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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91 Comments

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

Jens Marklund's picture

Cheers! 

Let me show all of you the traffic I got for the above link. It's pretty insane.
http://qikr.co/files/pics/s/stats70685.jpg

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.

NerazT's picture

Fail! website uses flash.

Sigh, yes it does :-(

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

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 work....is 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. 

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 

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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: http://namechk.com/  

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.

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.  

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."

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...)

Another good thing is, create an account at 500px.com, 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
http://500px.com/nicosochadesign
http://www.nicosocha.com

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