How to Eat an Elephant
I love following your work. Love the way you document strangers’ stor[ies]. I was wondering if I could get any tips from you? I started my photography site couple years ago and lets just say that it’s been really challenging… I’m getting ready to try and take it to a new level by building my site… Any tips or advice on how to go about building my reputation? Thanks…”-JL
Find Your Artistic Voice
After I earned my diploma in Professional Photography from the Photography Institute, I knew I had a good foundation, but that the learning had only begun. I looked to photographers I admired. I went to New York City to study with some. I went to workshops all over, from New Jersey to Virginia. I never stop learning. If you can’t attend workshops, look for youtube tutorials, online workshops on creativelive.com, or kelbyone.com. I use these all the time! Every little thing you learn puts you that much closer to where you want to be.
New photographers often rely on “actions”–sets of artistic choices that have already been made by someone else that be easily applied to your own images, using Lightroom, Photoshop, or other software for editing images. One thing I discovered is that, by ditching the Photoshop / Lightroom actions, I found my own artistic voice. Once I learned to “hand-edit”, it became much easier to make a portrait as I had envisioned it. If you’re relying on actions to “fix up” your images, keep practicing until you get them close to where you want them in camera. Then, in Lightroom or Photoshop, learn how to hand edit. By learning to hand edit, you’ll understand how to get the exact image you envisioned rather than clicking on an action to see how it might look. Study, learn, practice–forever.
Own Your Business
You said you started your photography site a couple of years ago. You don’t just have a website, you have a photography business. Successful businesses have a business and marketing plan, and an owner who is committed to offering clients the best product and service. A business and marketing plan doesn’t have to be 1,000 pages. You can start by looking online for an outline–questions to ask yourself that you might not have even considered. Things as basic as, “Why do I want to be a professional photographer?” and as detailed as, “How much will I spend each month to maintain my equipment?” Once you put in writing questions you’ve answered for your business, you’ll be on the path to a good, successful plan.
One thing you should do immediately, if you haven’t already, is get professional liability insurance and insurance for your equipment. Photographers who don’t have insurance are kidding themselves that nothing could ever go wrong. They are gambling with their client’s trust and money, and their own reputation.
You don’t have to do this by yourself! Networking is how I find other professionals to help me (and give back by helping others). Join professional associations, such as Professional Photographers of America (PPA) and your local Chamber of Commerce. Among other things, these organizations hold businesses to professional standards. They screen members and usually only accept those who have good reputations. Networking also includes other photographers. Reach out, share knowledge, gain knowledge. We’re all in this together. By networking, you can learn from others, get your name out, and meet your future clients.
Work on Personal Projects
There is so much involved in running your own business, it’s easy to get stuck in the day-to-day tasks. Keep yourself inspired (while continuing to show your clients how much you love photography) by making time for personal photography projects, whether it’s a styled shoot or something else you’d like to photograph.
Your client photos are art, but you can experiment more and practice techniques when you are working on personal projects.
Share your work—both personal and commissioned–with your clients across platforms–your website, blog, Facebook page, twitter, and instagram.
Remember, one bite at a time. I hope this helps.
All the best,