Article by Love & Water Photography
Yesterday I stumbled upon my old journal and I read through a few old entries.
This journal in particular was from 2010, when I first started thinking photography might be a really cool way to earn a living and make my own hours.
Though it seemed like a lifetime ago, it really wasn't that long ago that I was scrawling ideas for shoots and what to charge and how to portfolio build into that little Molskine. In five short years, I've learned a lot.
And some of those lessons took me five years to learn.
I think this year was the year I started feeling comfortable - with our business, our workflow and editing, our brand. And I never want to forget the restless nights when my eyes simply wouldn't close as I worked out packaging ideas and price lists in my head.
And I made plenty of mistakes along the way, from 2010 to 2015.
Here are some you might encounter, or, if you're lucky, take note and not make the same money, time and sanity-depleting mistakes I did along the way to becoming a photographer full time.
1. OBSESSING Over Pricing.
We constantly review our pricing but in the beginning, it was all I thought about. I'd pull up that InDesign pricing document at least three times a week. I'd change the orientation from horizontal to landscape, take in the margins, choose new fonts and fiddle with the numbers. I knew I had it all wrong - the clients I wasn't booking probably loved the presentation of my price list, but I had no idea where the numbers were coming from - and they didn't, either. What to do instead of obsessing: Find out where your pricing is coming from!!
Colorvale's Pricing Calculator for Photographers is a good place to start when it comes to creating a living out of your artwork.
There are plenty of resources out there and pricing structures that do and do not work.
Find out what works for you, and what you're comfortable offering.
Figure out what you need to make to make a living and still give yourself a life.
Realize that for the first year or two or more it will take a while to really feel comfortable with your pricing structure.
Put in the hard work now and you'll soon see the results of your calculations.
But please, don't revise your pricing document 5 times a week.
(Or maybe that was something only I did? Moving on.)
2. Not Hiring a Graphic Designer Right Away
I didn't hire a graphic designer for Sabra Creative (my old business before we combined in to Love and Water) until 2012. Until then I'd been using DIY logos and templates from Etsy. This was a mistake. There is a huge burst of confidence that comes from hiring a graphic designer instead of using a pop-out logo that 450 other photographers are using as well.
I wish I had hired a professional graphic designer from day one to see me through my brand. It would have saved me HUNDREDS of dollars in packaging that didn't suit our identity, and literally HUNDREDS of hours of creating templates that didn't match the brand I never had. You might think "but, I don't have money for a graphic designer". Take a step back and think about it. Be the person who values the aesthetic of their brand. Create a presence. It is truly an investment that will not only save your sanity, but will give you the polished look and appeal to your clients and bring you in line - or place you a step above - your competition.
3. Not Using a Thorough Contract
I was always pretty contract-aware from the start. But we'd never really "needed" one. That is, until last year when a client went crazy on us for reasons out of our control and claimed we never outlined this and that in our contract. Now while it's impossible to cover everything in your document, you can at least make sure you cover the important things. Cancellation policies, rain plans, expected delivery timeline, refund policy, even how much you charge for additional edits to their images.
I add something new to ours after nearly every shoot! Have it reviewed by a lawyer if you'd like. And DON'T worry about it sounding stuffy or scary to the client. Contracts are supposed to be thorough, so don't shy away from adding everything you can think of to protect not only yourself and your business, but to be completely transparent to your client. And while we're on the subject of shooting for friends - they are friends second, and clients first. Treat them as such and provide them with a contract and invoice. It will save a lot of headaches later.
4. Not Having Insurance
OKAY - this was early days. The day I accepted $500 for a wedding just to get one under my belt, the day I had a 50D and a kit lens and held it in my hand like it was a porcelain figurine and not entirely sure what all the buttons meant. It's scary to think I was uninsured for a short while. If you're going to call yourself a PROFESSIONAL, you MUST have proper INSURANCE! This includes equipment coverage, liability and business insurance. You can't afford it? Wrong. You can't afford not to have it. And chances are, if you neglect to get it... you won't realize it's importance until it's too late.
5. Trying to Mimic Another Style
When I was just starting out, I'd trawl the internet for pretty pictures, find ones I loved then spend time and energy trying to emulate that style. Oh wait, I can't, because that photographer uses film and that one shoots a completely different genre. Inspiration and copying are not the same. Stop. IT. WON'T. WORK. And if it does work, how satisfying can it possibly be to know you're tapping in to a creative side that's not even your own? Not very.
When you actively try to base your work off of the work of someone else, it's really draining. At some point you'll get sick of it, and may find yourself with a portfolio of images that looks inconsistent because your heart isn't in the right place. Create a look and feel that comes naturally to you, experiment with helpful actions and create your own. You'll know when it's right!