So You Want To Be a Photographer: Tips for Beginners

Hello friends! I hope your Wednesday is off to a fabulous start. Welcome back to my blog page! First off, I want to apologize for not blogging as much as I should. It’s been a busy few months. We wrapped up our 6th summer wedding season with 9 beautiful weddings, then jumped into August for a “break”, which honestly felt even busier than June and July did. I started my “vacation” by journeying with my favorite woman in the world, my Mother, to my favorite place in the world, Canada! We ate, laughed, and walked our way through Vancouver, Squamish, and Whistler. I will forever cherish the memories made, and even though it was my third time in BC, I already can’t wait to go back. When I returned to DFW, things still didn’t slow down. More editing, back to back to back meetings, and of course prepping for my 5 year old son to start Kindergarten! The week after Callum started school, I hopped on a plane to Portland where I workshopped with the insanely talented Tyler Rye Photography (an entire blog post will be dedicated to that very soon)! Before the Fall wedding season begins in just 3 short days, I wanted to write a post for anyone wanting to get into photography or has just recently picked up a camera. It’s something that’s been on my mind for a while now and I just love to help when I can. First things first:

Community Over Competition. If you’ve been in the photography industry for a while, you’ve likely heard this phrase. In short, we’re all in this together. If you read/sang that along to the tune of High School Musical, we should be friends. Don’t view other photographers as your competition. We all have the same goal here, and a lot of us have different styles. Realize that not everyone is out to copy what you do, steal your clients, or book every single inquiry. Most photographers do what they do because of their love of the photographic art form, storytelling, and documenting memories. Sure, it can be lucrative; but when you’re using your camera as a way to make people happy rather than make money, you’ll see things in a whole new light (pardon the pun). Join photography forums on social media. Make friends with your fellow entrepreneurs. Refer other photographers to clients when you’re already booked. Build each other up! Over the years I’ve met some amazing people in this industry, several of whom I’m proud to call my close friends.

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Take Your Time. Businesses aren’t built overnight. For me personally, I feel like my start began in 2007. I was taking photos for friends and family when I was gifted my first DSLR. I didn’t shoot my first wedding until 2011. I didn’t incorporate my business until 2014. From first getting a real camera in my hands until the day I made it legal with the state and declared this as my career, seven years had passed. Granted, I had a lot of bumps along the way and had no idea what I was doing when it came to running a business. It was a very lengthy learning process and I can say with confidence that I learned from my mistakes. 2014 was a fantastic first year for Swan Photography, and it only went up from there. As Ginny Au told me, we’re all on this linear journey together. Some have progressed further than others, some move quicker than others, but we’re all on the same path. 2015 was better than ’14, and 2016 was better than ’15. To my amazement, I was about 90% of the way to being fully booked by the time February of 2017 started. Nearly full for the entire year. At this point today, I have booked 11 weddings for 2018. Be patient. Hustle hard. Which brings me to my next point…

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Never Stop Learning. And don’t think you know everything either. Learn from my mistakes. When I started, I thought I knew everything. I wasn’t interested in buying multiple lenses because I had my 28-135 that could do everything. I didn’t know what “variable aperture” meant and didn’t care. I didn’t need to shell out the cash for external flashes because my Canon 30D had one built in. I didn’t need to learn flash because I considered myself a natural light photographer (I still do, but you can’t just walk into a wedding reception unprepared). I wasn’t interested in second shooting because I had already booked several weddings on my own. Second shooting is a fantastic way to get a bit more creative, network with other photographers in your area, and be a tad bit less stress on a wedding day. I would recommend that if you’re wanting to be a wedding photographer but have never photographed a wedding, reach out to some of the local photographers that you admire and offer to assist, then branch out to third or second shooting, build up a portfolio. Or you can do what I did and just bust out of the gate and do it yourself. However, I wish that I had gone about it a different way. Then my linear journey wouldn’t have taken so long. Also, I recommend subscribing to SLR Lounge and CreativeLive. There are so many great tutorials on those sites. There are free options as well, but they are SO worth the money for the pro accounts. I like to listen/watch while I’m editing. Pye Jirsa, Jasmine Star, and Jerry Ghionis are a few of my favorites. If you’re more of a hands on person, attend a workshop! You can go all out and attend something like Forest + Falls, the Tyler Rye Workshop, How to Wow with Jerry Ghionis, or you can start smaller and book a mentoring session with someone in your town. However you do it, just never stop. There’s always a new technique to learn. There’s always a new way to think about composition. There’s always a way to learn how to speed up the editing process.

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Invest Where It Counts. This section is probably the most important one for budding photographers, and will probably be the longest tip of them all. There are several different points that I want to make, so I’m just going to start:

