Before you can go pro, you HAVE to start out as a freelance photographer. If you’re good enough, you cross over to being a paid professional or working for a media outlet. But for now, here are some tips to help you begin your photography career (no matter what you’re shooting).
First thing’s first, you need an online platform to showcase your best work. Even when you JUST start out, it needs to be present (and visually alluring). Facebook pages are a good way to start. It’s simple, easy to use, and your friends can view your work instantly. However, when you upgrade your quality of work, you need to upgrade your platform and make a website. The best way that I found, was to do it through WordPress and buy a domain name through GoDaddy.com. It was FAR better than messing around with Wix.com that’s for sure. In the short-run, I’ve seen a HUGE boost in getting into metal shows and being taken more seriously as a photographer with my own website. Don’t be too complicated. Simple and clean formats work best with photography profiles. There’s already a throng of photos, don’t confuse or irritate your audience by doing too much.
2. Hustle HARDER Than Everyone Else
You’re freelance, so the only name you have is your own… a name that NO ONE knows. So, when you ask to photograph a model, or a concert, you need to give them a reason to say “yes” other than your portfolio. Offer other things like a “behind-the-scenes” video, exclusive rights to the photos, anything you can think of. That little bit of extra can push you from being a “maybe” or a flat out “no”, to a “yes”. When the shoot is over, get the photos out as fast as humanly possible. Pretend you’re a photo-generating machine (which is what people think photographers are anyways) and get those pictures out there!
3. Mind Your Manners
Be extremely polite (especially via web). You don’t know how you can come across to someone on the internet. You can sound like a nice person, or a huge c*nt. However, if you’re very polite with your sprinkled in “please” and “thank you”, you’ll most likely come off as someone they’d want to work with. Photographers have a bad reputation of being egotistical and difficult to work with. If your work is good, and you’re a somewhat cheerful person (or at least can pretend that you are), you’ll do well. Always follow up EVERY email with a little “thank you” (never forget that).
4. SUBMIT YOUR WORK!
Don’t forget what your goals are. If you want to work for a media outlet, submit your work to them. They’re not going to come looking for YOU, YOU need to be in search of THEM. Also, do not hesitate if you feel your work is up to par with what they’re publishing. You never know when they need a new photographer. Sometimes they hire someone out of pure need, and that’s where you come in. Try to get published as often as possible. Out of the eight magazines that say “no”, you may get one or two that give you a “yes”. Sometimes you don’t get an answer (this is another form of “no”), and that’s ok. Keep submitting your work (yes, even to the ones that told you “no” before). Don’t give up, you have to be persistent.
5. Upgrade Your Equipment
Most photographers have an updated stable of usable cameras and lighting equipment. Make sure that your camera isn’t any more than five years old. Many camera companies manufacture many new devices in that time; your camera may be outdated or seem less easy to use compared to the new stuff. Stay in the loop about your camera brand (Nikon, Canon etc). Some photographers keep old-school cameras (film or polaroid), and those are sometimes preferred for aesthetic. However, always keep your DSLR camera up to the “Five Year” code.
6. Fake It Till You Make It
You want to be a professional photographer? Act like one. If you keep doing amateur style work, delivering it with an amateur time-frame, with an amateur attitude… you’ll stay an amateur. If you work on looking, working, and being a professional people will start to treat you like a professional. There’s nothing more irritating to someone who’s looking for a photographer than someone who clearly ISN’T a professional… but thinks that they are (and of course is completely stuck up about it). This is a no-no. When your work is high-quality and publish-worthy (and you get paid to take photos), THEN you can call yourself an official pro. EVEN if you are a professional, don’t act jaded and half interested in people who want to work with you. Have a professional attitude. You are your own brand.
7. Social Media
I cannot stress how important your social media image is. It can mean the difference between getting the gig or being passed over for someone who has 100k more followers than you. Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, Pinterest… all of them. You need to have your work out there for the viewers (no one is going to know your work if they don’t see it). Artists constantly struggle with this aspect the most (since we’re all reclusive and too busy working on our craft to post anywhere). For photography, Instagram and Facebook seem to be the key social media outlets. Also, create your own hashtag that goes with your photography brand. It creates an identifying link between all of your platforms.
8. Start With Unknown Subjects; End With Well-Known Subjects
You’re an unknown, so photograph OTHER unknowns. In that aspect it’s less likely that they’ll try to charge you or say “no”. When your portfolio is at it’s higher, more professional stage, then you start working with more well-known artists/models. With this method, you’ll save money and get free publicity from the unknowns (because they’re excited about having someone take pictures of them), and the well-knowns (because you are now dipping into their fanbase when they eventually share your work on their social media).
9. Amateur Rates; Professional Service
This is how your begin your business. At the start, you CANNOT charge pro-rates, people will look at you like you’re crazy. Instead, start off with tiny rates such as “$100 for 2 hours and 5 professional grade edits”. You need to create a fanbase amongst paying customers who will then tell THEIR friends about you and you’ll start getting calls. After a certain time, after your portfolio has reached it’s height of professional grade realness, after pretty much everyone in your area has worked with you and loved it, then you can start charging what you feel is appropriate. You can have special rates set aside for your favorite people, but always have an amount that you will never go below.
Having patience is not only a virtue, it is the only way to survive your passion for photography and wanting to go pro. Most photographers quit because they never break the amateur barrier in a “timely fashion”. You never know when your break will come, you don’t know how long it will take for you to find your niche, or your stride. I’ve been doing photography for over a decade, and I’m still not famous *cries onto laptop screen*. However, I’m not deterred at all, and you can’t be either. Keep working at your craft no matter what, and let nothing or anyone get in your way. If this is your life’s dream, you need to stick with it and have patience.
BONUS TIP: COPYRIGHT YOUR PHOTOS!
It’s the internet, and people like to steal. You need to get into the habit of copyrighting your photography. Luckily, my camera does it for me automatically (so if anyone tried to steal my photos I can sue them… and I will). So remember to go into your photo’s info database (properties) and putting your name on it, because someone else might.
Hopefully this resinates with some of you and helps you along your career path. If you have any questions you can always contact me. For further photography advice, check out my interview with Chelsea Tavis from Tragic Glamour!