I have been asked this question a lot lately: “How do I become a photographer?”
I’ve been answering each person individually, and I thought it might be nice to put all the info in one place. I cannot answer this question perfectly for everyone, since the answer is different for each person, but I can tell you what I’ve done, and if that can help someone, fantastic! I learned a lot the hard way, and I’ve never found all the info in one location, so I thought it might be nice to get it all put together into a “master list” for someone to use as a starting point. Obviously you can use as much or as little of my advice as you’d like!
I will say this: being a photographer is SO much more than just taking pictures! There is a ton of paperwork on the back-end, as well as editing, organizing, etc… there’s self employment taxes, business taxes, permits, licenses, and lots of overhead expenses.
Obviously there are countless factors to consider, such as where you live, what your target market is, what your niche is, your competition, what equipment you’d like to use, your editing style, and of course, your eye for photography. Each photographer has their own unique style, and there is no right or wrong way. Regardless of how many photographers are in your area, I don’t consider them competition… unfortunately some do and are very put off by new photographers coming into their areas, but ultimately, clients will seek you out and book you based on your style and the service you provide. If they love your style, you, and your product, then no one else can duplicate that.
Now, on to the “fun” stuff… First, there is the groundwork to getting started… things like coming up with your Company Name and Logo. Try not to spend a ton of time on that, but feel free to seek out help… I found a logo designer on Etsy that was able to help me out at a very affordable price.
Then there is the marketing end, things such as:
- setting up a Website
- Company FB page
- ordering Business Cards
- deciding what kind (if any) Advertising you’d like to do
There is also the “business” of running a business… if you intent to operate a legitimate business, you will most likely need: (requirements vary by city, county, and state, so be sure to check with your local offices!)
- A Tax ID Number, which can be obtained from the IRS
- A DBA: You can find a Fictitious Business Name for your business (AKA DBA) through your County Recorder’s Office.
- You may also need a Business License from your city.
- If you plan to work out of your home, you may need a Home Occupation Permit which is also issued by the County.
- Business Bank Account: You’ll need a bank account in the company’s name (DBA) so that you can deposit checks from clients, also it helps to keep business finances separate from your personal bank account.
- Liability & Equipment Insurance: it’s a good idea to protect your equipment from loss or damage, as well as protecting yourself from lawsuits from clients…
- Contracts – consult an attorney familiar with business liability, intellectual property, and copyright laws in your state
- Model Release Forms – again, consult with an attorney in your state
- Pricing: I researched other photographers in my area for an idea of pricing, but then I sat down and figured out how much time each type of shoot would take, breaking it down by shooting time, editing time per image, travel time, overhead costs, etc, to come up with a price for each type of session.
- Security and Backup: You’ll want to make sure that your computer has ample capacity and speed to handle working on and storing client images, as well as up to date anti-virus software. Depending on the type of photography you’ll be doing, privacy could be a huge issue for your clients. I’d also recommend a backup service of some sort to keep a duplicate copy of all client files in case your computer crashes.
There are no “rules” about what equipment you’ll need to have to get started… but I will say this: put yourself in your client’s shoes… if you booked a photographer who showed up with a point-and-shoot camera, what would you think of their professionalism? Of their dedication to the job? Odds are you’d think they were out for a quick buck and not truly dedicated to providing a quality product. This goes beyond the camera… the editing (or lack thereof) that you provide your clients makes a statement as well.
Depending on the type of photography you intent to go in to, you may need multiple lenses, filters, lighting setups, backdrops, baskets, fabrics, etc, etc, etc… research what others are doing in the field… research what’s out there. Find someone who makes props that’s getting started who might be willing to trade their services for your images promoting their product.
- Consider asking another photographer if you can work as their assistant to get field experience and see what kind of equipment they use. There are also online forums of photographers that are more than willing to help direct you on what equipment they use, what they suggest, etc.
- Look into renting equipment, especially before making an investment
- Find a local camera specialty store and spend some time asking questions and talking to them
I am certainly NOT an expert in this area… I do not have a degree in photography… I am continuing to pursue classes to hone my skills, but by no means am I an expert… that being said, here’s what I did:
- First READ YOUR MANUAL! You’d be surprised how many people don’t bother to read what the capabilities of their cameras are!
- I personally was lucky enough to have another photographer that I adore who was willing for me to hire her to mentor me and get me started. She gave me a crash course, and then was willing to follow-up with suggestions and critiques of my images.
- Online seminars through sites such as Creative Live feature photographers from around the globe who give 2 & 3 day seminars online, and give you access to some great information.
- Read everything you can get your eyes on! I scoured (and continue to do so) the web regularly for photographers of every genre who inspire me, challenge me, or sometimes confuse me… and I read everything they have to say. I study their work. I look for ideas, inspiration, props, etc…
- There are countless groups online that you can join where other photographers will point you to new resources, evaluate your work, and give advice.
- I am constantly reading product reviews for various camera and lighting equipment. There are several great sites out there that give unbiased comprehensive evaluations on just about everything under the sun.
- Offer your services for free or at a discount to other photographers as an assistant or second shooter… you’ll be amazed what you will learn on site! It’s also a great way to network with other photographers… in the future they may refer their overflow business to you!
- Sometimes local camera stores offer classes in specialties such as lighting, etc.
- Check with local colleges and trade schools to see if they offer photography classes.
- With your model release forms in hand, you are now ready to start offering shoots to build a portfolio… typically these are discounted or free shoots in exchange for using the images to advertise yourself in the future
- Another option would be to use a site like Model Mayhem to find models willing to work in trade for prints to build each other’s portfolios. This is also a great resource for hair and makeup artists.
- You’ve got your business name and logo all ready… your website and FB page are both live, complete with your portfolio, contact information, and pricing… You’ve got your bank account set up, your DBA filed, and you are completely covered for any potential losses that may come up… you are now ready to “launch” your business…
- I started by inviting friends and family to “like” my FB page. The people who you’ve been shooting to build your portfolio (assuming that they’re happy with your work) will most likely tell their friends about you and show off their photos.
- Some other advertising ideas to think of:
- Place your business cards in strategic places around town.
- Offer your services at a discount or free to local charities and non-profits to get your name out there.
- Donate free sessions as raffle prizes to local events.
- The possibilities are endless, get creative!
If you have any questions at all that I haven’t covered, please feel free to comment below or email me and I’ll do my best!!