My advice for an aspiring photographer

You may remember some of my editing pointers from a previous post. I’d like to share some pointers to any beginners contemplating the pursuit of a professional career in photography.

  1. Do not quit your day job. Not right away. It may be tempting because after all, lots of people buy a camera and are photographers. Do not join the band wagon. Be a hobbyist, learn your craft. Take lots and lots of pictures in all sorts of different settings. Night, day, action, low light, bright light. Get to know your camera. Shoot at least one roll of film. If you’ve never done a photo shoot on film or slide film, you are not a photographer and you are not paying homage to the art. You should be able to capture an excellent shot in one take that does not require any editing after the fact. Shoot in raw, in manual, bracket your exposure settings. Take a class or two, just know as in all subjects, some teachers are better than others but the general information should be the same across the board.


2.) Develop a style. This is a competitive field and it’s an art, you need to bring something unique to the table. You can copy the ideas of other work you’ve seen done all day long but it’s already been done. If you have your own style it will set you apart. If you seem to not be able to find your voice, keep practicing.


3.) Do not work for free but do not charge if you are not yet at a professional level. That’s right, if you are calling yourself a professional photographer do not advertise free sessions, it’s unprofessional and sets a lower standard of expectation on the industry as a whole. You can have a model rep program but be choosy. Choose models that will benefit your portfolio. I have never just done free sessions for anybody and everybody for “experience”. If you need experience practice on inanimate objects, places, pets, even yourself. Don’t make a photo shoot of a family be where you are learning aperture, ISO, white balance, etc. Know what’s up with your f-stops before you start shooting people.


4.) Do not give all your work away. In no universe is there a version of me that gives away images on disc. This is generally frowned upon in the photography world, especially by those who have been involved in it for some time. This is a fairly new trend and it really should stop. Charge for digital images. Your price for full resolution with printing rights should be much higher than your price for prints. Why? Because you are giving away a lifetime of unlimited printing. Just something to think about, Disney charges $169 for a cd of digital prints from your park visit. These are not full resolution files.


5.) Limit what you put out there. There has long been in place a practice of the photographer choosing the best images to show their clients. If you’re bracketing settings and trying to catch certain moments, you’ll likely end up with several very similar poses. People don’t need to see a hundred images of the same pose, they get overwhelmed. Wow them in a good way.

6.) After you’ve learned actual photography, then you can worry about photoshop. I’ve been taking pictures a long, long time but I’ve only fairly recently started using photoshop. It always seemed like cheating to me. I knew how to get certain effects in camera or with filters on the camera. It was quite a while after I switched to digital that I started using Lightroom for minor color adjustments but that was it. I prided myself on knowing I could take a photo that was good enough that it needed no extra work. But I’ve found there are ways to utilize editing tools without compromising the original composition. I am always careful to compose a shot so that minimal editing is required. I mainly play with color and filters in post processing to give an extra little pop. I never have to make drastic changes to an image. The biggest thing I realized I needed to be able to do in people portraits is touch up skin discolorations, blemishes and other imperfections. A photo can be absolutely gorgeous in all technical components but people tend to be their own worst enemy. They will hate your beautiful picture if they don’t like the way they look in it. It’s not your fault in any way but you can fix what they don’t like pretty easily. That’s what I use photoshop for, I don’t go crazy with it. The original image and edited image are never really that different.


7.) Be careful when it comes to mixing business with family and friends. I’ve been burned here. It’s touchy but don’t let yourself get into a situation where friends are taking advantage of having a photographer friend, getting free sessions, free prints, maybe even telling their family members you’ll do free shoots for them also. You’ve got to survive and your time is worth something.


8.) Don’t put yourself in a bad situation. Get legit. Register your business. File for a tax ID. Find out your state’s tax rules. Usually there are no taxes required on services such as the session but actual products you hand over (prints, discs) must be taxed. You can get into serious trouble here if you really start making the bucks and aren’t registered as a business or filing taxes. Plus, it just makes you look better and makes your clients more comfortable. I know that I feel good in knowing that I have a tax ID number for my business.


9.) Resize what you post online and use a watermark. I’ve had people print what I post on Facebook instead of going through me for prints. Protect your work.

10.) Sales and marketing. This is probably the one thing that will ultimately determine the fate of your photography business. It doesn’t matter how good you are, if you can’t make money, you will not stay in business. You really have to sell yourself as much as I hate to say it. I’m shy and I’ve never been a good salesperson which is not a good combo. Just keep at it, even if it’s little by little, keep getting your name out there. Network, make connections, build relationships. Create a brand for yourself and create awareness for it. Send emails, newsletters, brochures, and whatever else you have to. And don’t stop.


I am always open to helping anyone out. If you have questions or want to collaborate, just send me a message.
– Mysti

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