. It'll also establish trust with your audience.
Finding your niche goes in this category, too. This is something I just recently made the transition into, but I can tell you that so far it's so much easier! Finding your niche is narrowing down the types of photography you shoot. So instead of just shooting whatever comes your way, you shoot only couple's, weddings, and seniors. Or at least you market it that way. Maybe you don't turn down those families, you might even hold holiday mini's for them, but they take the back burner when it comes to who you speak to in your online presence. Furthermore, definitely only shoot what fuels your creativity as much as you can. If you LOVE weddings, then make sure you're marketing to brides and try to shoot weddings as frequently as possible!
social media sucks, but it's necessary
I feel like that title speaks for itself.
p.s. you'll never understand the algorithm- no one does.
achieving a work/life balance is hard
Like I said.. social media sucks. I can't tell you how much "off" time I spend mindlessly scrolling through Facebook only to find myself responding to inquiries and clients looking for photographers. It's especially hard when my office is essentially my room. I don't have an outside studio or office (yet). Not to mention, time is money. I have this problem where if I'm not on Facebook looking in groups or checking my DM's every hour, I think I'm missing out on clients. It's not the best thing for my mental health, probably isn't completely true, and it's something I'm working on... but sometimes that's what running a small business means.
Maybe this comes from my extensive work experience at Chick-Fil-A through the years, but I kind of started this whole thing overdelivering. Then I learned that it's something you're supposed to do and I checked it off the list. Overdelivering means saying you'll give your clients 20 photos, but actually giving them 30. Your clients will thank you in the end, and even though you might not be doing anything differently than you usually would, you're overdelivering in their eyes. It's a killer marketing tactic. It's one of the best ways I've found to generate repeat business and word of mouth!
know your worth
While you should be overdelivering, don't forget to know your worth. Don't price yourself lower than what you deserve and don't overwork yourself. I'm still working on the second part... :)
work with what you have, where you are.
Not everyone has the budget for a $1500 camera right off the bat. That's okay, I sure as hell didn't. I started out with a $350 camera bundle from Best Buy and i shot every session I had with that for 2 1/2 years. I just finally got to upgrade to my full frame Canon 6D back in November. It's crazy to even think that, but it's what I could manage at the time. No matter what your budget or situation is, work with what you have, where you are, and master it. Get REALLY good with that $80 lens that your friend gave you and then when it starts holding you back or when you're itching for something new, take the leap!
the in-between moments are always the best
This is my all-time favorite thing I've learned over the years. You know those moments between the poses where you and your lover look at each other and smile or he gives you an unexpected kiss on the forehead? The moment where the wind blows a little too hard and your hair gets brushed in your face? The laughter after your little one says something silly? Those are the BEST moments, and they make for the BEST photos. The raw, spontaneous feelings and reactions that happen. It's magic.