How to start a new career in photography
For many people the idea of becoming their own boss is a dream and photography seems a great idea and an industry that is easy to get into with few barriers to entry. Actually working out how to start a career in photography actually proves to be a little more challenging than expected though so hopefully the following thoughts will be of some value. This is not meant to be a complete plan of action but an insight into a few key areas often overlooked.
Choose your area of expertise wisely
The majority of new photographers that I work with are looking to get into lifestyle photography either portraits or weddings. This is a pretty decent plan as in my experience the money in photography happens to be when shooting either people, pets or businesses. The issue with lifestyle photography tends to be the hours involved, as the majority of shoots are likely to be undertaken outside of typical working hours (9-5) and this may be when you want or need to be spending time with your family. If you are trying to stay a photography business to fit around your family then lifestyle photography may not be the route for you.
I mentioned just above that there is money in shooting businesses and I find that commercial photography is very often overlooked by prospective professional photographers. The scope for shooting commercially is enormous, you get repeat work and you can specialise in any areas that catch your attention.
When you start out with your new business venture the chances are that you will be looking to pick up any work that you can however over time you will probably be looking to really get well known within a specific field – this way you can start to charge a premium.
Invest wisely in your photography business
Photography equipment is far too tempting and once you get the bug for it then you can be in real trouble. But when you start out on your new business then you need to consider all of the spends you have coming (chances are that you don’t even know some of them are coming) including some of the following:
- Insurance – public liability and professional indemnity
- Software subscription – Above Lightroom / photoshop
- Memory cards
- Marketing materials
- Digital marketing
- Website development
- Additional lenses / flash guns /
- Phone bills / broadband
- Backdrops (plus additional items including clamps)
- Studio lights / spare bulbs
- Training courses
- Backup drives / remote drives
- Fuel / transportation
- Samples of albums / frames
One of the biggest problems that I come across with people starting out on a new photography career is that they overspend on their kit initially and then don’t have the funds to invest in their business and promoting their services.
There is an old argument that a good photographer should be able to take a good photograph with any old camera but let’s be clear – better kit sure helps when you are out shooting. Additionally many of my clients have reasonable disposable incomes and own a decent camera – they have an expectation that a professional photographer is going to have better kit than them – this doesn’t mean it is right but just a fact of life.
Before you invest, consider all spends and your budget – different lenses will allow you to take different styles of images so chances are you will want to add to your collection pretty quickly. It is much harder to grow a business with a tiny marketing budget but then again you may be a social media wizard and can drive your business cheaply that way.
It is vital that you calculate very early on exactly what your prices are going to be. It is a very common trap for photographers to start off by offering their services to family and friends either very cheaply or free. Just remember this is not a business model that can last and you will soon discover that in order to make a living your prices are going to need to take a swift climb. this in itself can cause big problems and make you look like a charlatan. It is a much better idea in my experience to work out what your prices will ultimately be and then offer large discounts to start with – just make sure people know they are getting a good discount and that they earn it by helping to promote your services (vouchers, testimonials, etc).
When starting out you are pretty desperate for work and the chance to prove yourself, the world seems to be your oyster – anyone and everyone is a potential client. But you need to be careful especially when it comes to marketing your business as you can’t and won’t appeal to everyone with the same marketing. The good news is that you don’t need to as there is a limit to how much work you can take on and in-fact if you do try to appeal to everyone then the chances are your efforts will be in vain.
You need to accept early on that your work is not going to appeal to everybody and that many people wont like what you do – but this is actually good news as it means that there is space in the market for all of us as we all work differently and produce unique work.
Early on you need to consider exactly who your target market is, try to understand their behaviour and habits so you can carefully target your marketing and pricing towards them. Every single action and decision you then undertake needs to be considered against your prospective clients to ensure consistency
Understanding the role of your website is a task that relatively few new business owners truly consider instead they plough straight in and starting building a great looking site. But websites can assume a number of roles – you may want yours to drive new business by ranking high on Google searches or alternatively you may wish for your site to be a stunning portfolio. It would be lovely to say that these two elements are complimentary however currently this is not the case as Google still likes plenty of words. You can be clever, I have seen plenty of great looking sites that feature high up on Google rankings but there are many factors involved in ranking high on google including site age and number of inbound links none of which new photographers get to benefit from.
For many new photographers they follow a well worn path, they buy a camera, learn to use it, create a website and put work onto social media. This is an ok start if well planned but is not a sustainable business model – facebook alone is very good at limiting the reach of your posts unless you pay it some cash. You need to establish a number of processes and tasks that you routinely undertake all of which drive business towards you.
Starting out with your new venture should be a time of great excitement, attack it wholeheartedly and enjoy the ride. Plan early and review often. I would love to hear what has worked well for you and maybe what hasn’t gone so well so please leave a comment. If you fancy some help along the way consider our photography mentoring programme.