For Photographers: 5 (More) Things I Learned the Hard Way

I started photographing for others at 17 years old- that's nearly five years ago now- and there are a lot of things I had to learn along the way. Photography is a physically and emotionally demanding job. I love and enjoy every moment I'm behind the camera with a client, but it's funny to think of how I started and how little I actually knew what I was getting into.

This is part two of my original blog that you can read here. Basically, this is me standing on the rooftops yelling to people who are just starting out. You can do it! You can, but learn from other people's life lessons and mistakes rather than making them yourself.

  1. Take your time - others will always be ahead of the curve. When you're establishing, you don't have to rush to start charging, have a watermark, website, or business card, have the best camera, or anything else that might come with being in business for a while. Please don't do this to yourself. When you start, focus on doing everything correctly and carefully rather than trying to keep up with others in business around you. That's when you fail hard because you aren't ready. While it is true that when you are established and in business, you need to evolve to compete, you cannot expect yourself to start off like that. Until then, take your time.

    For the record, the first year I began to take photos for others, I started a Facebook page, made a logo that I ended up changing a few months later, ordered 500 business cards... I passed out maybe 30 of the cards and the rest ended up in the trash because now they're outdated and irrelevant. Oops.

  2. Your business logo isn't that important. I had probably six or seven different designs in several years before settling on the one that I use now, which is a mixture of one I've used now for two years and a professionally designed monogram. Nobody has ever commented "I love your logo"... unless they were designers themselves. As long as it's simple and professional, it will work. The more simple it is, the more likely you will keep it.
  3. If your client isn't satisfied, it's your fault, not theirs. You can't take it personally. You were hired to do a service and if they're not happy, reflect on what you did, apologize, and fix it. If your client complains she looks bad, don't blame it on her for what she's wearing or how much she weighs. If a family client complains you didn't get a smiling picture of their kid, apologize and fix it. Apologizing and fixing it is good service... not letting these things happen is better service, but we're human and we will make mistakes. I unfortunately see this all the time in the photography community. Thankfully I developed this mindset very early on. You can have a good client leave you for good if you don't remember this. Take responsibility.
  4. You don't have to charge while building your portfolio. That's exactly what I did, and what I believe most other photographers do when they're starting out. But when it came time to charge professional prices, it was hard because I was focused on what I used to charge. What if, instead, we portfolio built for no cost or at a discounted rate until we felt ready on our skills?
  5. Provide your clients with printed work. I started off giving clients a CD of their images only, and I know that the majority of that work is not printed today. The fact is, it's easy to put a client's images on a CD and give them away. It's easy to be satisfied with your photos on the computer or social media- but there are a lot of things that can happen and they stay on that CD. What if it corrupts, your hard drive fails, there's a fire, we don't have anything to read the CDs anymore. Plus there's nothing like holding a finished print. If you have the time and you want to start charging, make it a part of your business early on. Your clients will love you for it.

Hopefully you can learn from my hard lessons. It's interesting to think of what was learned the hard way, and how different it might be if I learned them sooner. I haven't arrived- but I want to teach others through my hard lessons. Feel welcome to post your own lessons as a photographer or reflect on mine in the comments.

For Photographers: 5 Things I Learned the Hard Way

Life is a learning experience, and considering I started photography for others at 17 years old, I learned a lot of things the hard way. Photography is a physically and emotionally demanding job, and although I love it, I didn't know what I was getting into. My job is fulfilling, and my passion, but there are some things that I wish I had known before diving head first.

  1. There's no room to be a perfectionist. I am one. From zooming in on every pore, to spending over an hour on each image... it's not viable for a business. I've spent the last few years streamlining my workflow, but I still spend way too much time on the computer trying to get over my need for perfectionism. It's important to recognize your time is valuable. I wish I worked on this when I first started because now I'm working on undoing bad habits. Edit quick, shoot more.

  2. If you charge, you're in business. If you're in business, you have taxes to pay. Even if you charge $50 for a session, you have taxes, equipment that can break, insurance that you need to have, and contracts that your clients need to sign to protect yourself. I had no idea that if I charged $100 for everything that I didn't get to keep all of it! It's incredibly overwhelming when you start working out the logistics, but it can't be looked over. The best thing to do is to call an accountant.

  3. You will never be good enough. You will look at other photographers and throw a pity party about how good they are, and how terrible you are in comparison- even if you're making moeny and your clients love you. And when you love your work, someone will push you down and tell you that you're not good enough. If people are paying for your services, you are good enough. There are always people out there who will like what you do- you just need to find them (on the contrary, there are also always people who don't like what you do... that's okay, keep looking).

  4. You don't need a formal education. Yikes- I just got controversial. Your clients don't care if you have a Bachelors in Fine Arts of Photography, they just want good service and beautiful images. Unfortunately a lot of art schools don't even teach business skills, or they only have a few courses in it. Some of the most successful photographers I know didn't even go to college- they worked or interned, and took advantage of free resources.

  5. You don't have to do what you don't enjoy. On my website I show beautiful portraits of everyday women because that's what my passion is. I don't show weddings because I don't enjoy photographing them. Photographers don't have to be good at every genre, and sometimes it's even better to specialize in one genre. You wouldn't ask a chemical engineer to do computer engineering for you, would you? If you don't want to do it, don't show it on your website. You will be much happier doing what you love. That is why you're a photographer in the first place, isn't it?

Hopefully you can learn from my hard lessons. I'm a sponge and I love soaking up knowledge, but it would have been ideal to see my hard lessons on the horizon. Although I messed up a lot, I learned from these lessons and want to teach others through them. Feel welcome to post your own lessons as a photographer or reflect on mine in the comments.