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.
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.