How To Become A Photographer – Starting Out, What Gear, How Much To Charge

I thought I’d put together some tips on how you can develop your career in photography from the experiences I’ve come across over the past few years and all the mistakes I’ve learnt from.

You probably have so many questions about exactly the best way to start out, from when you should be charging for your work to exactly how you should be promoting yourself. I by no means consider myself an expert and have only been working in the industry for a small amount of time compared to others, but with the tips below I hope to help answer some of these questions from the experiences I’ve had:

1) Get that portfolio up! 

My roots in photography came from simply taking photos and videos whilst doing something I loved – sports and being outside. What I also learnt was that I really enjoyed seeing people’s reactions to my work and this is one of the biggest reasons that drove me to pursue photography as a career.

To start with, I used platforms such as Flickr and Facebook to show people my work online and send out links to albums and photos. However, as I began to realise that I wanted to do photography full time, I required a more professional, better suited website and after plenty of trial and error, I eventually ended up using Smugmug to create my own homepage, (find out my reasons for doing so here).

Creating this online portfolio is crucial – it gives you a location people can instantly go to to view your best work, find out what type of photography you do, read more about you and get in touch. Thus it is also important to make sure your website:

– looks great
– isn’t too complicated
– is responsive (works on computers, smartphones and tablets)
– only shows your best work
– tells the reader where you are located
– a little bit about you
– and how to contact you

To make it even more professional you can:

– use your own domain name
– highlight how you go about your work (your style, methods, gear etc)
– explain what content you are providing (hi-res images, photo books, HD video etc)
– show any clients you’ve worked with before
– and mention what gear you use

Ultimately, in this job, you’ll only get work if you’ve got something to show or have a proven track record, so there’s so much to be said for getting your portfolio up straight away when you’re starting out. Remember however, it’s your portfolio, it’s always expanding and it will constantly change. Don’t worry if you think you don’t have enough content to show yet or you’re not happy with your images, just get something up there initially and develop your portfolio as you progress.

Great websites for creating photography portfolios:

– Smugmug
– 500px
– Squarespace
– Viewbook
– Zenfolio
– WordPress

2) Social media and blog

To be honest, I was initially reluctant to promote myself on social media. I didn’t feel like I was professional enough and was almost too shy to show off my work. I started out writing this blog on a very casual basis, just posting short articles on various videos and websites I liked. I also had a YouTube channel on which I was uploading home-made videos of various mountain biking or skiing trips, purely to show friends and family.

As my portfolio expanded and I became more confident in my own work and I joined Instagram, Twitter and Google+ (I’ve yet to create a Facebook page), using all three to talk about my latest work and share my content. My YouTube channel became the perfect hub to upload and embed my latest films and I also created a Vimeo channel (I prefer the look of the player and embed videos from here onto my website). I also adapted my blog to the type of work I was doing but continued to use it to post about things I just found interesting or inspiring.

Has it been worth it? Without a doubt, yes. Not only do I actually now enjoy sharing my work but I’ve secured plenty of jobs and projects thanks to these networks. The benefits are clear – you are simply expanding your audience reach through multiple channels, for free.

A few other communities and networks I highly recommend:

500px: fantastic images, great community, really interactive, best photography iPad app I’ve come across
Pixoto – fun website where you can submit your images to be voted on by other members, regularly competitions and prizes to be won
– Behance – new to Behance myself but am impressed with the nice apps and projects
LinkedIn – huge professional online community and becoming increasingly better for creatives
– TalentHouse – another site I’m new to but great for finding work and projects

3) Develop and focus your work

I found that because I had a website and social media networks to promote my work, it drove me more than ever to go out and just improve my photography. I jumped at any opportunity to take photos of sports or the outdoors and by doing so I was enhancing my portfolio, getting better at understanding the equipment and developing my technique.

As a result, I could then be much more critical of what images and videos I wanted to show on my website, choosing the media that I felt showed my best work as well as the area that I wanted to be working in.

The advantage of this is that potential clients will instantly see from your portfolio that you specialise in that area and you’ll be attracting the clients that you want to be working with.

So it’s important to constantly develop your work by practicing, being self-critical and getting opinions from others. In doing so, you can then begin to focus on the specific photography you want to be doing and specialise in that.

4) When should I start charging for my work?

You’ll probably have to do a lot of work for free to start with, I most certainly did. Pretty much all of my initial work I did for free or with only my expenses covered, and had to keep another day job to pay for my equipment and living costs. So I had to use up all my own spare time doing my photography work, but this wasn’t a problem because I was doing something I loved. This ‘free work’ gave me the foundations to build my portfolio and eventually meant I could charge for my time.

So when should you actually start charging? For me, it was when I felt that I was really supplying a service that was valuable to the client, something they couldn’t do themselves or get a friend to do, and that required the skill set and knowledge that I’d gained from all my previous experience.

5) How much should I charge?

This is an extremely difficult question as there are so many factors – your experience, who the client is, how long the shoot takes etc.

To keep it simple, my advice would be:

– If you’re doing photography as a side job, use your gut instinct when determining an hourly or daily charge depending on the amount of work and who the client is. This sounds strange but it’s something I learnt quite quickly. If I tried to use a specific amount to quote to all my clients, I found it put them off as they either couldn’t afford me or presumed I wasn’t good enough because I was undercharging. Once I became flexible with my quotations and started quoting clients according to how much I thought they might accept, I was a lot more successful.

– However, if you’ve quit your job and are attempting to earn a full time living from photography, you absolutely need to sit down and work out how much you need to earn to survive. There are plenty of online calculators out there to help you do this and using those you can determine exactly what you should be charging per job.

6) What gear should I start with?

Let’s face it, we photographers LOVE our gear. And why shouldn’t we? These days, the sheer amount of cameras, lenses and accessories available to us is mind-blowing.

When it comes down to choosing what you should be starting out with, my biggest tip would be to think about your current situation and what you will need to be producing. If you’re not likely to be doing all-day, large studio shoots for billboard advertising campaigns, then what’s the point in spending your life savings on a camera that’s made for that?

For me, I knew that I’d be doing small, personal projects with individuals, most likely in tough, variable weather conditions. So I chose a DSLR with decent weather sealing that didn’t break my bank balance. I knew I’d also be moving a lot so I chose lenses and accessories that were light but durable.

A DSLR doesn’t have to be your camera of choice either. I have many friends and colleagues that have discarded their larger cameras in favour of the smaller micro four third/mirrorless units. Bentley, for instance, shot their latest advert using only the iPhone 5s!

So start out with something you can afford that matches the minimum requirements for what you need to be producing.

I hope the above points help you in some way when starting out your career in photography. There’s obviously a lot more to it but if you get these first basic steps right you’ll be off to a good start.

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