Making the decision to move into photography as a full-time career can be scary. There are so many unknowns like any new job. Add to that the fact that the whole industry has slowly been declining over the years, and it can make it even more daunting. The reality is that like any business photography requires planning and patience to become successful. But there are also lessons to be learnt along the way that only experience will teach you. In the meantime, if you are thinking about starting your photography business, here are 5 things you should avoid.
Work for free
Unfortunately, there seem to be more and more expectations from clients for photographers (especially newbies) to work for free. Often the phrase that you will hear is that “we don’t have any budget for photography”, or “in return, we will give you credit for your work”. The thing is that only you can decide whether you want to go down the path of working for free. But if you do, there is a danger of setting a precedent with that client or potential new ones. Once a client sees that you are willing to work for free it will likely be even more difficult to get them to pay for future work, not just from you but also from other photographers as well. This becomes a vicious cycle that has a negative impact on the whole industry.
Even if the client does then decide to pay for photography they might go to someone else. After all, if you don’t value your own work enough to get paid for it why should someone else? Get into the habit of asking and negotiating because often you will find that clients will find the budget to pay for it. This doesn’t have to be an enormous amount, but something that would be fair to you as a photographer.
You may also find that the client ends up offering you a service in return for your work. For example on one of my very early shoots for a high-end restaurant, after discussing their requirements the client informed me that they didn’t have any budget for the shoot. We discussed it further and I told them that I wouldn’t be able to do the job for free. He asked me to quote how much the job would cost and offered me and 4 of my guests an 8-course tasting dinner which worked out to be the equivalent value of the shoot. I continued to work with this client for several years after this on a paid basis. The point is that even if the client genuinely can’t pay you, they may be able to offer something in return. But if you don’t ask you will never know.
Getting in over your head
Even though you should try as much as you can not to work for free, it is also important to make sure that you are confident and comfortable in being able to actually provide what the client needs. So if you are not comfortable in doing the shoot you should be honest from the outset. You can charge a much smaller fee and offer a re-shoot if the client isn’t happy. The one thing that you should avoid at all costs if you are not 100% confident that you can deliver, is scenarios that are one-offs that can’t be replicated. For example, if you are taking someone’s portrait and they are not happy with the result, it’s an easy re-shoot. But an event like a wedding has to be captured first-time as there are no second chances. Not only will it mean ruining someone’s day but it could also damage your reputation if the client isn’t happy. If you are honest from the start about things and the client still decides to hire you than that is their choice.
Blame your equipment
This is one of the most common beginner excuses that I hear. Whilst better equipment no doubt does help in certain ways, it will not make you a better photographer. Regardless of how expensive your camera or lenses are, a poorly composed photo in a bad light will not look good. So instead of blaming your equipment or becoming obsessed with buying the latest gear, focus your time, energy and money into improving yourself as a photographer. In reality most photographers, even the pros can get by with basic equipment. In the vast majority of scenarios better equipment will just mean the quality of your photos (i.e. resolution, size etc) will be better, not the actual composition.
Being too picky about jobs
Whilst it’s important as a photographer these days to have a niche that you focus on, it is also vital that you are not too picky about the jobs that come along. We live in an era where the demand for photographers is lower than it has ever been. So if you constantly wait for your perfect job then you will be in danger of never actually earning any money. So even though you can’t be the jack of all trades, you still need a broad skill set so that you work in several different genres. For example, if you are a wedding photographer, you may also have to venture into portraits, events and even travel photography to be able to earn a living.
Sitting and waiting
The thing about a photography business is that it is like any other business. In that, you have to get out there and actively look for work. Very few jobs will come to you if you just sit around and wait. You have to learn to not only be a good photographer but also a great marketer. In fact, marketing yourself and your work is more important these days than ever before. That means embracing social media. It means learning how to build and optimise your website. It also means knowing and having the confidence to approach potential clients for work. If you wait around, it could be that no one actually comes knocking.
A photographer’s job has evolved a lot over the last decade. Nowadays as a photographer, you have to be a social media expert, your own marketing executive, website developer and business manager. You will learn and adapt along the way, but in the meantime try to avoid these 5 things on your photography journey.