Years ago, back when photographers shot with film, people who wanted to be photographers had to have years of business and photography training in order to start their own businesses. Now, it seems all you need is a fancy camera and a website. There are so many mistakes photographers make in their first few years of business, and I want to try and prevent those mistakes. These photographer mistakes hurt businesses and hurt the industry as a whole.
After starting my 7th year in business, I’ve compiled quite a list of rookie mistakes that photographers make when starting their photography business.
#1 – Jumping in when you are not ready
Once you decide starting a photography business is a step you want to take, some people jump into the business way too fast. They don’t know the basics of the camera, lighting, and composition and do not understand how to run a business.
Take it slow, shadow or assist other photographers, and learn all you can about running a photography business. While it seems lucrative and profitable, that is the farthest from the truth. It is hard work, and you really don’t make as much money as you think you would. Do your research and practice with your camera before you start charging clients.
#2 – Not being a legal business
Just do these simple steps to ensure you are legal and legit:
- Choose a business entity.
- Register your name with the state.
- Get liability insurance.
- Pay applicable income and sales taxes.
- Use legal documents to protect your business.
It’s simple and easy. Do it before it’s too late.
#3 – Pricing yourself too low
There are numerous excuses photographers give for starting and keeping their prices low:
“I’m not good enough to charge more.”
“If I raise my prices, I’ll loose clients.”
“People won’t book me if I’m priced too high.”
While these may be true under certain circumstances, the increasing trend in the industry is that good photographers are charging less and less. At least in my market, many talented photographers are charging less than I did 7 years ago when I first started my business! This not only leads to burn-out, but it can hurt the industry as a whole.
#4 – Copying other photographers
This can lead to all kinds of trouble. First of all, don’t steal other photographer’s photos, pricing, or website wording. You are lying to yourself and your clients, and it will eventually catch up to you. Don’t do it.
That being said, with the internet, everyone’s information is out there to see. It’s ok to get ideas for photo poses and pricing structures, but make sure you don’t cross the line over to plagiarizing and stealing.
Finally, by constantly looking to other photographers and what they are doing, you neglect to pay attention to your developing style. Look at other photographer’s work, but don’t forget to focus on your own. Read more about why you need to stop comparing yourself to other photographers.
#5 – Not having back-up equipment
I’ve had equipment fail, and it is not a good feeling. If you are shooting a wedding or an event, having a back-up camera and lens is a must. If you shoot only portrait sessions, you could probably get by without having a back-up camera. However, it will not be very professional if your camera breaks down in the middle of a session, and you have to reschedule until it is fixed.
#6 – Not calibrating your monitor
You may be editing your images correctly, but if your monitor is not calibrated accurately, the colors will be off. When you come time to display your images to the client or print them, the images will not look correct.
Follow this link for instructions on how to calibrate your monitor.
#7 – Shooting anything and everything
When you are a new photographer, you want to take any business you can get, even if you don’t get paid (which I will address more in-depth below). This is a mistake for two reasons. First of all, you aren’t getting yourself into a specialty which you really enjoy. You inevitably spread yourself too thin and have a strong potential for burning out.
The other reason this is a mistake is you are not giving yourself a chance to differentiate yourself from the competition. Different specialties have different styles and methods of shooting. By narrowing it down to your top 1-3 specialties, you can really dive in and discover your true shooting style.
#8 – Not getting a client’s phone number
I still make this mistake and kick myself when I really need it. When you book a client for a session, make sure to get at least 1 of their contact phone numbers in case you need to reach them right before the session. It’s common sense, but it easily gets overlooked if you communicate with someone via email.
#9 – Not shooting where the light is
A common rookie mistake when on a photo shoot is focusing primarily on the backgrounds. With the right lens and lighting, however, the background of a subject is not as important. Lighting in a photo can make or break an image. Shadows across the face, harsh backlighting, or bright sunlight blinding your subjects are all distracting in the image.
I’ve written a previous article on utilizing natural light in your images that covers from top to bottom how to find the perfect light for your images.
#10 – Not leaving enough room for cropping
With the movement in the photography industry towards digital images vs. prints, this advice was not passed down to new photographers. I was guilty of doing this for years! Basically, your camera takes images by default in the 4X6 ratio. That’s great for printing 4X6 prints, but what if you need the image in 5X7 or 8X10 ratio? Parts of the image will be cut off when you go to print in those ratios.
Take a look at the example below. The original image was taken in the 4X6 ratio. You can see how much of the image is taken out once you get to the 8X10 size.
