So You Wanna Be a Photographer…

Last night I hosted my first intro to photography course (and am already planning another by request). When everyone left it got me thinking about how the heck I got here!

More than a decade ago I picked up a Canon AE1, which still sits perched in my home as a reminder that at any moment you can fall in love. I remember to my delight making a pinhole camera, dodging and burning in a dark room and working for days on one print. I thought I was a genuine arteest! Looking back at my original prints I was taking pictures of fences and my friends and my dog – not exactly the Ansel Adams I had hoped for. But I loved photography and wanted it to be a staple in my life.

Over the next few years I used my camera as a professional hobby. I shot often, read tons of books, shadowed people, worked for free or damn near close, interned, assisted, teamed up with, studied, criticized, scrutinized and adored my own work and others’. Then one day a guy came along….I know, strong independent woman needs a man *rolls eyes*… but truth is I needed someone to believe in me and even more than that, believe in me to the point of having my financial back if my venture took a three stooges face plant. So I opened a business. It started off quiet, 1 gig per month, eating ramon noodles 3 meals a day kinda quiet. But slowly my clients told other clients who told others and the originals came back for more. I became a viable business. But not without learning the things I didn’t even know I needed to along the way. Here’s some tips and advice for the future arteests of the world:

Is this right??

For the photographer: 

1. It’s not about the camera, it’s about the person holding it. We all covet the guy with pounds of gear at his disposal. But you don’t need to empty your bank account to take good images. Get good at using what you have – if you can make amazing prints with a kit lens and a rebel, you’re doing it right.

2. Shoot, a lot! Make a wish list of all the things you want to shoot. Each week designate a shoot day and slowly cross off your list. When you’re done, do it again…but better!

3. Books & the Interwebs. There is so much information at our fingertips for FREE! Two of my favorite online places to learn are Adorama’s Youtube channel  and Strobist (thank you Ben).

4. Keep a journal in your car….When you have free time location hunt. There are hidden gems everywhere! I’ve found some on a bike rides, some driving around, some near my house while on a walk. If you’re ever gonna plan shoots your list will come in handy.

5. When you find locations make a note of the placement of the sun. I learned this assisting for the amazing Brook Pifer. My journal normally says something like “Areas to shoot: lake, dock, beach. Address. 8:03p May 1, 2012. Sunset to the right of dock. Sunrise to the left.”

6. Never pinhole yourself. Try Everything!!!! I’m not super all about children and originally thought I’d never shoot anything smaller than 4 ft unless it was a midget. One day I shot a newborn for a friend, turns out they’re ridiculously fun to photograph. Now I’m excited every time I get a call for one, who knew?!?

For the photography business: 

1. Learn to Manage Paper!

Every client, every gig requires paperwork. A contract, a call sheet, a model release form, an information request sheet, invoices, receipts, they all become part of your business. Buy a filing cabinet and make use of it!

2. Get familiar with your hardware store

Unless you have lots of money to hire someone to make whatever your heart dreams up you’re gonna take trips to stores you may have never set foot in before you launched.

3. Get familiar with your craft store

Read above.

4. Taxes & LLC

Do them. If you don’t know how, find someone to do them for you. The sooner you get this done the less of a mess you’ll have at year end.

5. Don’t freak out because there’s competition. With cameras getting cheaper there will be more “photographers” but don’t get your panties in a wad about it, word is there’s A LOT of people who like pictures. (My advice is actually to do the opposite of freak out and work with them. Make allies, network and teach, create an artistic community).

6. Bids. Creating a job bid is an interesting task. Some clients will take high bids for the best work while others want the cheapest decent guy for the job. Do some research and talk to the guy who did the shoot last year or just ask the client (surprising I know) what budget they’re looking for…then build it from there.

7. Image rights. I don’t have enough space to write about this – please google it. If you learn anything, learn those… it’s your gold card, your hall pass, your wallet.

Hopefully this helps a few or confuses many, who knows. But if you’re a future photographer…. Here’s lookin at you kid!


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