Thinking about taking the next step in your photography? If you want to become a professional photographer, I’ve got some advice for you. Here are three common mistakes new photographers make. Of course, this would apply to aspiring professional photographers, too. One could argue that deciding to “go pro” might itself be a mistake, but that’s a topic for another post. Here, we’ll discuss some of the things that can derail your success even before you have a good chance to really get started.
Mistake #1: Buying Gear You Don’t Need
Successful photographers have all the gear they need to do the jobs they are hired for. But they’ve collected that gear over time. Working photographers are mindful of the costs of cameras, lenses and lighting. They consider all the costs of doing business because it affects their bottom line. One of the mistakes new photographers make is buying gear they don’t need (yet).
When you’re starting out as a professional, you’ll need to consider the type of work you’ll be focusing on and equip yourself accordingly. For example, if you’ll be doing outdoor family portrait sessions, you can probably get away with a dependable DSLR and standard zoom lens. Your next purchase might be a backup camera. After that, you might discover that a flash would be useful for indoor sessions. You’ll keep adding as the need arises. And because you’re adding slowly, you’ll become very familiar with your gear and how much you can accomplish with it.
A wedding photographer on the other hand, will absolutely need backup gear, a variety of lenses, lighting gear, accessories, gear cases and bags, etc. There are few second chances when it comes to wedding and similar types of event photography; you better get the shot in the moment. If you are going to take on weddings, you WILL need plenty of gear.
So, don’t get caught up in the distraction of buying gear you don’t need yet. Becoming a professional isn’t just about the equipment you have in your bag, but knowing why you have a particular camera and set of lenses. Can you justify your next purchase as a smart investment? If not, you might want to rethink it. My suggestion: Learn as much as you can about the basics of photography and master the gear you already own.
Mistake #2: Taking Jobs You’re Not Ready For
I can’t really say how many times I’ve read something similar to the following in the past several years: “Help! I’m shooting my first wedding this weekend and I need some advice about poses, camera settings, and what photos I should take.” If you’ve come across this desperate type of post in a Facebook group or photography site message board, you know what I’m talking about. I’ve received emails like this, too! One of the worst mistakes new photographers make is taking jobs they’re not ready for.
Look, the role of wedding photographer carries a lot of responsibility. Entire families are counting on the photographer to expertly capture, and deliver, beautiful images of the event. The wedding photographer should be adept at virtually all kinds of photography. This includes single, couple, and group portraiture, detail/still-life, candids, ceremonial (coordinating with the venue, officiant, videographer), and even architectural/landscape! Wedding photographers need to get all the shots on a typical wedding “shot list” and they need to be able to work under any lighting conditions.
So, why would someone take on an awesome responsibility like wedding photography if they aren’t even sure what camera settings to use? That’s the perfect example of someone who is so far out of their depth that they’re not even aware they are.
Don’t by that guy.
Learning While Doing is Okay
Now, there’s nothing wrong with learning while doing, but know your limits, and don’t make someone else pay a heavy price for your mistakes. If you are just getting started, be honest with your clients and price your services accordingly. If things aren’t looking right during a simple headshot or portrait session, you can probably fix it right then and there. But fast-moving events and weddings are serious jobs with very little margin for error.
Don’t take on important jobs until you’re ready. I’d suggest working alongside an experienced pro as you build your skills. You’ll learn the ins-and-outs of working with people, the flow of events, and how to handle challenging situations.
Mistake #3: Not Having a Good Marketing Strategy
When you’re ready to start taking on clients, you might be tempted to throw money into the type of marketing you see competing photographers use. But spending too much on advertising that doesn’t offer a good return on investment isn’t a smart business move. This is one of the most common mistakes new photographers make; not having a good marketing strategy. You’ll really have to do your research and some testing to see what works for you.
For example, if you’re wanting to market your services as a wedding photographer, don’t assume an expensive listing in a wedding vendor website is going to bring in a lot of business. Bridal shows and expos can also be very costly to participate in. Regional bridal magazine ads might not deliver enough calls and bookings to be worth it, either.
Remember, you’re probably competing with a number of established professionals who have perfected their sales strategies, built impressive portfolios, and can count on solid personal references and referrals to carry them. The competition in the wedding business is fierce, but basic headshot and portrait work isn’t the easiest to come by either. Don’t let that discourage you; you can still succeed. Just don’t blow a bunch of money on advertising when you’re starting out.
Time and again, the best advice seems to focus on personal networking; get out there and connect with people. Use non-spammy social networking to promote yourself as a personable, dependable and talented photographer. Make sure you have a great-looking website and portfolio. Try to get creative when it comes to finding new clients. And ask them to tell their friends about you!
Mistakes New Photographers Make Can Be Avoided
There are many things you’ll have to learn by trial and error on the road to professional photography. I’ve only covered a few of the mistakes new photographers make in this post, but I think these are among the most important to avoid. If you can keep your costs under control and build a solid reputation as a dependable and talented professional, you’ll stand a good chance at becoming a successful working photographer.