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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Previous comments
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. 

Adam Gasson's picture

This. A shoot is free when it's a normal fee paying client who suddenly asks you to work for no money and on a job that has no portfolio benefit to you. Shooting personal work you don't get paid for is part and parcel of the industry.

the_pro_amateur's picture

I completely disagree with this list and I've found huge success with my immediate family on facebook following these rules:
1. Be a poor to horrendous photographer with no desire to improve.
2. Post on craigslist looking for foot, underwear, and nude models age 18-18 1/2
3. Set up a *professional* studio using a desk lamp comprised of 30% duct tape, an office chair, and a wrinkled bed sheet on the basement wall.
4. Be a total creep/snob/asshole.
5. Frequent YouTube and other photo "how to" sites and just try to copy what other people are doing (don't forget to ask what gear, exact settings, and Photoshop tweaks they used).  Having your own vision and knowledge will get you nowhere!
6. Use the word "professional" a lot.
7. Use the words "budget" and "affordable" A LOT.
8. Ruin someone's wedding day after following #6 and #7 so people are increasingly paranoid about real photographers.
9. If it's an otherwise bad photo, just HDR the hell out of it, or make it black and white.  That's art man.
10. Actions.

Follow these simple rules and you'll be on your way to becoming as good as I, a proud PPA and ASMP member (just like everyone else).

Adam Gasson's picture

I think points 1 to 4 are really a single point - have an online presence. I also don't think that every social network platform out there is applicable to every photographer. Facebook is great for wedding and portrait photographers but next to useless if you shoot editorially for example. While Flickr has some great tools I wouldn't sign up in the hope of licencing images to Getty. Why not cut out the middleman (and increase your percentage) here and go straight to an agency?
I agree with shooting for free, but not for people how are usual fee payers who might be trying to get a freebie. It's essential for personal career development though. The point raised here is worded badly, especially the "And these guys may have money" line - makes photographers sound pretty desperate.

snapdragon58's picture

I love how people are so quick to criticize free advice! Thank you for the ideas that you did provide...they were helpful to me ;) (oh and by the way...i often shoot for free and it has led to paying gigs)

Simon wardenier's picture

How about: Learn how to take good pictures, develop your own style, make prints, connect with people?

This has to be about the worst business model I have ever seen. For starters, the marketing is all passive and secondly, you never, never, never, NEVER discount your work or do anything for free.

Mbutu Namubu's picture

The reason why business is so difficult for young folks starting out is that the economy is a social system. Markets are based on relations between people that are constantly changing from moment to moment. Any attempt to apply a formula or learn how to run a business through classes at school etc is probably the wrong approach because it doesn't account for the day-to-day changes in states of affairs.

A photographer's reputation is the most important precisely because the market is social. This means that it's perfectly fine to shoot for free if it will increase a photographer's reputation in some manner. For example, if working for free gains access to special locations or subject matter that might increase a  reputation through a portfolio then it's definitely worth doing. Meanwhile, working for a fee and producing bad work can only hurt a photographer's reputation. The point is that the most important thing to be concerned with is reputation and it can often be aided by working for free as well as harmed by working for a fee.

Also, commercial has a much different culture than wedding/portraiture. The best business advice I ever got for shooting commercial was to "never do a shoot for less than a grand." It turned out to be true based on my experience. The worst jobs and clients often dwell in the below 1000 dollar range. Again, part of gaining a reputation also has to do with what jobs a photographer is willing to reject.

Photography is different than other careers because there is no "working your way up." In other words, don't expect to charge low fees and eventually move up to higher fees.That rarely happens. Working for free can actually be less dangerous than charging low fees because free work is a favor. Many times, a favor can even more valuable than shooting a paid job. It just depends on the situation.

Just some thoughts...don't know if they'll help anybody or not

Andre Goulet's picture

Great insights. Thanks!

Andrew Griswold's picture

Nailed it again Nick! Simple and direct rules to starting out and being able to market yourself as a photographer. Tons of great responses and I am really glad Lee and Patrick are fighting back for step  5 shoot for free. Its about building upon the work you have, you are gaining experience for one and chances are you are working for a friend most the time so you are familiar with the scene and person. Makes it that much more fun to create something you are directing and wanting to shoot. 

Alex Toloczyki's picture

Yeah, the site with your name...How would you call your site if your name was "Alex Toloczyki"? It´s a difficult name, strange name...I choose "". I would like to have a name like "John Doe" but I don´t have :)

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