I’ve had two lists on my computer of blog posts I have wanted to write for awhile, but my first priority is always blogging weddings + engagement sessions. One list is full of blog posts for beginning photographers, while the other is a list of blog posts with tons of wedding planning advice for brides + grooms. Since mid-March, I haven’t been shooting due to COVID-19, so I thought this would be the perfect time to share some different content than usual!
Today I wanted to share TEN tips for beginning photographers.
These are all things that I wish I had done differently/known more about when I first started. I did my first shoot in 2012 (so long ago!), and it was a few years before I actually started treating my hobby like a business. Now that it has been my full-time job for a few years, I am able to realize so many things that I didn’t know enough about in the beginning! If you’re wanting to start a photography business, or have already started one but feel like you need a little help, this is for you!
1. SHOOTING IN MANUAL
Gosh, this one is number one for a reason. 😂 I did ALL of my shoots for the first two or so years in auto. I don’t remember what made me decide to learn how to shoot in manual, but it was a GAME CHANGER. Being able to completely control my shutter speed, ISO, aperture, white balance (AKA Kelvin), focus point, etc. completely changed the way I shoot! When I was shooting in auto, I never understood why some of the photos would turn out perfectly but others wouldn’t. I couldn’t grasp why my camera wasn’t getting it right 100% of the time.
When I finally realized that that wasn’t my camera’s responsibility, everything changed! It took a couple of months and a TON of practice, but I eventually got the hang of it. So many years later, it is completely second nature. I know it can seem like a daunting thing to learn at first, but it’s worth the learning curve and will completely change how you shoot and the quality of your images!
2. SHOOTING IN RAW
Just like shooting in manual, when you’re shooting in RAW instead of JPEG you have SO much more control. Ever try to edit JPEG images in Lightroom or Photoshop? It is SO HARD. Have you ever had a flash misfire or a really bad lighting scenario that made you worry you’d have to toss all of those images? That’s where shooting in RAW comes in. You’re able to save those images, edit details so much easier, and make changes you could never make on a JPEG image. I know sometimes people don’t want to shoot in RAW due to the file size, but it’s absolutely worth it to fit less photographs on your memory cards in order to have images that you can actually edit without losing detail or completely throwing out a lost image!
3. RESEARCHING GEAR
I feel like I wasted a lot of money in my first 3-4 years of shooting. I didn’t understand the difference between different types of DSLRs or lenses. At one point, I owned both a Canon AND a Nikon and didn’t understand why the images looked different. 😂 Instead of saving money to invest in quality equipment, I wanted to buy new things ASAP and I would do minimal research before purchasing new equipment. I totally get that starting out as a photographer is super exciting, but it’s SO much better to research research RESEARCH before dropping money on a new camera body, lens, speed light, etc. If you save for quality equipment, it will last so much longer, take better photos, and be worth the investment!
Another point I’d like to make on researching gear is that there isn’t one company that is better than the other. I’m a diehard Canon user, but that doesn’t mean that my equipment is more superior than any other brand. It all comes down to personal preference. For me, I liked the coloring and the images that came out of my Canon equipment far better than Nikon. That’s why I chose the brand that I did. Someone else might feel the exact opposite, and that’s totally okay! What is important is finding the right brand for you and the look you are going for.
4. LIGHTROOM + PHOTOSHOP
Okay – if you’re an experienced photographer out there, you’re going to laugh. But from 2012-2015, I edited all of my photos in Photoshop ONLY. I didn’t even own Lightroom. 😂 I was wasting SO much time by not using Lightroom to do batch edits before making tweaks on individual photos. Instead, I was having to do those edits AND tweaks on each photo ONE AT A TIME. Do I still edit photos individually in Lightroom? Yes. I never deliver a photo without having looked at it by itself. But instead of spending so much time on each photo, I’m able to batch edit some things (like color correction and exposure) before moving on to editing photographs individually.
If I could start over, I would want to learn how to use Lightroom + Photoshop inside and out before I ever started shooting. They are both used for different purposes, and if used correctly they can help you in so many ways!
There are two sides to this. One is that I wish I’d known early on what time of day had the best light for shooting. For example, I often scheduled shoots at TWELVE NOON, and I didn’t understand that that was the hardest time of day to shoot.
