I always wanted to give a little insight posts on here as well as sessions, since I think it's such an important aspect to this whole idea. So here's one of my first Behind the Scenes posts.
To be honest, I would've never expected this whole thing was going to grow to the point that it has. Originally I just had this funny idea that I wanted to take pictures of horse's for fun and maybe make a little cash on the side. When I first started I would take pictures of my friends for $50 bucks (or less), having no idea how my camera worked or what a good picture looked like. I would fiddle around with my camera until it looked okay, but I had no idea what I was doing, it was all a guessing game. I had no idea what a good angle of light was, or what a good time of day was. It all was a hit and miss, and my images reflected that.
I thought horse show photography was going to be the way to go, but I learned quickly there was no real return investment on that, and it wasn't a thing I could compete with official show photographers. I wasn't confident in photoshoots, not only because I had no idea what I was doing, but I had terrible people skills. I was terrified of the idea of meeting complete strangers, taking pictures of them (talking to them!) and getting paid. I can't believe that I am confident enough to meet multiple people per day now, it's really helped me grow as a person, and I am eternally grateful for that.
So what changed? Not sure. Suddenly I started getting a huge response to my work, and it was soon after I learned what a camera actually did. During the first year of my business, I took an Intro-Level business class at my community college, and was the last photography education I ever had. The combination of what I learned of photography basics in my class, and my engraved hit-and-miss method, I started learning what actually made an image look like the way it does. I wont lie to you, however, I still get frustrated sometimes. Being a natural light photographer is always a guessing game, and the settings that work one time can complete fail the next time (or sometimes in the same session!)
Going into year two, I knew this wasn’t just a fun game anymore. I started getting really serious: printed business cards, developed a website, started my social media marketing plan. I was determined, and I wanted to make money. That’s when it changed from hobby to job, and I haven’t gone back since. Four years later, this little idea has grown beyond my wildest dreams. Hours and hours is spent in editing, driving, shooting. I travel multiple weekends to different locations, driving hours each day to multiple properties from the first sessions at 8:00 am to the last at 5:00pm. One time I stood under a mini-vans trunk door, in the pouring rain with a plastic bag over my camera, for two hours to finish the session. I've crawled through bushes, stood in knee high water and hiked a half hour -- all for that one shot. I fit in photo trips as often as possible, which is quite a challenge when I'm in college and getting my degree at the same time. Cards full, multiple batteries drained, gas tank completely empty -- this is no longer a hobby anyone.
So here’s my little open letter to photographers everywhere. It’s possible for your business to grow, and for people to take you seriously, and here are some of my suggestions from what I’ve learned over the years:
1. Don’t sell yourself short. Something I always like to say is that the cheapest people will also demand the most. I started at $50 bucks a session, and people would definitely take advantage of that. Don’t overcharge by any means, but don’t lowball your ability either. As soon as you give crazy discounts, people will expect it. Don’t be afraid to raise your prices, if you’re working hard you deserve it. You may be weeding out some people that cant afford it, but there will still be people out there that can.
2. Professional, Professional, professional! If you want people to treat you like a professional, you need to act like one. Conduct yourself with upmost professionalism in everything you do, even in your own personal life (and especially social media!). Don’t burn bridges with past clients, because that news will spread. I’m not saying that the client is always right, but you have to try to make them happy as best to your ability. When you show up to a session, dress professionally, look cleaned up. Be organized, approachable, and easy to work with and that news will spread. That’s the word of mouth you want, not that you were late, messy, and rude.
3. Competition. You aren’t the only photographer out there, and an equestrian photographer is not exactly a niche market anymore. It’s growing exponentially every year, and people are seeing the success of these equine photographers and want a piece of the action. Ultimately, those copy-cats wont always sail and soar, and people don’t realize how much WORK goes into running a business and will either step up to the occasion or weed out. HOWEVER: NEVER TREAT OTHER PHOTOGRAPHERS POORLY. Just because they are your competition, doesn’t mean they are your enemy. Focus on differentiation to get business, not being catty, talking badly, and overall just acting like you’re the only best photographer in the whole world. People notice that too, and your fellow photographers are a HUGE resource! Know the photographers in your area, respect their work, and have a relationship with them. You’d be surprised about the things you can learn from them. Trying to insult them out of your competition will never work.
4. Find your style. Going off what I just said; differentiation over competition. Find your niche: something you do REALLY well and stick with it. Don’t broaden your horizons so far that you can do a lot of things alright – when you could do one or a few amazingly. Don’t let anyone tell you your style is wrong, because that’s just ridiculous. Style is style, as in it is your own. It can never be ‘wrong’. It may be visually pleasing to some, and not others, but it is never ‘wrong’. Of course, there are things that are right in photography (focus, exposure, etc) but style has nothing to do with it. Style is how your images look: soft, hard, bright, dark, saturated, desaturated, tones, tints, temperature, etc. (think, ominous). Style is also how you work with your clients, how they are posed, how you want the images to LOOK. If someone every tells you your style is bad, they probably don’t know what they’re talking about, or they’re jealous and/or self-conscious about their own work. Also don’t let them tell you how to change your style, because it’s something that belongs to you and you alone – and trust me, finding your ‘style’ is never easy, so don’t be afraid to be explorative. Some things work better than others, but it’s up for you to decide.
So overall, if you can learn anything from this: if you're a photographer, act professional and people taking you seriously will come. As soon as you take yourself seriously, people are sure to follow.