  • Build a website and pay for the URL/domain. Yes, social media is important, but you should have a website that is 100% your own. Your website is where you’ll showcase your portfolio, tell a little bit about yourself, list your pricing and services, and have a way for potential clients to contact you. This may sound a bit harsh, but I will not refer a photographer that does not have a website, and I will not refer a photographer that doesn’t have their own personal domain. To me, there’s not a bigger turnoff than seeing “www.soandsophoto.wix.186873865.com” or something similar. It’s a mouthful, and you can’t ask people to remember that.
  • Get good glass. I know, I know. Lenses are expensive. You don’t have to have the top of the line equipment to get amazing shots, but I do recommend quick, well built lenses. Like I stated above, I used to only use the 28-135 f/3.5-5.6 and after a while, I realized how limiting it was. Most wedding and portrait photographers will recommend having a 50mm (I’ve used the 1.4 and the 1.2 and they’re both fantastic), a 35mm (Sigma makes a great ART series lens that’s more affordable than the Canon L series), a 70-200 (f/2.8 is preferred, but that lens is heavvvvyyyyy. I personally shoot with the f/4 version, but will most likely upgrade soon as it doesn’t have image stabilization), and a good macro lens (I’ve used the Canon 100mm 2.8 Macro, the Tamron 90mm 2.8 Macro, and now shoot with the Canon 100mm 2.8L Macro). If you aren’t sure of what lens is a good fit for you, rent! Sites like Borrowlenses.com or LensRentals.com are a great way to try before you buy. Or if you’re wanting to save but still have great quality, try buying Refurbished or gently used. I prefer prime lenses (lenses that don’t zoom). I feel like they fit my style better, but to each their own. My favorite lenses are my Canon 50 1.2L, Sigma ART 35 1.4, and my Canon 100 2.8L Macro. I don’t leave home without those three lenses. They’re my go to for portrait sessions. I do have a Canon 70-200, but I only use it during wedding days.
  • Reiterating my last post, sign up on sites like SLR Lounge or CreativeLive (or both)!
  • Purchase external storage. Space on a computer fills up quick, especially if you’re shooting a lot. I cannot stress enough the importance of making sure your images are safely backed up. My favorites are the Toshiba terabyte hard drives, and my La Cie. The Toshibas are slim, portable, and fit in a pocket easily for when I travel. I have 3 of them and they’ve never failed me. There’s always BackBlaze too, which is an online backup service. You can never have too many backups!
  • Digital Delivery. Not only is it easier for photographers and for clients, but by using digital delivery, you’re keeping up with the times as well. Did you know that new Apple computers don’t even have USB drives anymore? Yep. Do you know how easy it is to lose a small USB drive? Trust me, I’ve done it too many times. I found out about Pixieset a few years ago and never looked back. All of my client galleries are organized in one place. Each client has their own personal gallery. It’s easy to use, clean, and has a ton of options, including a la carte print options. I’m not going to get too into all of the details of Pixieset, but if you have any questions, feel free to let me know. They have plans ranging from $0 for 3gb (yes, free) to $40/month for 1,000gb. It’s been one of my best business investments, and it’s not even expensive.
  • Business cards. I will FOREVER be praising Moo.com. I’ve used other business card companies in the past, but the quality was just meh… or straight up bad. When I switched to the luxe cards from Moo, I get compliments literally every.single.time I hand them out. It may seem like a hefty fee, but people will remember you… which is the entire point of having a business card anyway. It’s your handshake. It’s your first impression. Invest in awesome, unique, high quality cards. Thank me later.
  • Lightroom + Photoshop. Adobe has released the Creative Cloud suite where you can have access to their products for a small monthly fee. For both the current versions of LR + PS, I pay $20/month.
  • Business insurance. There are quite a few business insurance options, depending on what coverage you need and what your budget is. Trust me, if you photograph weddings (especially when alcohol is involved), you’ll want insurance. Accidents happen. Or even if you accidentally drop your camera or have your things stolen, your insurance can save you.

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Get It Legal. If you’re wanting to do photography full time, as your career, as your main source of income you NEED TO run your business legally. Please don’t think you’re above paying taxes. There are several different ways to go about it, but I recommend reading more about it here.

Haley & Luke-46

Use Contracts. Regardless of what you shoot, you’re going to need a contract. I can’t stress this enough. YOU NEED A CONTRACT! The Law Tog has great info and contracts that you can buy to keep you and your business protected.

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Network. I know I touched on this a little bit when I mentioned second shooting and community, but it’s not just fellow photographers that you want to keep in your loop. If you’re wanting to be a wedding photographer, you’ll want to keep fellow vendors close! Venue owners, florists, cake bakers, calligraphers, dress boutiques, planners, rental companies, etc. I love to send off photos to the vendors who worked the wedding with me, not only because it builds that relationship, but because they can use the photos you took to further their own businesses as well. I have a good handful of preferred vendors that have been so wonderful to work with. Little things such as sending over the images can go such a long way. Those vendors will remember you and recommend you to their clients! Word of mouth is the BEST form of advertising. Better yet? It’s free. And when it comes from trusted vendors, that already sets you ahead of the pack.

Brittany & Mitch-64

Shoot With Your Heart. Have you heard the quote, “Do what you love and you’ll never work a day in your life”? I’m sure you have, and if you haven’t, then now you have. You’re welcome!  I was realizing a couple years ago that I was getting burned out… I was working non-stop and had no work-life balance. I loved photography, but didn’t love every single thing I was shooting, mostly because I just didn’t feel like it was my strong suit or it didn’t make me want to keep shooting. At the beginning of 2017 I made the decision to only take on wedding clients and portraits associated with weddings: bridals, engagements, couples, and boudoir. I was scared to take the leap… but I just knew that that’s what my heart was in. Documenting love stories made my heart go pitter patter. Ever since I focused primarily on couples, I’ve fallen in love with photography even more. Am I still busy? Oh, yes. 2017 has been my busiest year to date! I love my couples and I love my family, and by making this decision to cut back in other aspects, I’m able to dedicate more of my time to both.

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If you made it to the bottom of this post, congratulations! I know that was a lot to process, but I do appreciate you taking the time to read through. I hope this helped! If you have any questions or comments, sound off in the comment section below! If you’re interested in learning from me in person, email me at swanphotographytx@gmail.com! If you want to see more, follow along on my Instagram: @swanphototx

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