It makes perfect sense, right? After acquiring plenty of professional photography camera bodies and lenses, flashes, filters and all necessary gadgets, learning all about light, composition, post-processing and online marketing, it seems natural to offer photography services to others and start charging money for doing what one loves to do. Not a single day doing a boring work again.
The decision is triggered by many factors like:
- pro bono gig for your cousin’s wedding or family reunion and the overwhelming feedback from your uncle or relatives for the great job you have done
- meeting or collaborating with other professional photographers and seeing their work only to realize that their images are not as great as you have been thinking
- need for extra cash and desire to use some of your free time to earn extra money besides your daytime job
Whatever the decision might be, many photographers decide to make the conversion from amateur to part-time or full-time professional photographer. And after making this big decision, many photographers make the same costly mistakes which could cost their businesses dearly and could be easily avoided.
I did these mistakes too. If I could travel back in time and had the knowledge I have now, I would avoid them and would have grown much faster as a paid photographer.
Here are the top 10 mistakes in my mind, that every professional photographer should avoid in order to build and sustain a profitable photography business:
1. Don’t Overestimate Your Skills :
If you doubt yourself or feel that you are not ready to work with paying and demanding clients, then don’t. Take your time to prepare and be confident of how to pose, direct and manage paying customers in the type of photography you choose to specialize, but once out there talking or working with your clients, don’t stumble and panic if things don’t always go your way.
If you run into a problem, deal with it with confidence. Clients would sense when a photographer doesn’t know what he is doing and most likely will not refer you to anyone or will not leave you a good review after the session. Go at your own pace and don’t jump right into the professional photography without being ready. You can burn out quickly or stumble badly.
2. Don’t Try to Compare Yourself With Other Photographers:
They are at the point they are currently, because they started way earlier than you and have put so much energy and sweat into their businesses. Develop your own style and perfect it. Your style and skills are what potential clients will hire you for.
Ask yourself: If your style looks like the other photographers in your area who are already established, why potential clients would hire you and not them? The answer might be: Only if you offer an unique and fresh style and set yourself apart from the rest of the pack.
3. Establish and Perfect Your Workflow:
From booking, to arranging a session, to shooting and post-processing your images. You will not have enough time to learn and offer services in the same time, or will not have adequate time for both and either both or one would be not on par with what you should be doing.
Take time to learn these before starting to work with clients. It sounds easy, but believe me it is not. You will be spending no more than 15% of your time shooting and the rest of the time would be looking for clients, messaging and arranging sessions.
You will have lots of images to process in a short deadline and if thinking that once you get the clients, you can learn all of this quickly, you are setting yourself for a failure. Plus, consider all the administrative tasks: responding to emails, social media and blog updates, ordering and shipping prints, etc.
4. Establish a Feasible Pricing Structure :
It is important that you have sound pricing from the very beginning instead of trying to low ball your local competitors and later hopping to raise you prices.
What many new entrants into the professional photography do it is try to undercut everyone to get the clients in your area and then hope to raise their prices later. Sounds logical, right? Well, if you try to do that you will get the type of clients who are bottom fishing for the cheapest photographer and not for the image quality or style you offer.
Later when you decide to raise your prices, all of these clients and their referrals would swing to the next photographer who currently offers the lowest prices. Plus you will not appeal to the clients who perceive price as quality and they will not consider you, even if you craft is above the average. Affluent clients don’t drive Kia cars exactly because of the perceived value and image Kia cars have.
5. Invest Time to Learn The Business Aspect of Photography:
It’s a business after all and knowing how to take amazing photographs it doesn’t mean you will be profitable doing so and can sustain your business. Marketing, presentation, people’s skills, finance and economics and as important as aperture, exposure, composition and Photoshop editing.
Take your time to learn and practice how to budget, how to track and calculate your expenses and profit.
6.Don’t Be Your Own Enemy:
Don’t let negative feedback slow you down or constantly seeking approval for you work from fellow photographers. You will grow overtime and your skills and images would improve, so accept it. You will not be the best wedding photographer from day one but if you continue to do what you decided to do, you will one day.
You can only get better as time passes and you continue to put energy and learn from each session. Make the first step and improve every day by learning from your mistakes, from others mistakes and by upgrading your skills and knowledge.
The worst disservice you can make to yourself is to be afraid to start out and delay starting your professional photography career. Time is something you and no one can bring back.
7. Focus Is Everything:
Instead of marketing yourself as do-it-all photographer, specialize in the type of photography you would like to do in a long-term. If you enjoy landscape photography, don’t start with headshots and think you will transition to be a great landscape photographer later.
You will have limited time to establish yourself and build the skills required to excel into your niche. Plus, you will network with people who share the same interest and will be able to learn from them if you start with the right style from the very beginning.
Trying to do everything for everyone will make you an average photographer in many areas, not one of the best photographers in one area. Niche markers are more valuable and clients look for specialized skills when they hire a photographer.
8. Outsourcing Post-Processing Is Not a Crime:
Don’t be afraid to outsource your post processing. Your time is more valuable to market yourself, learn new skills, meet new clients, capture images and network rather than spending countless hours on processing images.
Of course in the beginning if you set your prices so low that you cannot afford to outsource this task, you will never be able to do that and you most likely will be trapped into your own trap.
9. Build Strong Portfolio:
Your photography portfolio is the best “sales force” you would ever have. Therefore is important that you spend lots of time to build a strong portfolio with quality and well crafted images.
This is the first thing your clients will ask to see. It is the showcase of your past work, skills and style. People hire a photographer because they are looking for great pictures capturing exciting moments and emotions from their lives. A well crafted photography portfolio published online, makes it easy for your clients to visualize what they will be getting if they hire you and not the guy next door.
Consider TFP (Time For Photos) assignments, discounted services for building your portfolio, etc. The more time you spend building a quality portfolio, the better would be the chances that you will be able to attract and sign the clients you are targeting. You will also have much more confidence in your pricing and would be able to back it up with actual results.
10. Threat Your Business Seriously:
You need to be committed to your clients, willing to go an extra mile to find, to excite and book them. Just because you have a website, great portfolio and professional gear, it doesn’t mean the clients will die to hire you. You would be on a job interview with every single client.
You need to prove yourself to every client and try to win their business. And, please, please, take time to write or get help writing a photography contract. It will protect you and your time and energy investment in your business from lawsuits and potential legal actions from dissatisfied clients.
Also don’t procrastinate to register your business entity. Doing business as an individual instead of sole proprietor (SP) or limited liability company (LLC) has huge drawbacks which can ruin your future financially.
I am sure that there are more than 10 mistakes a photographer can avoid in their career and some would be more important that others. I hope to update this article in the future with additional content, so please make sure to come back and check for updates. If you have done a mistake which is not in the list, drop me a comment. I would love to add it and will credit you for it.
Agree, disagree, have comments or feedback? Would love to hear from you, so feel free to drop me a line in the comments section below. If you find this article useful, please share it with your fellow photographers and friends so they can benefit from it as well.
About the Author:
Trifon Anguelov Photography is a premiere Bay Area Wedding and Events Photographer in Mountain View, CA 94040. It offering wide variety of Wedding Packages in San Francisco Bay Area, as well Engagement and Portrait services.