The second part of lighting that I wish I had known is how to shoot in ALL types of light. That way even if I have no choice but to shoot in the middle of the day (which is very common on wedding days) I still know HOW to use that light to my advantage, where to find natural reflectors, etc. It’s important to know what time of day is best to schedule your shoots, but at the same time you can’t always control that! This is why it is equally important to learn how to shoot in any type of lighting – sunrise, midday sun, overcast, sunset, blue hour, indoor, etc. You can’t control the light, but you CAN control what you do with it. (This is where shooting in manual also comes into play!)
6. STAYING AWAY FROM EDITING TRENDS
This fall, it will have been eight years since I did my first shoot. In those eight years, so many editing trends have come and gone – some of which I tried for awhile! (Anyone remember fluorescent green grass or selective color?!) Over the last few years, I’ve learned exactly what my style is and how I want my images to look. I wish I had realized that early on because it would have saved me SO much time and so many headaches. 😂 Of course everyone’s preferences change, and it is natural for your style to evolve through the years. But as long as you know your style and what YOU like, you won’t fall prey to the crazy trends you see on Instagram.
7. FIND WHAT YOU LOVE
When I started, I wanted to photograph anything and everything. Landscapes, macro shots of flowers, birthday parties, families, etc. Don’t get me wrong – there is nothing wrong with photographing everything in order to find out what you like. But for the longest time I just wanted to take any session I could get because I didn’t know what I was good at or what brought me joy. It gave me a ton of experience, but it also eventually taught me what I’m best at. For example, I don’t mind photographing birthday parties for friends, but that isn’t something that I offer in my business anymore. Photographing parties, graduations, etc. just didn’t light my heart on fire the way that capturing weddings + families did – and that’s okay!
If you’ve been on my website before, you’ve probably seen my tagline/motto – “serving those who want to tell the story of their greatest love and the legacy they create.” This involves weddings + the legacy that comes from that – maternity, newborn, families, seniors, and engagements – and then it all starts over again! Once you find what brings out your creativity and makes you the best photographer you can be, you’ll be able to serve your clients so much better!
I get it, pricing is a touchy subject. But if you’re going to charge for your photography services, there are two questions you need to ask yourself as you set up your pricing structure.
- How much do you need/want to bring home as a salary?
- What are your expenses going to be for the year? Gear, taxes, software costs, etc.
After you’ve figured out these two numbers for the entire year, you can then decide exactly how much you should charge! The first few weddings I did, I actually lost money because I didn’t take into account what my expenses were. I still think that I priced myself correctly because I was still learning, but if I had continued down that path for much longer I would have been in over my head very quickly!
If you aren’t sure how to list out your expenses, write out EVERYTHING you can think of that you need for your business. Every software, every professional you’ll have to hire (AKA attorneys and accountants), your gear, insurance, computer equipment, batteries, office supplies, website costs, etc. There are often things you’ll forget about, so that’s why it’s good to write down every category, as well as what you expect to spend on that over the course of a year! Then after you add to that number how much you want as your take-home pay, you’ll know exactly how much you need to make for the next year in order to get your salary + expenses covered.
I won’t go into this too much, but it there are so many resources out there if you’re needing to build a wedding or portrait photography contract. The Law Tog and The Legal Paige are both great resources for contracts for photographers! (Just always have an attorney in your state to look over it to make sure it abides by your state laws!)
10. GETTING LEGAL
Talk to a CPA and an attorney. Figure out how you will need to do your taxes, how to get a business license, etc. It can be daunting to do this on your own, and that’s why it is best to each out to a professional to get you on the right path! Your CPA can also REALLY help you track your business finances to make sure you will be prepared for tax time. As a creative entrepreneur, you most likely won’t be super knowledgable on how to get a business license or how to file your taxes. This is why reaching out to professionals can really help!
I hope these ten tips have been helpful to you if you are a beginning photographer! I learned so many of these things through trial and error, simply because there wasn’t as much wedding photography education online when I first started. Now, you are able to find online courses for any aspect of photography – pricing, editing, shooting, learning how to use your camera, etc. Remember – there is no set timeframe for how long it should take for you to grow a business. Take your time, practice a ton, and figure out what you love!
I’m a wedding and lifestyle photographer based in Knoxville, Tennessee but available anywhere. If you have questions about booking me for a session or wedding, click here! To follow me on social media, check out my Facebook, Pinterest, and Instagram.