Six Things Every Beginning Photographer Should Know

Six Things Every Beginning Photographer Should Know

About once a week I get an email from a student or aspiring photographer that wants advice on how they can break into a career of being a professional photographer. I found that I was writing the same response every time. So for the sake of time just as much as my desire to share what I have learned, here is my list of six things that I think every beginning photographer should be doing.

1. Get a website

Even if you don't have any money, you can have a website. First, buy your domain name, using your name if possible. Clients would rather say "We use John Doe for our photography" than "We use Shimmering Pixel Photography". "Shimmering Pixel" could be one person or several. It can easily get confusing. Let your signature, instead, be in your work. If you don't have the money to hire a designer to create a website for you, you have some cheap options. Both Wordpress and Squarespace cost around $100 for a year and are super easy to use. They are also both very SEO compatible. Tumblr is a fantastic resource, for blogs especially, because it's free and you can customize the html to make it look exactly how you want. It also allows for audio posts and video embedding. Not to mention, the site allows for people to subscribe to your site and reblog your posts.

2. Start a Facebook Business page

Facebook is another brilliant resource for photographers. Not only is everyone and their mother on Facebook, it's free. I "friend" anyone I have ever worked. That way, when I post new photos to my Facebook business page, I can tag the people and instantly reach all of their friends. Since all of my work comes from word of mouth, having the ability to reach thousands of friend's friends in one post is essential.

3. Create a Google Places page

Google has taken over the world, so you may as well embrace it. Creating a Google Places page is another free resource that nearly every business is already using. It allows you to post up to five searchable tags to describe your business such as "portrait studio" or "wedding photographer", or you can write in custom tags. You can post up to ten of your portfolio images as well as one YouTube video. You can get reviewed by clients, which is huge. The more people that are searching for you and talking about you on Google, the higher you will rise on organic Google searches such as "Columbus, Ohio Fashion Photographer". Not even Google AdWords is as effective as organic searches.

4. Join Flickr

Flickr may be affiliated with Yahoo!, but it is still one of the top ways to get your images to show up in Google image searches. Once again, make sure to tag the hell out of your photos. The best part of Flickr is their relationship with Getty. Getty shops Flickr user's photostreams and invites select images to be added to their catalog. This means money. I have personally made money from several clients on Getty, through Flickr.

5. Shoot for Free

Selectively. Photographers are a dime a dozen these days. What gets you the jobs over someone else is, more times than not, if someone knows you. The second thing that will win you a job is your portfolio. So your portfolio needs to reflect a diversity of images. This means, multiple locations, subjects and styles. So if your portfolio isn't very diverse, start thinking about the types of clients and jobs that you want to get, and then approach them. There are plenty of small businesses or bands out there that would be thrilled to have you shoot for them for free or for trade or a for a discounted rate. If it means that you get to add the types of images to your portfolio that you need, then it's mutually beneficial. Not to mention, now this business owner or band that knows other business owners or bands is talking about you and your photography. Soon, people will come to you, asking for you to do for them what you did for the other business. And these guys may have money. If you aren't busy with life or other shoots, you have nothing to lose. At the least, you have new material for your blog.

6. Share Your Knowledge

Everyone loves watching behind-the-scenes videos. This is our bread and butter, here at FStoppers. They are a great way to help others as well as promote yourself. If you know that you will be doing a unique photo shoot, consider having someone shoot some video. If you can, include technical info like EXIF data and lighting diagrams. Then send your video to every applicable blog you can think of. Even if this doesn't immediately lead to paying work, it's good juju.

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Jens Marklund's picture
Sarobar Kasaju's picture

your home button looks like your logo. but nice website.

Jens Marklund's picture


Let me show all of you the traffic I got for the above link. It's pretty insane.

Aman Agarwal's picture
mathildajohnson's picture

Why do you have a "coming soon" under your info on the website?  How long would it take to write a simple statement?  It just looks like you don't care. "Coming soon" has about as much meaning as the "try again later" error message you see on computers sometimes. Also, the animal photos are terrible. They don't look "artsy," they look stupid and they look like they were taken with a cheap point and shoot. Until you fix your website, you really shouldn't post a link to it here.

Gavin Chapman's picture
NerazT's picture

Fail! website uses flash.

Gavin Chapman's picture

Sigh, yes it does :-(

woofa's picture

Well that's a matter of opinion on whether it's a fail or not. However to do a slide show like you have Flash is not required. Nice clean page.

George Socka's picture

works great on a PC

Sarobar Kasaju's picture

works on mac too. Its ipad and iphone who fails to play flash.

