So You Want to Be a Photographer, Lets Get Started!

Ask Anything

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I’m trying to be better about using our more frequently asked questions as my Ask Anything content. We get this question A LOT! It’s constantly reoccurring in our inbox and I figured that I would share my email response in blog form! I remember just getting started in this business and even though there wasn’t a MAGIC BUTTON for success, there were a lot of things I did to grow quickly!! And I’m sharing them with you today!!

Here are 10 STEPS to take when you’re starting a business. You can’t do all of them at once but you definitely need to make it a priority to make these 10 things a reality in your life within the first year of business! … ESPECIALLY the legal stuff! So here we go! :


1. Make Friends And Actually Show Up To Meet Ups!
I know social settings are intimidating… but you HAVE to put yourself out there. Recently we had a blog comment about how there was just NO community for this certain person and they were really hurt by it. The truth is, there IS community for them. I know of dozens of people in their area that would love to welcome them in but they haven’t made the effort. You can’t have a pity party and sit and wait for the invitation… you have to just DO IT! Put yourself out there and start forming a presence in the industry! Photographers that just started their business and did coaching with me a year ago now have a very strong name in the local community because they are SHOWING UP! So be sure to make friends, show up and insert yourself into the community! Need local community? Find a RISING TIDE group near you!

2. Be Bold And Take Risks!
This is hard. Not only do you need to show up socially, you need to push yourself artistically and in the business world. This may mean organizing your very own styled shoot and reaching out to vendors… or asking to do a shoot for one of your friends that just got married… or inquiring about second shooting with a friend! It may mean submitting to a magazine for the first time or signing up for a workshop/online education! This job is going to mean BIG RISKS and you have to take them eventually. It might as well be sooner rather than later!

3. Second Shooting Is A Gold Mine!
Need portfolio work and experience? This is your answer!! I am SO thankful that my friend Jessica Smith allowed me to second shoot with her when I first got started back in 2007. It was such a gift! You’ll get experience, a new friend and hopefully beautiful portfolio images!! Don’t make a big deal about the money at first, you NEED this experience!! It’s invaluable to you! Be thankful to be at a wedding as a professional photographer!!

4. Be As Professional As HUMANLY Possible!
Do this without spending 5K on branding, you’re not ready for that yet! You don’t need a $5,000 website to look professional! Simple is best. The more fluffy elements you start piling onto your website, the more low-end it will become. Start studying simple, professional brands and learning how to present your work online in a way that makes you look more established than you really are! Fake it till you make it! I TOTALLY lived by that saying my first year of business! Dress professionally at weddings, show up early, rent or purchase great gear, study your setting and constantly work your butt off to improve with every shoot! etc. etc. Another important thing to do is to self-promote. Some people really struggle with this. It’s OK to promote your work… don’t shy away from that! It’s called marketing and it doesn’t mean you’re obsessed with yourself :) … I promise!!

5. Pay Attention To Where You Are Thriving!
What are your clients, friends and family complimenting the most? What are you drawn to? What inspires you? What makes you EXCITED about shooting the MOST? What are clients asking for the most? What is getting the most response on social media? If you’re shooting newborns and you’re not feeling it but you’re also shooting engagement session and people are freaking out over it…. I think you may need to drop the newborn sessions. :) It’s ok to start specializing early if you feel drawn to one area over the other. Don’t hold on to sessions just because you think you need to take on EVERYTHING because you’re new. There will come a time when you have to realize that saying yes to everything is hurting your brand and isn’t helping.

6. Continue To “Self Educate”!
Online resources are your BEST FRIEND! I’m serious! I am completely self taught! I didn’t go to a workshop until the end of my 2nd year in business and so when I was starting off, I learned everything online and through practice!! Be interested and intrigued by the art and don’t settle for your work once you start to get a little better. Family and friends are going to say “Oh you’re so talented!” and it’s going to be tempting to listen to them and settle but you can’t. I’m SO thankful that I didn’t let those compliments go to my head early on because I knew that I had a LONG way to go… and I still do! You NEVER stop learning… and when you do, that’s the day your business stops growing.

7. Don’t Have A Pity Party For Yourself! Decide To DO!
There isn’t a select group of photographers that just happened upon a pot of gold filled with high blog stats, thousands of instagram followers and perfect clients. They WORKED for those things! I started out with my mom and my roommates checking the blog… that’s it! I started with 1200 Facebook fans and then had to change my business name and then started ALL OVER AGAIN. Try really hard to look at your business as a privilege and not a right. When you start thinking “I deserve THAT… I want THAT… How come SHE has THAT? …. Why isn’t THAT happening for ME?!” you’re going to start falling even more behind. I know because I’ve totally been there! Focus on YOU and what you do well. If things aren’t going well, analyze it, study it and get some outside coaching if you need it but don’t have a pity party. It won’t change a thing… it only eats up valuable energy and time! (again, I’m speaking from experience here… we’re all human… it’s going to happen… but it shouldn’t be a habit in your business!)

8. Photograph Your Friends For FREE
… yes, I just said FREE. The forbidden “F” word of small business!! However, if you have NO portfolio, you NEED these shoots! “Free” won’t last long… but you need work to show that you should be paid for work. Don’t be afraid to ask a friend to get back in her wedding dress for a bridal shoot…don’t be nervous to offer headshots to the drama students on campus… don’t be scared to offer to shoot staff photos for the local bridal shop.

9. If You Want Your Work To Look A Certain Way, STUDY How To Get There
I did this SO much my first year! I sent emails and asked questions, I tried out lenses, I read blogs, I practiced until I GOT it and then I practiced some more! I remember emailing one photographer in particular about her 24mm lens and I could totally tell that she was annoyed with me! haha She gave me a one word response! I introduced myself and asked her if she used the 24mm 1.4 and she just responded with “yes.” ha! That’s it! So I didn’t end up with a BFF in the industry but I did get that lens and I loved it my first two years!! Don’t be afraid to study other people’s work and ask questions!!

10. Be Legally Legit!
Last but certainly not least you need to be legally legit! It worries me when people do coaching and have never heard of a business license and they have been in business for 3 years! Ah! That’s an audit waiting to happen!!! You’re going to need the following when you start your business! :

Business License with Tax ID
Record Your Income & Pay Sales Tax (varies by state)
Business Insurance (Liability Insurance)
Property Insurance On All Gear
Contracts That Cover You Completely!

I hope this was helpful and informative! If you have ANY more questions about other aspects of getting started, there is more information HERE  on our KJ EDUCATION site!! ENJOY!!!

starting a photography business resource

10 Steps for Starting Your Photography Business by Katelyn James Photography

Thanks for reading!

— Katelyn

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