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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Maikeru Nirvana Zhang's picture

Yea I agree with alot of people here. Sorry FStoppers, I don't mean to criticize, I usually find all your posts amazing, but this time I don't find this post as very productive advice. I believe the first and foremost aspect a photographer should know first before becoming a pro is reflect and assess - "am I good enough as a photographer to charge people for my images? Would people pay for what I can produce?"

With that in mind, then polish their art if need be by shooting heaps, start their own projects, learn from others and share knowledge with other photographers, get proactive. 

Once they passed that stage and have the essential skills to produce "good-enough" images that people would pay for, then start with your list of approaches. Although I think steps 2-4 is essentially the same step.

Step 4 is very controversial, we have all shot for free, volunteered or done unpaid work. It is kinda inevitable. However, It is also one major ideology that most clients have in their mind that also destroys our industry. We as a collective of photographers from the world should educate clients or whoever that photography costs money, business or not, projects always have a production cost and overhead costs. Surely photographers just starting out could gain alot of experience from shooting for free - from another pro, or a fellow photographer. But definitely should not get confused with shooting an unpaid "job". I'm not saying all clients every look for are what's cheap or that they don't appreciate good photography, I'm not. But we can't deny the fact that it does reduce the size of our market, making it even harder for the beginner to start charging money for his/her work. How many times has anyone hear "Oh, I'm just gonna ask my cousin to take the wedding photos for me because he has a new DSLR camera". Shoot for free only for yourself and no one else. Only if you believe the images you produce will be beneficial to your portfolio or will give you a wealth of experience and knowledge.If you do come across a situation of opportunity from a potential "client" then charge them an overhead or discounted fee, or something. Don't just jump in for free. Keep the industry healthy guys.

Stefan Parol's picture

Honestly, you people, who do you think to charge for your service if noone talks about you cause you never did any freewillingly services for friends of friends etc... You just about to start and want to be paid emidiatly just as you had already prooven yourselfs. 
I agree that its absolutely essential to sell yourself for a fair price and rely on what you think you are worth and able to do, otherwise people will just rip you off, but thats not what we are talking about. Helping out for free ALWAYS, in 9 out of 10, will lead to something good, even if it just was a nice day connecting....

Daniel R. Chang Acat's picture

Wordpress is a pain in the *ss to maitain and upload a catalog like portfolio. Trust me, i triet: take a look:

Facebook may not have the best quality for my photos but at least it's easy and fast to keep it updated like this:

Genevieve Son's picture

QUICK QUESTION: Flickr or 500px?

JonaGMM's picture

Both have good qualities.

Personally, I use FLickr to upload most of my photos. Serve me as backup and as a way to easily share a particular photo.

On the other hand, I upload to 500px the photos I like the most. Quality over Quantity kinda thing. And it's a great site to 1) Be amazed of other people pictures and 2) To learn and be insipred about the craft.

So I would say: use both.

This are mine btw (heh):

JonaGMM's picture

I'm not a professional, nor I want to be, but getting to show the photos, places and events that I enjoy, won't hurt either I guess. So, here:

And fine piece of advice, I didn't know about the Google Places thing. Thanks!

Julio's picture

Heres my top 5 steps to opening a photography business.

 1- Knowledge/Creativity (Get it by either second shooting or go to school)
 2- Branding/Marketing (Start with a logo then work on your social sites)
 3- Gear (Buy what you need and work your way up)
 4- Organization Skills (Either your born with it or you better hire someone that has it)
 5- Find Your Style and Stick with it (Find your niche and believe in your self)

Gustaveux's picture
futbol4vida's picture

How about my site I created just last summer: . Im more of serious hobbyist than making a a career out of it at this point.. Any thoughts or suggestions do let me know.

David Crockett's picture

I'll be the first to give constructive criticism. You work is at hobbyist level but not at professional level. You need to learn framing and photo retouching. Many photos have issues with the framing with way too much unnecessary negative space and light balance is just all over the place. All of your portraits have many many blemishes that could be easily removed in photoshop. I suggest taking some classes at a local college to further learn the craft before thinking of charging anyone for photography. Also, that starry background is kind of cheezy. I am only pointing all this out in honesty and not to be mean. You clearly have a passion for photography, it's just that is not enough. Hope this helps. Cheers.

futbol4vida's picture

No offense taken at all, I prefer honest feedback to sugar coated crap. It makes me better. I actually did take a few classes several years ago in college but perhaps Ive lost my way. I actually like the negative space and I would agree Im weak with light- although I as a hobbyist I am working during the week and thats my excuse. Thanks a ton for the tips, if you wouldnt mind commenting on specfic shots with recommendations on my flickr I'd highly appreciate it (


Scott Hargis's picture

Six pieces of advice and only one of them involves touching a camera? Seriously? You think being a photographer is all about Flickr and Google?

James Tarry's picture

gotta agree with you here Scott....

