It’s always interesting to hear how people got into the photography business. Some people know early on that they want to grow a business from their photography hobby, while others just sort of stumble into it. I think these sorts of stories are quite inspiring and just go to show you that anyone with a good eye and some basic business skills can start making money with photography.
A Brief History of How I Got Into the Photography Business
I suppose I stumbled into the business of photography the same way many other professional photographers did. I had always appreciated amazing photography in print and magazines growing up. Then one day I found my moms old Nikon 35mm camera. That’s when it all began.
When I first started taking pictures, I was terrible. I was so bad in fact, that I had to get a job at a photography lab just so I could pay for and develop the massive amounts of film I was burning through while I tried to learn the art and mechanics of photography.
After reading a lot of photography books and taking what seem like millions of photos, I eventually started to get a better eye for composistion. I still hadn’t quite grasped all the technical stuff like shutter speeds and f-stops yet, but my photos were looking a lot better. They were looking so much better in fact, I started having people ask me to take pictures for them.
Of course in those early transitional days of hobby to profit photography I was just happy to have someone liked my work enough to ask me to photograph them. So I of course jumped at the chance anytime someone asked me to photograph them. After a while I decided to test the waters and tell people; “yes, I’d be happy to take your picture. I charge a $75 sitting fee.”
To my surprise and excitement, many people excepted what I thought was an outrageous price to charge. Since “business” seemed to be going so well, I decided to put together some photo packages for my classmates junior prom and see how much money I could make.
Long story short, I made enough money that night to buy my first digital SLR.
The rest they say, is history.
How I Learned the Art of Photography
I have always had an artistic personality. Painting and drawing came to me at an early age. I think that helped give me a head start when I first started picking up the camera. Having an eye for photography is an important skill to have as an artist, so that skill naturally transferred over well to photography. That said, I had no experience in posing people, lighting, or any of the technical skills for professional photography.
They way I figured, if I really wanted to learn everything was about photography, I needed to do it all. And do it all I have. In my early years of photography I had done just about all there was to do. I have done wedding, sports, school photography, high volume portrait studios, events, on location, studio work, catalog work, and just about anything else you can think of. All of these sorts of photography jobs require a very different photographic skill set. There is no doubt in my mind that having worked such a variety of photography jobs that they helped make me the photographer I am today. Some of these jobs I can say for a fact had more of an impact than others.
One of the jobs I feel really helped me as a photographer was working at a high volume portrait studio. You know the kind I’m talking about. The ones at the mall where you can get a million pictures for ten bucks. Yes, these sorts of places are loathed by professional photographers. Much of the work that comes out of these places is sub-par at best. The majority of people that work at them usually had no photography experience before coming to work there. Most of them have no experience when they leave either! That said, if you have some photography skills, this is a great place to learn how to pose people.
Many new photographers struggle at posing, especially when there is more than two people involved. Working at a high volume photography studio, you get to learn what works and what doesn’t, quickly. Because the turn over at these places is so high, you get to see your work in a matter a of minutes. If that’s not a fast track to learning how to pose, I don’t know what is. It is not uncommon at these places to do a hundred photo shoots in a week. After you pose a hundred plus people, you start to get an idea of how to do it.
The other photography jobs I had that i found incredibly educational were working as a photography assistant for wedding photographers and doing sports photography for events and schools. The benefits of working as a photography assistant are pretty obvious, but I strongly encourage people to try sports photography as well. Even if you never plan on doing sports photography professionally, it is a great teaching tool. The two things I have learned from doings ports photography is how to shoot in a wide variety of conditions and better composition on the fly. If you want to learn more about how sports photography can help you become a better photographer, just drop me a line and we can talk.
Why I Closed My First Photography Business
The first photography business I started right out of high school went pretty well, or so I thought at the time. As a kid right out of school, a $75 sitting fee and $20 for a 8×10 seemed like I was getting away with highway robbery. I managed to stay pretty booked and also did quite a bit of magazine and commercial photography. By all accounts, I was doing pretty well. However, as the business person I am, I decided I want to grow my business and decided the Internet was the way to accomplish that.
At this time, the web was still a bit in its infancy. AOL was the dominating ISP and people didn’t really have a grasp on exactly what the internet did or have any standards of what made a good website. The way I looked at, and still do actually, was that if I could create a website that was better than my local competitions in every way, it would make up for any shortcomings I may have as a photographer. I also believed that a website that could educate the client pre-shoot would result in higher sales post-shoot.
From that point on I learned everything I could about the Internet, web design, and how people interacted with them both. As luck would have it, I had a skill for web design. During the process of learning about web design, I opened a web design company on the side called WordPress Designers. That business slowly grew far more profitable clients than the photography business. After a while it became my sole source of income. It was at this point I decided to shut down the photography business for a while.
Truth be told, it was probably for the better. I was getting a little burnt out. I wasn’t trying to do anything new. My pictures were all starting to look the same and I just wasn’t excited about photography any more. In the end, it was the right thing to do. Not only did it allow me to learn much more about the web, but it allowed me to start my second photography business with much more knowledge and passion than the first time I did it.
