Thursday, June 18, 2009

Tips: Amateur to Pro Photographer

A common topic of discussion right now is whether or not now is a good time to start a business. Let's say you have weighed the options and decided that you want to proceed and take on the daunting task of becoming a business owner. Okay, so you're ready, but you still have some common fears on starting your own photography business, well here is where this article comes in handy. Economics, business savvy, and a go getter attitude are all important things that one needs to possess when deciding to make the shift to professional photographer.

As a current small business owner, I know how the business side of things works, but I still had some questions regarding the business of photography. That's when I decided to go out and pick the brains of some professional photographers to see what tips/advice they were willing to share. Here are the topics that I asked them to touch on:

• You read that a lot of photographers just started out on their own. Is that a good
way to go or
should you work with/shadow a professional before crossing over?

Brooke Mayo: I think you should work for a professional to learn the ins and outs of the
business side of photography. Make sure this person is not someone who
will be your competitor when you do go out on your own and be upfront
about your intentions.

Kristen Kalp: If you work with or for someone, you'll find yourself growing a whole lot
faster than if you discover everything on your own. Think about it -- if
someone had expected you to *discover* the alphabet, you'd spend a lot
more time learning than if someone sits you down and says, "This is the
alphabet. You're going to need this." Being a wedding assistant for a
photographer is a fabulous way to learn the ropes, if that's where you're
headed, or working for a studio to learn artificial lighting can be a lovely
learning experience. In photography, if it teaches you something, go for it.

• Finding a location to work from . . . is it that important in the beginning?

Brooke Mayo: It depends on what kind of photography you do, some need a studio and
some can work from their home or some have a home studio. It always
helps to cut costs where you can if you don't have to have a studio/office to

Kristen Kalp: I have always had a location to work from -- first working for someone else,
in a studio, and then branching out to open my loft. This is important for
me, as it helps me to better define 'work time' and 'play time', or I would
simply let business take over. I don't believe this is a necessary first step,
though -- creating a dedicated portion of your home for your photography
and editing, then sticking to a schedule can be an effective way to make
your home work for you.

• What are some ways that you got over any (if any) fears?

Kristen Kalp: Really, truly ask yourself if you want to *be in business.* Yes, it's wonderful
to think that you'll be compensated for taking photos -- isn't that lovely?
But the business aspect of photography will make or break you. Not your
photography skills.

• Can you offer any marketing tips for someone just starting out?

Brooke Mayo: Network with other photographers and businesses in your area, word of
mouth has been the biggest for me!

Kristen Kalp: When you find your ideal client, work with them. Learn from them. And
do your best to satisfy them.

• Common business mishaps and trip ups . . . what did you live and learn?

Kristen Kalp: For me, the business side of work doesn't come naturally, which is why I
have a business partner. If you know someone who adores numbers,
strategy, logic, and doesn't have an interest in shooting, they're an ideal
candidate for being your partner. Think long and hard about partnership,
but know your weaknesses as well as your strengths. A good partnership
minimizes them.

• How much is your work worth? What is a good way to set your pricing structure?

Brooke Mayo: Price your work what you think it's worth, not what you can afford to pay.
There are lots of studio management software programs that will help you
run the numbers, many photographers starting out will charge way too
little, so much so they are losing money. You have to think of each and
every aspect of your business before pricing, not only what does the print
cost but what does your time cost to retouch it, how much is storage
costing you, all of these things play into how much you should charge.

Kristen Kalp: Your work is worth as much as you believe it's worth. I've never heard a
bad thing said about Easy as Pie for pricing strategy.

• Handling the conundrum of family and friends wanting your services? Free,
discount, or no

Brooke Mayo: We have a 10% friends/family policy. Most the time, you could have paid
work instead so 10% is fair for both parties. I don't photograph friends
weddings as I don't like mixing these two relationships.

Kristen Kalp: I have a very short list of people I shoot for at no charge. Everyone else
pays full price. (That gray area is what kills -- so I either love you enough
to make a gift of my work, or you're a client. Period.)

• Assistant, yes or no? What if you think you can’t afford it?

Kristen Kalp: An assistant isn't as important as being organized and having a plan from
the beginning. I recommend Strategy Avenue products for getting
your thoughts together and laying the groundwork for your business.

• Dealing with unruly clients, what should you do?

Brooke Mayo: Make them as happy as you can and let them know you truly do
understand why they are upset and you will do everything you can to fix

Kristen Kalp: Listen to what they're really saying. If they're upset that their delivery was
2 days later than you promised, it's a matter of managing their
expectations about delivery times before a problem crops up. And always,
always be up front with your pricing information. No surprises delivers
better sales.

• Any other comments or suggestions.

Kristen Kalp: Err on the side of being generous. Life is much smoother that way.

Again, many thanks to Brooke and Kristen for their time and valuable input. I respect the work that both of you do, you are unique women and posses such talent. I really appreciate both of you taking the time to share your tips and tricks of the trade. Love to spread the love and word of other female owned businesses!

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