From patience (yes, really!) to killing it with the customer experience, this is what I wish I would have known when I was starting my photography business.
Look: starting a photography business can be hard.
But it’s so worth it. There’s nothing better than realizing that you’ve built a business based on capturing beautiful moments, and it’s worth every anxious night and portfolio review.
When I first started my photography business, I was fresh out of photography school with my bachelor’s, ready to take the industry on. I was blissfully happy, completely naive, and totally unaware of what was waiting for me.
Praise. Because it was tough.
There were so many days where I was soooo anxious. I cried, I prayed someone could show me the way, I looked for advice everywhere I could find it, and I was struggling. I was broke, tired, and alternating between chasing my passion full-force and being terrified I wasn’t going to make it.
Are you in that stage right now?
If you are, I’m so very proud of you — and I’m not just saying that. Starting a photography business is something a lot of aspiring photographers never have the courage to do. So, let me be the one to give you a round of applause and tell you if you’re going through growing pains right now, it’s ok.
You. Are. Going. To. Make. It.
You just have to keep on going. Trust me, I’m here for you — and so is the entire Horizon Found community. If you’re scared of what’s next, I wanted to share the things I wish knew about starting a photography business.
#1: You have to stop caring about what people think.
The biggest, most important piece of advice I have for people starting a photography business? You have to stop caring wtf people think. I know you hear this a lot, but I promise — it’s so important. We waste sooooo much time worrying what people will think, wondering if we look weird, showing up quietly when we should be loud.
No more of that.
If you dream of being a photographer, do what it takes and forget whatever everyone else is saying. It doesn’t matter! What does matter, though? Following your dream, doing what you want (and love), and finding your purpose. Stop caring what people think, stop letting it paralyze you, and start chasing the passion.
#2: Treat each and every client like they just paid you $10,000.
When you’re just starting a photography business, you’re probably going to take every single job you can get… no matter how much it pays, and no matter whether or not it’s your DREAM job. You just want the experience and the portfolio work, and that’s okay! That’s a good thing.
But, here’s what you have to do: no matter how passionately or dispassionately you feel about a project, make sure that you treat them like they are a $10,000 client. Whether you took some photos of their dog for $50 or did a massive brand shoot for $10,000, give them that $10,000 experience.
Each and every client you have needs to be treated as importantly as the next, and every single image you take needs to be treated with that same level of care and love and passion. No matter how much you were paid for the work, you get to show someone your art and share your gift — and that’s priceless! Plus, when you treat each client with the utmost care, you’ll be appreciated and referred and everything in between. It’s a small industry, this stuff matters.
#3: Stay true to your word, every time.
As the self-employed badass you are, your word. is. everything. Don’t slack on it. If you said you were going to send that gallery in two weeks, send it in two weeks. If you said you would get back to a potential client in 48 hours, get back to them in 48 hours. Give yourself reasonable expectations and stick to them, because that’s how you build the impeccable reputation you need.
On the other hand, your clients are also depending on you — and people rely on you when you say you’re going to deliver certain images to them. Maybe they planned to get something printed for a holiday, or maybe they needed to upload those images for some new packaging they’re working on. Essentially, you never know what kind of deadlines are relying on you sticking to your word to deliver your images when you said you were.
So, give yourself time! If you know you have a busy month, extend your delivery date to a month. If you’re pressed for time, be realistic with your capacity to deliver them! Sticking with this mindset from the beginning will help you out soooo much as your career accelerates, when you’re juggling tons of jobs (like you will!).
#4: Learn the technical fundamentals of photography, inside and out.
Once you start a photography business, you will see IT ALL. If you’re not prepared, if you don’t FULLY understand lighting, and if you don’t know your camera inside and out, you will struggle to succeed in this business. I know it sounds harsh, but I’m saying it because I truly WANT you to succeed. Every photographer needs to know the technical fundamentals, it starts with manual mode and it progresses into lighting, planning, posing and editing. There is a lot but you CAN grasp it all.
Over the years, I’ve continually had to come back to the camera I know inside and out. I’ve had to shoot during a hurricane. I’ve been behind the camera when I had food poisoning and couldn’t stop throwing up between shots. I’ve had to hyper specifically talk through poses with models while they were near fainting on set because they hadn’t eaten. I’ve shot indoors in the most disgusting lighting for multi page magazine spreads and have had to do it all in less than an hour. I’ve shot at 12 pm in direct sun more times than I could possibly count. To pull off every condition that’s going to be thrown at you takes complete and total understanding. But you can do it, it just takes time, dedication and EXPERTISE. Be an expert.
#5: Don’t expect to get paid when you’re first starting out.
This one might confuse some people, but listen up: when you’re just getting started, the first and most important thing you need to do is build your portfolio. Just because you have an expensive camera doesn’t mean someone should pay you. If you have an expensive camera but no portfolio to showcase your work, there is no reason someone should trust you enough to pay you. A lot of new photographers expect to be paid for every single thing they shoot, and it hurts them in the long run.
The truth is, a lot of the time in the beginning you’re not getting paid a cent — and that’s completely normal. Trust me, here: I’m not saying to work for free and let someone take advantage of you. I’m saying, weigh the pros and cons and see if the pros outweigh the cons. Why? Because the first thing you need to focus on after learning the technical fundamentals of photography is building a portfolio. Once you do that, the paid work will start coming. If a free shoot might benefit your portfolio, take some time to think about whether it’s worth it to you. Make sure you’re strategizing the right way.
#6: Patience really is a virtue.
Here’s the hard truth: it’s absolutely insane for us to think that success happens overnight. It’s just not how it works, even when we want so desperately for it to. Success isn’t going to be something that happens the second you pick up your camera. It takes passion, it takes time, and it takes patience. If this is something you love, it’s worth working and waiting for.
Building a photography business might feel impossible, but if you’re here, you already have a better chance than I did 13 years ago — because you have community. You have support. You’re not alone in this, you can do it, and I’m so proud of you. Don’t give up, okay? Embrace the patience.
As you start a photography business, there are so many important things that need to come into play. One of the most important, though? Investing in your education so that you can truly become the incredible photographer you are — and it’s why we created The Photographer’s Path.
The Photographer’s Path is your step-by-step guide to discovering who you’re meant to be as a photographer, mastering the technical skills to prepare you for a lasting professional career, and building your portfolio to win the clients you dream about.