How I Built My Photography Business Website
Even at the young age of 16 when I started my photography business, I knew a website was an important part of the business. However, this was well before I got into the web design industry. At this point in time, I was like most of you, I had no idea how to get a website online in any way. My first website was a crappy generic HTML template from a place called Template Monster. It was a nightmare to work with, couldn’t really be customized, and only barely matched my brand. That said, it was still better than most photographers websites I see today.
The second time around I went with WordPress Designers and built a custom theme from the ground up. Not only does this site include the basic blog, portfolio, and pages, it also includes the ability to sell pictures online! So no more fee for hosting and selling pictures online! Below are a few tips I would give to those working on building a new website or updating their existing one.
- Build your website on WordPress. As I said before, it can do a lot more than just run your blog. It can manage your whole website. Do yourself a favor and spend some money to work with a quality WordPress Designer. It will definitely pay off in the long run.
- If you can’t afford a custom WordPress design, that doesn’t mean you have to use a crappy free WordPress theme. There are a ton of great WordPress themes for photographers out there that cost between $50 to $100. If you need help getting it installed, checkout our shop for our WordPress installation services.
- Business names are important for Search Engine Optimization (SEO). If you don’t already have a business name, try to come up with one that includes keyword terms while still being creative. This will help you rank better in Google much faster.
- Make sure to choose a good hosting company for your website. All web hosts are not created equally. Don’t sign up with a web hosting company just because they are cheap. I suggest Dreamhost. They are endorsed by WordPress, have great customer services, and have plans starts at around $7 a month.
- Setup a newsletter on your website so that current customers and new ones can stay up-to-date with things going on a round the studio. You can use this to mail out promotions, special coupons, sales, etc. Just remember not to be spammy about it. I suggest checking out Aweber for newsletters. It is pretty much the industry standard and is pretty easy to use.
- Don’t forget about setting up a Facebook page. This one of the best things we ever did. It helped us get a lot of our customers when we first started the business. There are so many great services out there now that help you build really cool Facebook pages and apps to help you really maximize your Facebook page.
These are just a few things I have learned over the years about building a website. Be sure to check out the blog for more resources and advice on build a better website. As always, if you need help, feel free to drop me a line and I’ll see what I can do.
How Do I Know What Gear & Equipment to Buy?
While all photographers seem love the gadgets and gear that come with the profession, many newcomers and even some professionals don’t know a lot about the gear. I know when I first started out in photography I really had no idea what I needed when it came to equipment. I knew I needed a camera, some lenses, and a flash. Other than that, I had no idea what I needed. I didn’t know what made a good lens, why some flashes were more than others, or what camera I needed. This is even more true when it came to studio lighting and computer software!
I talk about this a lot more in depth in the blog and on the how you can get started page, but here is a short list of my basic go to gear for most family and children photo shoots that are shot on location.
- Nikon D300S DSLR Body
- Nikon 50mm f/1.8 Lens
- Nikon 24-85mm f/2.8 Lens
- Nikon SB-600 Flash
- Pocket Wizards
- Lowepro Backpack Camera Bag
I have a lot of other gear and little accessories, but this is the gist of the really important stuff. You can do a lot of amazing things with nothing more than the equipment above and some semi-decent post processing skills.
How I Got My First Paying Customers
While many of us get into photography for the love of it, but if you are reading this, you probably want to make some money from it! Finding paying customers is a little easier said than done when you are first starting out. The photography business usually relies heavily on word of mouth advertising. This is a great type of advertising, however, it only works if you already have customers. So what do you do if you don’t have customers to spread the word? You go find some.
When my wife and I started our photography business we knew that we needed some updated work to put in our portfolio before we could get paying customers. So naturally we contacted some friends and family to do some free shoots with. This actually worked out really well for us. Not only did it give us some new work, but it also allowed us to get some word of mouth advertising going for us. Combine basic word of mouth advertising with social media like Twitter and Facebook and you are sure to sky rocket your word of mouth advertising.
That is exactly what happened for us. After doing a number of free photo shoots and sharing them on Facebook, we started having people who were friends of friends, contact us about taking pictures of them. From there things just started to snowball. To this day, most of our website traffic and leads come from word of mouth and Facebook friends or fans.
Other Ways I Make Money with Photography
Portrait photography is hands down the real money maker for us. With this economy though, you can never be too careful. Luxuries like photography are one of the things that families quickly cut from their budget. The second time I started my photography business, I made sure we planned additional income streams into the business plan.
Whats great about the photography industry is that there are so many things you can do create multiple streams of income. Whats even better, is the photography industry offers the the opportunity to create multiple streams of passive income. Passive income being when you create something once, like a Lightroom Preset or Photoshop action, but can sell it over and over. These passive income streams can do wonders for your bottom line and give a source of extra income when things get slow.
Stock photography and editorial photography is something that I also dabble with. I don’t make a huge chunk of money for this area of my business. Its really more about the recognition and experience for me. However, there are a number of people who do really well in both of these fields. For me, I just don’t have the time r connections to dedicate a majority of my time to this.
The passive income is really what I focus of for additional streams of income and something I talk a lot about in the blog and membership areas. I think this is one area of the photography business every photographer could capitalize on, but only a few do.
Photo By: Ladenla