How To Get Started As A Photographer
Try Serving Your Community First.
Everyone likes a good photo of themselves, or their family, or their product. As a photographer, doesn’t it feel great when someone changes their profile picture to a portrait you took? Knowing that you captured someone in a way that makes them feel good about themselves is one of the great rewards of working in this business.
So how do you make money from that?
You make money by gaining experience, building a portfolio, and learning to market your value as an artist in a convincing way. You might notice I didn’t say “by being the best photographer in town.” That’s because sometimes the best photographers are not the ones landing the paid gigs. It’s not always the most skilled photographers, rather, it's the photographers that know how to market the skills that they have, that land the paying gigs. Stick around this blog and you'll learn a lot more about how to survive as an artist in a market economy. But let’s start at the very beginning.
How do I gain experience? In community.
Your experience, your art, and your business will all start in one place: your community. This is your training ground. A community can be any group of people that you spend time with. It could be your friend circle, your extended family, your classmates, a faith community, a music scene, a comic-con, etc. Any place where you know the people and they know you is a great place to start experimenting with your art.
READ MORE: Should a Photographer
Ever Work For Free? Well, Sometimes.
Start With Giving
It’s hard to charge money for something you’ve never done before, or still learning how to do. This gives you ample opportunity to serve your community with your photography early on. Shoot often and give generously. A lot of photos you take will be duds, and that’s ok. As you gain experience and confidence, more and more photos will be home runs and you’ll start to see what is working, and what is not, by the feedback you get within your community. You will hear direct feedback and you will start to see your photos posted by your subjects on social media, hopefully with proper credit given to you!
A quick note about photo credit. Always request it when you deliver photos! And politely follow up with people if they forget. Don’t be a jerk about it, but do make sure that your work is attributed. As a young photographer, you may not be getting paid much for your first shoots, but having your name credited along with photos ensures that you at least get some marketing value out of your efforts. I sent a lot of photo delivery emails like this:
Here are the photos from our shoot! Feel free to use them however you like, but please credit @andrewbennettphoto whenever possible. I'm trying to get my name out there and by crediting these photos you're helping me build my business!
And who doesn't like helping a young entrepreneur build their business, am I right?
You Already Have a Lot to Offer
Your community can be a great place to build your skills. On the flip side, you have a lot to give to your community with your knowledge of the people and the environment. As a member of the community, you have an edge over outsiders because you know what people want to accentuate and promote without having to be told. You know what they really want to see in their photos.
A small aside. I’m a lifelong musician and I got my start taking photos around the Austin music scene. An early impetus for picking a camera was an experience I had as a musician playing in a band. We were doing a local tv appearance, playing one of our original songs. The show format was that the performance was captured by a single video camera angle. In the middle of the song there was a solo section. I played rhythm guitar while the other guitar player soloed, then we switched - he played rhythm guitar while I soloed. But each time the camera guy filmed the rhythm guitar player, instead of the soloist, missing out on where the emphasis was supposed to be in that section! As an angsty young musician, I walked away from that performance frustrated that the camera guy didn’t have enough musical sense to know what he should have been capturing.
Years later, when I started photographing bands around Austin, there were little insights that I was able to apply to my approach since I knew what it was like to be in a band. For example, a lot of live music photographers just take pictures of the lead singer in a band. However, when that same lead singer is trying to decide what photo to post to social media, they will likely choose a shot of the whole band, because band politics can be dramatic, and it’s better for inter-band relations to show everyone on social media. Another example is that whenever a band has packed out a venue, the photo that they really want is a wide shot that captures that the venue was packed, as opposed to more close-ups of the band themselves. That helps them show promoters and record labels that they are selling out shows and developing a following.
Being a member of a community, allows you to photograph that community better. These same lessons apply when you’re working with any client. You should always be investigating how they want to be portrayed and what little details about themselves or their business they want to accentuate.
Build Your Business
Lastly, your community is where you will begin to build your business. No matter your enterprise, you always sell to your family and friends first. It’s a forgiving audience, so this is where you hone your chops and work out the kinks. It’s also a limited network, so you should always have an eye out for where to go next. However, everyone has a friend of a friend posting on Facebook if anyone knows a good photographer. If you are able to serve your community well, it won’t be long before you begin to get referrals from outside your community.
All my first clients were people that I knew. As time went on, it was an exciting moment when I realized that I was working with more clients from outside my community than inside. That’s when I knew that this whole photography business might be just that - a real business! Soon after that moment, I was able to quit my day job and focus solely on my art, which is my hope for you as well!
Andrew Bennett is an award-winning, published, commercial photographer based in Austin, TX. He has worked with Absolut Vodka, T-Mobile, Brinks, Adobe and 100's of other brands seeking colorful, story-driven content. He and his wife, Dorothy Bennett, are the directors of Bennett Creative, an Austin video, animation, & photography agency.
Follow along @andrewbennettphoto