That's right! I'm here to spill the deats!
The other week, I was on Alex Lazarchik's podcast, Life as Creatives Podcast. In part of our conversation. we started chatting a ton about how I got started as a photographer, and how I ended up where I am today!
To kick off this blog post. let's talk a little bit about my background. Although I grew up as a very creative child, I went to Purdue University to pursue an Engineering degree. In 2018, I completed my degree in Construction Engineering and quickly moved to Atlanta. In the Peachtree City, I worked for a construction company that was a major builder in the commercial, aviation, and technology industries. That same construction company ended up moving me out to Huntsville, Alabama to work on a Meta Data Center. During the pandemic, I picked up a camera to take photos of a friend for her instagram. Overtime, I continued to be more interested in photography and the community and opportunities it brought. I made the mental shift to fully invest into my photography side business at the very beginning of 2021. By March 2022, I left my engineering career to start a creative one! By December 2022, I was fully self employed. So, how did I get here?
Invest Into Your Business
This can be in the shape of education, mentorships, or content days. Personally, my favorite by far is content days. Content days are where new and seasoned photographers come together to photograph a concept together!
What's so great about this opportunity for newer photographers is that you get the chance to work with a model (couple, family, senior, etc) with there being no pressure. You also get the chance to watch how other photographers prompt and pose their client/model. It's also the perfect place to get answers to all your questions. I've been to content days where photographers are learning how to shoot manual or shoot a double exposure. The photography community can be very welcoming, and they're happy to share their tips and tricks in these environments!
To shed a little bit more light on my journey, I almost threw in the towel at the end of 2020. I was putting myself out there f0r clients in the fall 0f 2020, but no one was booking me. I wouldn't work with anyone unless it meant I was getting paid. January 2021, I went to my very first content day! It was with Live Rooted outside of Charlotte. That one day literally changed my life. At that content day, I met a community of girls that I still talk to today. I was able to see how photographers (that were already booked out for the year with weddings) were posing their clients and the angles they were taking photos. It was one of those moments where I truly believed that I could do this too.
Free Work is OKAY
Leaning into that last paragraph, it's totally okay to take free work. Personally, I love doing free work! If there's a concept I really want to try or a new technique I need to practice, I'm quick to ask a couple to model for me.
As I said previously, I wasn't getting any clients when I first started my business. All of my portfolio was of the same person. I was unwillingly to put myself out there to work with models or take on free work. When I went to that content day, I realized from a few conversations that free work is important when it comes to growing a portfolio. For some reason, I thought it was shameful to take on clients for no money. I thought that if I wasn't getting paid for my work, future clients would take advantage of me. I'm here to tell you that's not true at all. Set your boundaries early and take on free work that benefits you and your business.
Even as a full-time photographer now, I shoot couples for free every month. My biggest rule of thumb is that if it's a concept that you want to try, or a session you want for your portfolio; go make some magic! If a potential client comes to you with their ideas and wants you to shoot it for free (for exposure or whatever else), the answer is no.
Taking on free work should be a way that you are investing into YOUR business and creativity... period.
Understand Social Media
When it comes to booking your ideal clients, you need to know where to find them! When I first got started, I noticed that I was shooting a ton of families. At that time, I was running most of my advertisements only on Facebook and was focused on growing my facebook page. Facebook is the social platforms for mom's and families. Typically the demographic for Facebook is those closer to 30 and older. When I decided to start shifting to couples and the wedding industry, I switched my advertisements and growth to instagram. Instagram has a demographic of those in their early thirties and younger. People around this age are typically getting married and starting families. This was the target audience I really wanted. And sure enough, I started booking more couples and weddings.
One big opportunity when it comes to social media is social media ads. When creating an ad, you choose interests that might appeal to your audience. It's important to put yourself in the shoes of your clients!
For example, if you want to get your post in front of newly engaged couples, you need to apply interests to your ads that would appeal to them (not you). What would a newly engaged girl be searching for? Wedding bands, wedding vendors, wedding dresses, wedding photography, wedding color schemes, wedding shoes, tuxes, bridesmaid dresses, etc! So instead of making your ad interests "wedding photography, photographer, wedding photos", try "wedding venues, bridesmaids, wedding dress, wedding photography" instead!
Client Experience is Everything
Returning clients and word of mouth Is huge when it comes to a small business! Sure, you can run ads everyday and really put yourself out there to get clients. But returning clients that continue to refers you to others will be a huge part in continuing the growth of your business. Therefore, make your client experience unique!
The power of the internet is truly unmatched, but keep in mind that businesses kept the lights on far before the internet really existed. That includes photography businesses!
Lens > Camera Bodies
This is one thing I wish I knew sooner rather than later - invest into your camera lenses before investing into your camera bodies! When I upgraded my camera body to a more professional one, I didn't upgrade my lenses. Although my experience shooting was much better, my images came out with same look and clarity. Your camera body basically changes your experience with shooting. Either that's better focus on your client or quicker read speeds. Your camera lenses will change how your photos will appear. Either that's your focal length or aperture.
Don't Isolate Yourself
Repeat my words - make friends with other photographers. Please for God's Sake, don't look at other photographers as your competition. There are enough people in this world that need photography services for you to be sitting in the corner by yourself and gate keeping all your knowledge.
Investing into my friend's photography businesses have not only helped them flourish, it has also helped my business flourish! When someone inquiries for a date that I already have filled, I refer them to a freind's business. When they get an inquiry for a date that is already filled, they'll refer them to me. Need a second shooter for a wedding? No problem. Got strep throat before photographing a child's 5th birthday party? No problem!
Having friends in this industry is SO important. Feeling safe around other creatives will only allow your creativity to flow more. In a creative industry, that could make or break your business.