James Tarry's picture

Flash sites are ok (im going to say that as ive got one lol)-but there is a reason for choosing it over non flash (for me anyway)

Drew's picture

If they really are a beginning photographer, shouldn't #1 be - take the time to learn the skills and become a good photographer first? Many people put time and energy into promoting images that aren't going to get them anywhere.  Doing work for free isn't likely going to lead to paid work either- it's doing work for people who don't pay for photography and aren't going to suddenly change that policy or habit.

Patrick Hall's picture

 I disagree with this statement.  The only way you are going to be able to take control of your images and work with a team of people to produce awesome images that WILL get you to shoot for free.  When you shoot for paying clients, you lose a lot of your ability to do what you want and cater more towards what they want (which isn't always best for showcase work).

If you setup free bridal, food, fashion, architectural shoots for free, then it's YOUR job to make sure the production is high enough to attract the types of clients you want to book down the road.  If everyone is donating their time for free, it's easier for you to act as an art director and take the photos you want.

I do agree with you about people promoting bad images on their websites.  That's def a problem.  I'd be willing to be though that some of the best images on your favorite photographer's site were done for free as a personal project....and that's how they wound up booking the big paying jobs. 

Relzlife Ho-Shing's picture

well said Patrick. I totally agree. I started off doing free shoots for ppl, and it helped me build my port and develop a style that ppl wanted.... Everyone that saw my pics thought they were paid lol. So they'd ask me my rates, and i'd charge em. But for real, if i didnt shoot for free, i wouldnt have landed big paying gigs 

Carlie Roach's picture

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-->i agree with Drew, if someone advertises
that they want you to work for free for your portfolio or more work your going
to get more work for free. You will still have the restrictions of a paid job
as you are still working for them. 
And if you don't know anything about photography yet, you're already
giving yourself a bad reputation. 

Now collaboration is that way to go. No one
gets paid but your doing the work for you.  Model Mahem is not a bad way to find people wanting to be
models, make sure you book a few though they arnt the most reliable of
sources.  If your doing any
photography that doesn’t rely in interacting with a model just go out and take
photos, practice try work out what’s good about photos out there.  Learn!  because there are too many people with SLR's out there that
are calling themselves photographers, and they dont know what depth of field is
or dynamic range they may not even know what SLR stands for.

Make sure you have good work to put on that website.

Helpful tool I use to check my name (as a potential username) across all the big sites:  

Tobias Solem's picture

Agree with everything except for point 5. Devaluing the work of photographers even further by working for free is bad, Mmmk.

Patrick Hall's picture

 I don't think you are devaluing the work of other photographers anymore than they already are.  People don't book "photographers", they book people they like and have relationships with.  But you also have to have those amazing images that justify the asking price you give during your bid.  Hopefully when you work for free, you are getting images that land you larger jobs and then you don't have to work for free as much.  Working for "free' doesn't mean for paying clients either.  You should be working for free with a team of creatives to produce an image you can all use....not working for free for a company that has a budget for photography in the first place. 

Working for free doesn't devalue the work of other photographers nearly as much as working for cheap does.

When you work for free it is implied that you are working for something else of value that does not have a monetary association. (Such as experience, portfolio, or a favor). This way people automatically assume that while they are gaining a bonus for getting it for free that you won't be able to always offer it for free because you no longer will need that non-monetary reward. They expect that price to eventually go up.
However, if you work for cheap you set a monetary value to your work and work similar to that which you are doing. This creates market expectation and is very difficult to shift.And like Patrick says, don't work for free for anyone. Work for free on projects of your choosing and for those who do not have budgets to afford photography or with those who also mutually benefit. (for example a model, photographer, and stylist might all work together for free so they all gain better images). As a rule I would say never work for free for someone who is making money off that work. (For example doing free product photography)

Andre Goulet's picture

I completely agree that cheap is the dangerous part, not free. Free is a yes or no type of thing, cheap is a mindset. In my IT consulting job, I will give an hour away for free as a reward for x, but I will never lower my hourly rate. I don't want to get that line of thinking started...

Frequent user reward systems all work like this too. Buy 10 coffees, get one free. This never causes you to perceive a lower value for the paid for coffee.One way around all of this is to work for free for charities or non-profits. They can use great photos as much as anyone else, yet you set no expectations with any paying or potentially paying clients. In fact, this would be a great way to get your work out there and to easily showcase it, all the while being a total win-win for all involved.

Eric's picture

I agree - cheap is what really hurts. I was negotiating with a company to do a shoot for them. Long story short, I was competing with some dolt who was willing to sign away his copyright and do the day-long shoot for $100. The guy claimed he liked my portfolio much more "and really wanted me for the job" but they had to go with the other "guy with camera." 

That experience soured me on the whole idea of doing this professionally. It pushed photography back down to the hobby category. I loved building my portfolio doing trade work on MM. That was a fantastic experience and a win win situation. I don't have the stomach for dealing with low ballers so I'll leave the professional work to those who can and shoot only what I like. If the universe begins pushing people at me who'll pay anything for my work, maybe I'll re-evaluate.

