Last year, I posted about my journey through photography starting with my oldest son’s birth. I had an interest in photography before then but it was “creative” photos of wildlife and tombstones taken with a point and shoot. It was having my first baby that turned my interest into passion. (I swear I’m not trying to see how many cliches I can fit into one post) You can see my personal journey in the Five Years in the Making post.
This post is more about the journey of my business.
By the time I started accepting portfolio-building clients in 2008, I had been learning about photography for a year and a half. Months before I even bought a dslr, I was reading photography forums and soaking in the knowledge I could use. I learned about the rule of thirds, not chopping limbs, staying out of direct sun and harsh lighting conditions… When I did get my DSLR in late 2007, I took an excited shot in Auto then turned it to Manual mode. Because I spent so much time learning photography before buying and spent so much time researching cameras, I knew I wanted to take my photography to the next level. If I had just left my fancy new camera (Canon Rebel XTi, so not fancy now that I look back on it) on Auto, it would have been a glorified point and shoot.
I spent 10 months learning manual mode. I photographed my son, my sister, other random family members, stuffed animals, boxes of cereal… anything and everything to get an understanding of what everything meant. I might as well have glued the viewfinder to my eye because that’s what it felt like. I lived and breathed photography until I thought I could do my clients justice then I hung out my shingle.
These are my first clients. They knew I was just getting started as I had even written “Portfolio-building” on my website with a special discount. There’s a huge difference between photographing friends and family to real strangers. These strangers trusted me to photograph them without screwing up. They were paying me their hard-earned money. I didn’t want to disappoint them and myself with out-of-focus, underexposed, smurf-colored people. While I can still look at these and see flaws, I do feel like it was a great starting point and it does display that I took the time to learn my camera before taking a single red cent. I’m not ashamed of where I started.
These are clients I photographed a couple months ago. I feel like you can still see my original style peeking through here, my love for genuine emotion and interaction, but I’ve polished it up. My gear is better so my quality is better. My editing style is more sophisticated now. In almost four years, I have grown as a photographer in so many ways and I still have days where I get AH-HA moments. I’ll always be able to grow more and learn more. I still have a wide variety of lenses and artificial lighting methods to play with. I have genres I can still explore. There’s no destination for my photography, it’s truly all about the journey for me and taking the time to smell the roses and meet people along the way.
It’s not just the photography that develops and matures over time, it’s my business too. I did a lot of research on how to start a photography business but every year, especially this year, I learn more about business. This year has been a huge break through for me. I started out just handing over CDs in a jewel case with a Lightscribe label. This year, I realized I want my clients to have more than just a DVD so I’m selling these amazing high-quality albums. I also started out with emailing back and forth and then meeting at a random park. In my quest for a deeper meaning and a better experience, I’m learning to talk on the phone and find meaningful locations. While I used to dread the business-end of photography, I’m finding a love for it because I am making a relationship with people. I am seeing the light in a person’s eye when they truly love a photograph and that means the world to me.
I don’t think my business would have last this long if I didn’t consistently seek out ways to grow in photography and business.
When I first started writing this blog post, it was directed to new camera owners or even long time camera owners that didn’t take the time to learn good photography techniques. I erased it when I decided I didn’t like the tone. I’m not a big meanie and I’m not saying your photography sucks. I do want to say -and there’s no way I can stress it enough- that you NEED to learn your camera before finding clients. I think it’s disrespectful to the industry, your clients, and to your future self to call yourself a professional photographer when you haven’t spent the time studying and learning what photography is. It’s not just taking cute pictures. It’s not just running an action or doing a random series of clicks in a free photo editing software. It’s not just having a Facebook page and a Blogger account. It’s creating work that clients will be proud to display for years. It’s having a professional appearance and charging rates that will actually allow your business to grow. It’s about understanding that you will grow as the years go by but having the humbleness to wait for your skills to mature to a point where you are able to consistently crank out adequate work that won’t make your future self ashamed for charging for such work.
If you need help on finding out where to start with learning solid technical skill, I strongly suggest Understanding Exposure by Bryan Peterson and joining a photography forum like ilovephotography.com or clickinmoms.com. You don’t need to pay a lot of money for courses and workshops just the determination to find the information and put it into practice. If you like photography, odds are you have some natural talent. It’s polishing that talent with hard learned skills that will take you from amateur to professional.
Katie Smith is an on location lifestyle photographer in Central Texas.
She has no desire to become a business consultant but loves to share knowledge and empower her fellow photographers.
If you ever have a photography question, her email is always open. firstname.lastname@example.org
You can also find Katie Smith Photography on Facebook.