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5 Questions Every New Photographer Should Ask Themselves

More often than not, when the photography bug bites, people jump all-in without direction, guidance or a mission in mind. You get the urge to learn everything and shoot everything without knowing where you want to go or, ultimately, what you want to do. This can lead to no bookings, dried up emails and ultimately, frustration. When you get ready to enter the exciting and rewarding field of photography, there are a few questions to ask yourself.

1. What do I want to do in photography?

This above all others is the most important question to start with. Many times when I am talking to new photographers, I ask them “what aspect of photography do you wish to pursue?” This question is generally followed by a moment of pause, ums and a confused look. Do you want to be a portrait photographer, wedding photographer, sports photographer or maybe go into commercial? All of these fields are a specialty and should be treated as so. Pick the one that you most enjoy and conquer it. Learn it inside and out and strive to be the best for that particular specialty. To shed some light I generally ask “when a pipe at your house breaks, who do you call? Do you call the Handyman or the Plumber?” The Handyman can do a little of this and a little of that but, he is not specialized in any of it. This route is for those looking to save money at a chance of it not being done correctly. The Handyman works his butt off, making only a portion of what the professionals do because the people that want it done, and done right, pay more for the specialist. Get it now?

2. Do I have a mentor?

I have found it very useful to have a mentor. When I first started out in photography, I wanted to be a wedding photographer so I searched for some of the best wedding photographers in the area. I found a particular guy who had a style I really liked. I called and setup a meeting with him just to talk and see if I could get some insight into wedding photography in our area. He (luckily) was nice enough to meet with me and we started talking. I happened to bring some of my own work to show him, which he reviewed and much to my surprise, he asked if I minded doing some editing work for him. During the editing I could see the shots, how they were composed, F/stops, apertures and more. This information jump started my ability to take better images and allowed me to see how a wedding was structured from start to finish. Less than 6 months later I was second shooting for him. Within a year, I was competition. “Work until your idols become your rivals” – Drake.

3. Do I have a business plan?

It doesn’t matter if you are a fortune 500 company or a mom and pop shop on the corner of Nowheresville, you need a business plan. Jumping into a business without a plan is the best way to fail in a hurry. List some goals you wish to achieve and draw out a path to get there. Start with some long term goals and fill in the gap with short term goals to help you reach your destination. Set a budget and stick to it. Analyze your strengths and weaknesses both personally and in your market. Feed off of your strengths and determine a plan to combat the weaknesses.

4. Do I have the time to allocate?

Odds are, most of you have a full time job and are toying with the idea of jumping into photography part time as a supplemental income. Well, I hate to break it too you, but welcome to your second full time job. For many years, I tried to juggle a full time job and do weddings and portrait work on the weekends. I was quick to learn that my weekend shoots turned into evening editing, late night posting, lunch break meetings, early morning deliveries and more. You have to be prepared to spend a lot of time in photography. More importantly, if you have a family, you need them on board with not seeing you as much. Support (or lack there-of) from a spouse can either make or break your photography career when doing it part time. Explain in advance how much time it will require and set a time-budget for them as well. It is easy to get tied up and make your significant other feel neglected in a hurry.

5. What gear should I buy?

This is the ultimate question to start a troll war on social media, forums and message boards. Ask this question and you open yourself up to the “experts.” This is where you do some research. Look around at some lenses online, go to your local camera store and try them out. See how they shoot, feel and work for you. My rule of thumb has always been this; if the job your booking can’t pay for the piece of equipment you want to buy, rent it. When I first started shooting weddings, I had a Nikon D50 and a 50mm 1.8 lens. I made it work until I could afford to rent. Once I started getting paid gigs, I rented lenses and bodies as I needed them. Then, when I finally started charging enough, I could buy a body or a lens from a single wedding booking. Some of you out there are fortunate enough to be able to buy whatever you want to start out with, however, I still recommend renting a few to make sure it is a good fit for you before you end up posting used gear on craigslist because it turns out you can handle the focusing of an f/1.2 lens.

Wrap-Up

It all boils down to being prepared and having a plan, people. The life of a photographer can be one of the most rewarding, fun and adventurous careers available if handled properly. But, it can also be one of the most frustrating as well.  Good luck and remove your lens cap, people are watching you.

 

 

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8 Comments

Anonymous's picture

Thanks Noel. Good tips and advice. I often say to people "If you aim at nothing you will hit nothing." Not my original idea. It applies to not only photography. Each year I set out new goals on my computer and then review a year later. Some stay on the list for a while but many get ticked off.I can relate well to how you started out.I ended up continuing with my day job and doing weddings part time until I "retired".It is all consuming ,photography. I was fortunate to have a very tolerant wife who was also a great non photography critic. She was'nt afraid to tell me what she thought.In the last few years she became my assistant shooter more to back me up physically and emotionally than take pics.(I had a massive depressive meltdown during a shoot and because she was there I was able to complete the job and the clients were totally un aware) With modern cameras my wife still got some good shots.It is fantastic to be able to learn so much from the internet these days. In my retirement I set aside time each week for training days.It is very satisfying to be a mentor and see your "students" make their way and become your competition. A good off shoot of that is that you have friends who you can call on if you need back up.

M Russell's picture

Although I don't agree with all his opinions, Ken Rockwell is spot on discussing going pro as a photographer (and making money).

http://www.kenrockwell.com/tech/go-pro.htm

Jennifer Kelley's picture

I'm not sure I completely agree with #1. Most photographers in my city, and I live in a decent size place, have a couple different concentrations or they wouldn't be able to pay their bills. They just have different brands, which is more of a strategic marketing thing. It's good advice, but not necessarily realistic.

The article has a lot of good advice though. Anyone starting any sort of business needs to plan and prepare if they want to be successful.

Mbutu Namubu's picture

Hi Jennifer,

I'm sure your observations correctly apply to your particular city. The word "specialist" in professional photography is basically a relative term that depends on the market. For example, in one city a photographer might be considered a specialist if he concentrates exclusively on studio still-life. Meanwhile, in another city that same shooter might be considered a generalist in comparison to other photographers that concentrate specifically on studio still-lifes of ONLY food or ONLY jewelry. In most smaller photography markets, all that is required to be considered a specialist is to have a dedicated space or storefront that clients can comfortably and accessibly visit. Basically, the way a photographer is deemed a specialist is totally dependent on context.

Eduardo Cavasotti's picture

is it just me or anyone else also can't stand when people hold the camera like the photo above? O_o

Prefers Film's picture

Blame the Art Director. I am sure that was not suggested by the photographer.

Michael Steinbach's picture

# 6, How do I hold a camera for best stability? (Or how not to look like an amateur)

Ralph Berrett's picture

The very first question you need to ask is: Do I have the Talent, Skills and Knowledge base to deliver what I promise to the client? If you do not know what is the relationship of f/stops,. shutter speeds and ISO then you are not ready to be a professional photographer. If you do not know what the differences between wide angle, telephoto and zoom lenses, you are not ready to be a pro. If you do not have a basic understanding of Flash Photography you are not ready to be a Pro. If you think the M on your camera means Mountains you are not ready to be a pro. If you do not have some basic understanding of photoshop you are not ready to be a Pro.
I know this sounds cold blooded but is true. If you asking what gear you need, you are not ready to be a pro. There is a difference between asking what is a better hardware and asking what do I need to be a pro. If you have basic understanding of photography then you know what you will need and you will save money.
Look at taking workshops, join photo clubs and even look at going to school.
Also shoot, shoot, shoot and show your work, show your work, show your work.