That whole thing was a real dilemma for me. It was a tough decision. Not because I needed the money, but I'd rather cut grass or wash dishes than whore out my photography to avoid starvation, if it ever came to that. I didn't have anything better to do that day. It may have been a worthwhile experience. For a budding photographer it would have been nice to have a job like this on my resume. 

The thing that tipped me against plugging my nose and taking the offer was it is insulting. First to me, but also to photography in general. Had I taken it they'd have been even more comfortable demanding a lower fee and crazy stipulations from the next photographer. I just don't want to be part of the problem. 

Andre Goulet's picture

I think that is great that you stuck to your guns! Hopefully they got no more than decent work out of the $100 shooter.

Photography is simply a business based on referrals and working to get referrals of a high(er) magnitude is the only non-paying work one should do.

Joel Grimes does one shoot per week (or so) on his own, just to keep learning and to keep refining his skills and to keep adding his own creative ideas to his portfolio. That's investing!

Lee Morris's picture

I think you guys may be talking about 2 different things. Shooting a paying job for free vs shooting for yourself for free. 

Patrick Hall's picture

If I read what Nick said, he's not saying offer a paying client a free shoot but rather shooting for yourself for free by finding a small client that might need images.  

Brian Carlson's picture

I wouldn't even shoot for free for a small client that needs images. Just because they have money doesn't mean they shouldn't "pay" or don't have something I could use. In my experience, I would tell them how much it should cost for the images/shoot (in order to educate them) and then work out a trade with them. They will have something to offer (whether it be goods, credit at their store, yard work, etc.) and if the images are of that much value to them they will find a way to compensate you. Plus, in my experience, when someone says "I don't have the money," they're usually saying, "I don't want to sacrifice something else to get these images."

Danny Santos II's picture

I think rather than shooting for free, work on personal projects that will allow you to get better at the craft and provide your prospective clients a glimpse of your vision on your photography. That was the route I took and worked quite well.

I should have clarified: its always best to have the same name across all channels (facebook, tumblr, instagram, linkedin, etc) so this will do a single search and tell you which are taken and which are available. 

Yea I would add learn to shoot in Manual before advertising one self as a photographer as a job.  I am definitely nowhere near complete in learning (nor will I ever be) but I really struggled with my confidence before I understood how to compensate for lighting/composition issues and I think that forcing someone to shoot in Manual really trains the brain versus the camera doing most of the work.

It's like driving a car... I think if you can teach someone how to drive stick (manual) before an automatic their attention to detail in driving skyrockets.  

Just my 2 cents from a guy who is a baby photographer (only been in it for 5 years...)

Nico Socha's picture

Another good thing is, create an account at, there you can very well see how others vote your photos. The site has a good traffic and you get really great response i think.

and of course, i do some self advertising here now, i hope at this article its ok to do that :D

Holger Hessenthaler's picture

There is no West-Germany in 2013!!!

Sarobar Kasaju's picture

Nice one but your website is slow.

rob durston's picture

1. if you take it on as a business, please know what your overhead is.
2. take a small business class
3. pursue a career in what you love to do and make money from that, you'll be much happier in the long run than trying to make a living at something you don't love.
4. don't take on a space until it can pay for itself
5. don't buy equipment until you have the work to pay for it.
6. don't get hung up on the gear
7. know how to operate your equipment at least, real masters will know the limits and how to push them
8. be confident but humble
9. learn how to speak properly and clearly to people
10. learn everything there is to know about your field; people, styles, competition etc
11. practice x3, the more you do it, the easier it will come to you and the easier it will be for you to trouble shoot when the real jobs come along
12. wear comfortable shoes
13. eat properly and avoid processed foods
14. arrive early
15. there are no good reasons only poor excuses
16. no regrets, go into projects whole hearted and give them your all or don't bother accepting them no matter how much they are going to pay you.
17. only show your best work, don't show me 40 images and only 10 are good but you like the others. People will latch onto the extremes
18. don't get caught up in other's gossip/work. Stay focused on what you do best
19. never pass up an opportunity to help someone else.

20. there are no rules. For every rule in photography and imaging, there is a great example of someone breaking it, so enjoy and rebel

 You should have wrote this.   And add "at least attempt to have a decent personality".  

Sascha Kretzschmar's picture

thats really true...
so as example:
Calvin Hollywood (Retoucher and Fotoartist) is not the best photographer and retoucher, but ha have the publicity by working in the digital sozial live so he earns a lot of money with that what he can DO and he can PUBLISh to his costumer

These tipps should be called: How to get known as a photographer in the internet.

The first tips (despite "RTFM!") would be "learn to organize" and "learn to delete".

