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Part I of a 5-part series of posts about why your photography business might fail. Join our FaceBook business page to join the discussion on best/worst practices if you want to pursue photography as a career.

#1: You’re not spending enough time studying your craft and the needs of the industry you want to serve before you start booking paid gigs.

I’m constantly blown away by the number of people who purchase a basic camera kit, have no idea how to use it, order business cards, and start booking paid shoots.

Not that I would take the same path I took in the early years of my career when I didn’t know an f stop from a 1A safelight (yes, I’m an old film gal). So, I took college courses and landed a summer job with a local paper, where I learned to think on my feet and create images worthy of publication.

That summer job lasted a year-and-a-half. I learned to work fast, think on my feet, adjust to sudden changes in circumstances, etc. All of which would serve me in the future.

I worked at the Ann Arbor News for over a year before asking the boss when I could say I was a photographer. When people asked what I did for a living, I said, “I take pictures for the newspaper.” My boss laughed and reminded me that I had been doing it for over a year, so yes, I was a photographer! I had so much respect for the craft that I wanted to be sure I deserved to call myself a photographer.

With today’s digital cameras, many newbies stay on automatic for far too long doing what pros call ‘spray and pray’ – taking a gazillion images, assuming that you’ll get sooner or later something worth having.

The problem with ‘spray and pray’ is that you’ll spend forever in postproduction and wish you were a bit more deliberate when creating images.

There is an upside to digital, of course. If you’re having a great shoot (or need to compensate for one not going so well), you can do that without worrying about the cost. But your time has value too. I’ve known newbie photographers to do one session per day and spend half the night processing the images.

Something to think about:

When I got my senior portraits done (back in the age of dinosaurs…lol!), the photographer shot 12 portraits with a twin-lens reflex camera. Guess what? Those 12 images were beautiful, especially since I’ve never been mistaken for a supermodel. Mom and I had a  hard time choosing which ones to purchase.

These days, I shoot digitally the way I shot with 35mm film. Two rolls per 2-hour session — unless there was time and I was having a fantastic session, then I’d shoot another ‘roll’ or two. Back in my film days (in the ’80s and 90s) 35mm film ran about $40 a roll, plus the cost to send the film to the lab to process and proof. So, you had to charge enough to cover costs plus your time behind the camera if you wanted to make money.

Can you imagine if I had shot 1000 images (as I’ve heard some folks do with weddings they’re charging only a few hundred dollars to create)? Add in the time spent in post, and good luck making money with your photography.

Bottom line:

  • Show respect for the industry and invest in learning at least the basics (exposure, composition, people skills, and postproduction work). Avoid the tendency to invest in a program with many filters and effects, thinking you can simply choose one, click, and call it a day. Even filters and special effect programs work better if you understand how to tweak the sliders to get something client-worthy.
  • Consider finding a mentor or coach to help get you up to speed on the basics faster. When I started assisting my boss at the newspaper shooting weddings, I carried his bags and took backup shots. When he felt I was ready, I started booking weddings independently.
    • When I wanted to move up to being worthy of more expensive packages, I found a photographer who was shooting at the level I wanted to move up to. I worked with him all summer in exchange for a wealth of experience and knowledge that would have taken much longer if I had done my learning at the school of hard knocks.
    • Something truly scary:

      • Wedding photographers are one of the most likely groups to be sued for screwing up on someone’s big day. I have helped correct images for newbies who bit off more than they could chew. Here are a few of my favorites ‘Oh my God!’ stories of wedding photography gone wrong:
        • Not knowing how to set your camera up for correct white balance. I spent hours with someone trying to fix jpegs with a white balance that resulted in all the reception images being blue (please shoot raw – more on this later)
        • There was a lovely lady who bought a camera/lens combo that was top-of-the-line. No idea how to use it. Somehow booked her first wedding at $2500. She had it rolling around in the back of her car – no camera bag (yikes!). No backup equipment. In this case, it’s a good thing she shot a ton of images because – with a lot of care and a sleepless night – we were able to pull enough images to prevent a lawsuit.
      • I plan to post a lot about the business of photography and weddings in particular. Do send questions, comments, or stories that might help steer newbies in the right direction when it comes to getting the training needed to succeed in photography.


(end, part I: 5 Reasons Photography Businesses Fail”)