It does take some getting used to, but if you are doing a posed, static shot, always make sure you are leaving enough room on the sides for cropping. Otherwise, you risk limbs, fingers, or heads being cut out of the image.
#11 – Tilting your Images
While there may be some style in this type of shooting, I guarantee it will be looked back on in 10-20 years as a dated and unflattering perspective in your image. I is an easy way to make your photo seem interesting. To me, it’s disorientating and unnatural. Instead, try to find natural lines and angles vs. making a road go sideways in the image with a tilt of your camera. Try to be creative with what the environment gives you, and do not rely on the tilt of your camera.
#12 – Not backing up your photos
Back up your images and files, and you will save yourself tons of trouble in the future. Hard drives fail. Images can get accidentally deleted. Accidents happen. Protect yourself and your business from losses, especially if you shoot weddings or events that cannot be recreated.
Backblaze.com is what I use to back-up my entire computer and hard drives. It is completely unobtrusive. I don’t notice it slowing down my internet connection or slowing down my computer.And, it’s extremely reasonably priced at $50/year for unlimited data. I also have on-site hard drive storage and back-ups. Loosing my photos and files is not a risk I’m willing to take!
#13 – Spending too much time culling
When I discovered Photo Mechanic, it revolutionized my post-processing workflow. There’s a demo to try it out, and I highly suggest you give it a shot for yourself. It’s quick, it loads the images fast, and you can rate the images with a simple keyboard stroke.
#14 – Neglecting the importance of editing
When most photographers shot with film, you either exposed your images in a darkroom, or you were at the mercy of film processing centers. Now, all of that work is done with post-processing. Not only is it important to present accurately edited images to your client, it is also a vital element to your brand and style. Your editing style is as much a part of your brand as your logo is.
Accurate editing can take time to learn. First, you have to understand the different elements that go into editing an image (white balance, exposure, contrast, tone curve, etc.). Once you learn about it, now you have to find a way to apply it the right way to your image. The last step is to edit creatively to match your brand.
To demonstrate the difference between a shot right out of the camera and one that is edited, I have posted a screenshot below. I have changed the exposure, white balance, shadows, highlights, clarity, sharpness, and vibrance in Lightroom.
Notice how much darker the original image is. It is also a little on the bluish side. Since I shoot in RAW, I have to do this for every image, to some extent. If it is not done accurately, the image could look sloppy and not pleasing to the eye, and therefore ruining an image that is well-composed and well-lit.
#15 – Fixing your photos with editing
While editing is important, over-editing your images can make it look tacky. The common one that comes to my mind is the over-sharpening and over-brightening of the eyes, especially when the eyes are not naturally lit in the first place. Editing’s primary use should not be for fixing an image, rather enhancing what is already there.
#16 – Showing clients too many images
You would think it would make sense to show your clients a lot of images to let them know how good of a photographer you are. While that may be the case sometimes, there is a sweet spot for showing your clients images. I aim for about 30-50 images, however, I am still guilty of displaying too many images in their final album. I have a hard time culling my images down to my top favorites.
From the photographer’s standpoint, displaying less images saves time editing redundant images. And, it may help you increase your sales. If the client has too many images to review, the choice can become overwhelming. To help further reduce the number of images, cull a 2nd and 3rd time, especially looking for redundant images.
#17 – Giving sloppy images to the client
Out-of-focus, blurry images need to be deleted… forever. Make sure you are zooming in on your image while culling to ensure the eyes and all of the faces in the image are sharp before editing and giving them to the client.
#18 – Leaving the gallery images online for too long
By leaving the gallery images up for a long period of time, your clients lose the urgency of deciding on their order. If they know they have only 2 weeks vs. 4 weeks to make their decision, as soon as they get information for viewing their album, the decision will not be put on the back-burner.
#19 – Not offering print products
In this great digital age, we are at risk for losing the art of the print. It is so easy to just leave your images on a disc or USB drive and forget about them. Or, once you’ve shared them online, that’s good enough.
Make sure you are offering print products, albums, and wall displays, so your client has the option to purchase. Stress the importance and value of having your images in print.
#20 – Not following up with your clients
This one is crucial. Follow up with them after you complete their order. Congratulate them on their wedding anniversary. Check in with them on their child’s birthday or major milestone. The idea is to stay in the forefront of their mind and to remind them of the great photos you provided them.
What rookie mistakes did you make?
Even though this list is lengthy, I’m sure there are lots of other rookie mistakes that you have made. Comment below and share yours to let others know which pitfalls to avoid when starting a photography business!
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