Tom Gormley's picture

Umm... #1 should be: "Be good at what you do" 

All of the rest is pointless if you can't shoot a decent photograph.

Nick Fancher's picture

People are coming up with many great additions to my list. The list is by no means exhaustive. Of course coming up with original and well executed content to populate your site is the most important. And as in many things, less is more. Populate your site with a few, diverse images from multiple shoots. Save the rest for your blog.

Travis Gray's picture

Ooooooh I get it. These are just some of the things you should know. He left out the other millions of things that one should know, and this is just a tease before he releases the actually important ones...


Marc Pagani's picture

I saw this headline and was totally expecting at least one (preferably the first) point to be "learn your craft", as in "understand aperture, shutter speeds, ISO, composition, lighting, and learn how to edit, etc."  Having a website and marketing yourself in the other ways listed will not get you far with poorly exposed, out of focus, poorly composed images that show no understanding of how light works in an image.  I think that's one of the big issues with the proliferation of digital cameras...people wanna skip the learning/understanding part and go straight to the "check out my website" part.   I know many young "professional" photographers who have no idea how an f/stop relates to a shutter speed, and their images show it.  Learn first, then market.

Good tips. Bad Heading. I would say these are not the types of things a "Beginning Photographer" should be worried about, once he has the sufficient skill to produce decent photos, then he can go on advertising, otherwise, his poor-skilled work will only dampen his name to the people that get to see him on Flickr, Facebook, Google, etc, and scare away potential clients.

"6 Great ways for an aspiring Photographer to Promote his work" Would be better IMO  :)


tyleremt1's picture

This list is what is wrong with the industry today. Clients see 100's of so called photographers, or know someone with a camera, and feel it is ok to pay NOTHING for services. There are a few things a beginning photographer should know, this list isn't even in the ball park. First, understand your camera. Know it well. It's a tool, and like any other tool you had better know how to use it properly. The more familiar you are with your camera, how to change settings, and how to focus lenses on it, then your ready to move on to step two. Step two, LEARN about photography. Take a class, read a book, watch numerous tutorials. Take your first 1000 photos with a purpose. Don't just pull the trigger and use the "accuracy by volume method". Be specific, and calculated. Know that if you make a mistake, but correct it, you have learned which helps you later. Step 3 is shoot shoot shoot. The only way to take good photographs is to shoot photographs. Step 4 is important, but cannot come before the first 3. It is learn all you can about light. Not just flash, or studio light, but actually watch people, and see how light hits them. Know that at noon, it's much different than 8am, or 8pm. Once you see how light works, then you can move on to step 5 which is putting light right where you want it, deliberately. I run into many people that say "I'm a photographer" simply because they have a camera. I will tell you there is a big difference between someone that shoots a picture (my mother takes lots of pictures) and an actual photographer. If you always do things for a reason, and have a vision, your photos will get better and better with time. Long after you have done all these things, you can think about starting a website, and marketing your craft. Never in all my years have I seen an industry flooded with people saying "I'm a photographer" simply because I have a camera. Does this mean "I'm a surgeon" because I own a scalpel? I think not. It takes time to be good, and more time to be great. I'm good, but I'm working on being great. 

Chris McNaught's picture

I realize it's a matter of semantics, and most people might not even notice, but the title and the 6 things don't match. I've noticed this is a trend with your articles and one that could be easily remedied.
The title says there are 6 things photographers should know, but the article lists 6 things that should be done.
Maybe just a title change: Six Things Every Beginning Photographer Should Do

Syman St's picture

Good observation skills..!

Almås Jan Helge's picture

Nr 1 and 2 like this ? ( Still working on it, lots of text is going to be added soon )

Julio's picture

Also naming your business after yourself is ok unless you would like to sell your business one day...Joe Blow photography would be a hard sell to Aunt Suzie...

Adam Gasson's picture

How could you sell a business when you ARE the business? Unless you mean sell off a library of images, in which case the business name is irrelevant.

Julio's picture

If you have only one photographer shooting for your company well then yes you ARE the business...But if your studios employees 20-30 shooters and you average 150-1000 portrait session and or weddings a year then you no longer ARE the business...For example the Portrait People or Lifetouch...If you only have the dream of a one man operation then good luck with making any real money...

Scott Hargis's picture

 You're joking, right?
Retail photography is only one business model. But there are plenty of photographic commercial artists making plenty of money who don't (and can't) subcontract shoots to lesser photographers.
It's not like Bruce Springsteen has some other guy around to play the smaller concerts....people hire ME, not my camera.

mark Beaumont's picture

I think the 'shoot for free' point is a little misleading, a better way to put it is to shoot for something other than money. Your not shooting for free, you're shooting for portfolio content, and forging links. 

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