5 Lessons for a Beginning Professional Photographer

5 Lessons for a Beginning Professional Photographer

Doing photography professionally will change the way you shoot and operate. If you are planning to go professional or have recently done so, these might be of help. 

Many people start learning photography and video out of pure passion and enthusiasm. Having such hobbies can be very fulfilling and relaxing to anyone, especially if they are pleased with what they create. However, it doesn’t always mean that if you have good output, you will make it big if you do it professionally. In fact, the dynamics of creating as a photographer drastically change when you start to do it professionally. 

I’m speaking out of my personal experiences and learnings. I may not be as seasoned as others, but I still believe that these points are applicable to many, if not all. Some of these lessons I learned out of attempts to avoid failure, while some of them were actually learned the hard way. 

1. There's More to the Job Than Just Good Output

Sure, being able to dish out the best images or videos around will definitely get the attention of prospective clients. The quality of your work represents your creativity and skill, but it doesn’t even make up half of the entire job. Especially if you’re operating as an individual or freelance creative, there’s so much work that has to happen in the background that all contributes to you being able to continue producing great photographic output. Marketing is as crucial as the creative process itself because there are so many factors in play. No matter how amazing your work is, if you don’t know how to get them seen by the right people, they won’t end up being profitable. Marketing goes way beyond social media likes, but they do contribute a lot in making your work visible. 

Before you can even begin to operate, carefully planning your rates and expenses will help you avoid mistakes and unexpected problems in the long run. Doing the math is crucial. 

A lot of logistical factors also have such an impact on being able to work effectively as a professional creative. Compared to being a hobbyist, there is now so much importance in making sure that you have the right gear for the job and that they won’t fail in the process. For a hobbyist or even a beginning professional, there would always be economical options or improvised alternatives for some expensive tools, but as you do it more often and take on more complicated projects, you would know when to invest in the best available gear that you can afford to give you a more efficient workflow and better peace of mind. This applies to camera gear, support gear, editing computers and workstations, and most importantly, backup storage. 

Doing the math is also a crucial everyday task as a professional. From the onset, pricing and calculating your expenses versus what you earn for each project determines the sustainability of your business. All the steps in between require careful calculations to constantly adjust your operations and potentially scale them up. After all of that, there’s tax. 

2. Creativity Versus Convenience

How you set your price for whatever you do and whatever you create dictates your value and ultimately why your clients choose to work with you. It’s generally accepted that if you deliver top-notch quality, then you should be getting paid accordingly. No creative would ever choose to be underpaid, but there are those who would lower their rates to be more compelling against pricier competitors. 

It has been a common practice to lower one’s rates to attract more clients, and this can be acceptable to some degree, but ultimately, ask yourself if it will do good for your long-term reputation and image. Do your clients choose you for the artistry and mastery behind your work or just because your pricing was convenient? 

3. You Don’t Just Sell Art, Sometimes, You Offer Solutions 

There’s a statement that often enrages photographers: “I could do what you do if I had a camera as nice as yours” or any other variation that undermines their talent. Regardless of whether your client chose you because of the quality of your work or because of convenient pricing, they spend money to hire you because you can do something that they can’t. You offer a solution that they don’t have and you solve problems for them. Ultimately, you are the bridge towards what they want to achieve for their company or themselves. 

One of the projects I personally go back to a lot is one that involved a lot of logistical and artistic challenges in achieving what the client wanted. At this point, I wish I had learned sooner that my primary goal was to provide solutions to those challenges rather than just take pictures.

Communication is most crucial prior to working on a project, especially the more complex ones. There are projects that are as simple as taking a quick shot and showing someone’s best angle, but there are often jobs wherein they need your artistry to create something that represents their brand, their cherished life events, or their own artistry as well. Communication plays the crucial part where you find out what problems or setbacks your clients are facing for you to be able to determine the solution you offer. This can be as simple as them having a zit on one side of their face that they want hidden or retouched or entirely illustrating something for them that no other creature can. Call it a challenge, a problem, a limitation; whatever they have, they hire you to be the solution. 

4. Ethics and Accountability

In relation to the third point, an important ethical point to keep in mind is to never over-promise. Never offer a solution that you can not provide. It’s acceptable to set expectations that you think you can live up to with some additional learning and practice in between, but if there is a possibility of you not being able to deliver and there are others who can do it with more assurance, you should think twice if you have your client’s best interests in mind. Your aim is for your client to never feel as though they wasted money in hiring you. They wouldn’t have hired you if they didn’t expect you to deliver what they need entirely. 

5. The Importance of Admitting Your Faults

It’s safe to say that all professional creatives will one day deliver output that might need to be revised or even junked entirely. These are growing pains that every professional has to go through. There will be clients who demand too much and some who are unreasonable, but many will be realistically in line with their requirements. 

There will be times when you will make mistakes. They can be simple and easily correctable, but there can also be major blunders that could jeopardize something bigger. There are times when you will need to save face for yourself, but more often than not, it is more important to admit to your faults and ask how you can correct them. At this point, it’s a must to be able to offer a solution, communicate properly, and be prompt to respond. If there’s something in what you did that has to be tweaked for the client’s needs, most of the time, it’s something that has to be fixed right away. 

Transparency and honesty should always be the last to fall off the shelf. If the quality of your work fell short for whatever reason, it is important to acknowledge your limitations and forewarn them of a potential problem and additional time or costs that fixing it might require. Whether this is related to the actual output or circumstances that might hinder you from performing your task, it’s important to let them know of any possibility of encountering a problem. You might not be greeted by gratitude for such, but that’s always better than leaving them in the dark. 

For any professional creative, the goal is always to achieve a level of creative greatness wherein your work speaks for itself. We all aim to be hired or for our artistic creations to be purchased because of the value that our skills put in them. The road towards that goal requires a lot of turns and dead ends, but ultimately, how you conduct yourself professionally can shape your professional reputation and your image as an artist. It’s rare for one project to define who you are as an artist, but the consistency of your work, your ability to align with your clients, and how you handle challenges could very well make or break your career.

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