Scott Cushman's picture

Just yesterday, a friend who is a wedding organizer was telling me about a photographer she'd worked with over the weekend. He showed up late, not dressed appropriately for a wedding, spent far longer one-on-one with the bride than expected which meant he never got the list of group shots the mother-in-law had requested (making her upset), and had a bit of an attitude throughout. It was a bad experience overall. I restrained myself from saying, "well, you could have hired me instead ..." 

From her story and so many others I've heard (and not just about weddings), I'd add the advice that a photographer should always be punctual, polite and situationally appropriate. In other words, respect and serve your clients, models and coworkers. 

I don't think it matters how great your website looks if your customers won't recommend you and never want to work with you again.  

the_pro_amateur's picture

But he was a PROFESSIONAL and BUDGET FRIENDLY, just like me!  That's what brides want.
It doesn't matter if we steal real photographer's images, act like a spoiled kid, or don't read our manuals.  We blow all our Walmart money on booze and video games, so we need the cash from these super easy weddings.  Refer to my list above.  Just use actions and have no overhead.  You won't believe how many compliments I get from my mom and high school friends on facebook.

A nonsense advice for beginners. When they follow your advice they feel they are already PRO and that is exactly what is happening around us now. Every one is a photographer! I teach photo workshops and shoot commercial photography. If you want to give this kind of advice to a staring mechanic who just bought a first wrench key, well I doubt you will go and see him when your car breaks down, even thou he has a website, images on flickr, works for free etc.... The KNOWLEDGE of the craft one should be able to offer is MISSING boy. THINK and then write :) or you encourage them to feel the way they should not feel yet. Step by step like baby when from crawling comes walking, hitting walls and then finally running around with D4+85f1.4 :) That is the way I can see it on my workshops and people love it and follow the advices...

David Crockett's picture

I totally agree with you WELL SAID!!! Advice #1 should be LEARN YOUR CRAFT!!! You can't start calling yourself a nurse just because you want to be one!

Lucy Merriman's picture

To everyone who's saying the first piece of advice should be, "learn the craft," isn't that obvious? Maybe he wanted to give practical advice to enthusiastic beginners who've already learned how to photograph, at least to an extent, and want to make the jump from student to professional. 

Like he said in the first paragraph, the students and aspiring photographers were looking for advice on "breaking into" the business. So this is solid advice right here. 
I know from my standpoint as a writer, I get annoyed whenever people say to novice writers, "write every day, read a lot of books." Well duh. Anyone who doesn't already do that will never be professional, so why address them in the first place? 

fancher8's picture


David Crockett's picture

No it is not obvious! There are too many people out there, WAY too many people, that buy a camera and start calling themselves photographers. It's sickening! I've talked to "professional photographers" that don't even know what and aperture is let alone how to light something professionally! No kidding!

JonaGMM's picture

It is obvious.

And if some clients like or choose those "professionals" over you, who knows what is an aperture, then the fault lies with the clients, not with the photographer, and even less with the people who gives the advice of "having flickr". 

Show them you are best with your images, not with you mouth (or keyboard).

No no like this people

David Crockett's picture

This post is completely inappropriate! This is not the place to make people look bad! Shame on you!

Lorenzo P's picture

I am definitely sharing this!!! Very informative and useful information!! 

Mark Bolton's picture

Specialise, dont shoot everything.  And dont shoot for free...

Homer Horowitz's picture

By doing "should be payed" jobs for free you're only earning yourself and those around you better odds of not making it as a business.    

Daniel McVey's picture

Great Article. Did not know about Google Places.

Debra Tidd's picture

Do shoot for free! You do not advertise that you are doing work for free. You seek out people directly and make them an offer.
Shooting for free is intended for the group of people that support your
career choice and will advertise the work for you and will purchase the
work you create. You do the shoot for free with permissions to use the
work for promoting your business, offering them a small sample of the
work you create...if they are your support...they will purchase from you
and will tell others!  If your work is not good...then they won'
need help with more than marketing. 

EddieClark2's picture

Since there are so many unqualified opinions here, let me qualify my statement with this fact; I am a professional photographer making a living through my photography, and do not have a second job waiting tables or whatever to pay my bills.  I also love what I do.
Working for free is a good way to end up not working as a photographer.  It says you don't value your photography (because it's probably bad), and it undercuts all the real pros who can provide good work all the time (this will maybe be YOU someday).  Taking on what should be a paying job for free or cheap is not necessary for becoming a better photographer, and especially not for succeeding- since when did any successful business not charge for their services or product?  
Creating a solid portfolio and becoming better at photography requires education (formal and/or informal), honest peer review (NOT Facebook friends and family 'likes'), and practice practice practice by taking thousands and thousands and thousands of photos.  Do join a real professional photography organization or association to learn and support your trade.  
Becoming a full-time photographer requires money in the bank (and/or a degree from a very prestigious program/university) to get through the first 6 months to a year with little income because getting your name out there and building a reputation doesn't happen over night.
And lastly, be nice to others and have fun because if you can't do that you wont last long. 

Jim Holmes's picture

Shooting for free establishes your value to your client. You get what you are worth and show you are worth nothing to them.

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