I was contacted recently by a college student who wanted to interview me for a paper she was writing. Like many people out there, she’s starting her own photography business and was looking for advice. As I was answering these questions for her, I thought a lot about how far I’ve come as a photographer. For example, this picture of Emma:
This is going to give encouragement to a lot of people, because THIS is how I started out taking photos! I put up a (wrinkled) white sheet for a backdrop, and shot on automatic. The white balance is terrible – poor child looks blue. Her hands are a blur because of the slow shutter due to low light. I will say this though… I still love it, because it’s my little girl when she was one year old (and suddenly, now, she is nine), and it proves to me that if you love photography and work hard at it, your work can grow in amazing ways.
Here’s the interview I gave:
1. When did you feel confident in your work and knew that you were a professional photographer?
These are really two separate questions, because I believe you can be confident in your work without being a professional – and conversely you can be a “professional” with very little confidence in what you do. Having both is obviously best!
I began to feel confident in my work when using the camera became second nature to me – when my work looked great coming straight out of the camera and I didn’t have to do a lot of “corrective” post-production work.
I didn’t reallllllly feel like a professional until we were having to support the family entirely from photography income. Sometimes I still don’t feel like I’m “there” yet, but I think that’s true of everyone in some area of their life or work.
2. Have you ever had a client that was rude or unhappy with anything when you started out? How did you look past that?
I’ve had a lot of mess-ups along the way, but they never damaged my business, because we ALWAYS have made the client’s satisfaction our number one priority. If there is even the slightest problem, we try our best to make it right even before the client asks. Does this sometimes cost us? Yes. BUT it is so much more important to me that we have a great reputation in our community. It’s worth whatever we have to do to make uber-satisfied clients.
3. Have you ever had to change your style or way of doing things to make a client happy?
When I think back to when I was just starting out, my first priority was to do exactly what my clients wanted, and I spent all my time trying to make them happy. What I’ve learned over the years is that most of the time the client doesn’t KNOW what they want. They are coming to me because they like what I do. They are paying for my creativity and vision. And yes, sometimes during a session they may think I’m crazy and wonder what in the world I’m doing – but they’ll see my vision later when the final product is complete. And they’ll love it! It’s fun to surprise people like that.
4. Is it easy to have children and do a business?
My husband and I not only work together full-time from home, but we also homeschool our two children. Most of the time it’s chaotic and crazy, but it’s the right choice for us. When you do have a family your time is so precious. We recognize that our time with our children, especially when they are young, will go by so fast. We’ve made decisions about our lifestyle and our business that allow us to make the most of this time.
5. Sometimes I feel uncomfortable with posing people for a shot or run out of ideas, have you ever been through that? Does that come easier over time?
Yes! This does get easier! A lot of it has to do with confidence and experience. Once you shoot 100 seniors, you’re going to have a lot of ideas about how to pose seniors. However, there is a danger in all that experience. If I don’t prepare well for a session now, I can easily find myself doing the same 10 things over and over again. There’s a good balance between comfort and creativity. Even now before sessions I will go through one of my idea files (one ripped from magazines, a couple digital files on my desktop or my Pinterest boards) to kind of prime my creative eye. I often come to sessions with a little post-it note of pose ideas in my pocket that I want to create. Constantly growing and trying new things keeps this job fun for me. That is the wonderful thing about photography. No matter how far you’ve come, there is always something new to learn. There are always new directions in which to grow.
As David says “becoming a professional is a good way to ruin a perfectly good hobby”. There is so much more to it than just learning to use a camera correctly. The “business” of professional photography can be a pain for us creative types. We’ve learned a lot of things the difficult, roundabout way. There’s so much I wish I would have known starting out that would have made our journey much easier. Can we help you? We’re currently working on a plan to start doing some one-on-one mentoring. If you’re interested in starting a photography business, or want to take your established business to the next level, we’d love to partner with you. Send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org for additional information.