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16 Things I Wish I Did My First Year as a Photographer

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Do you remember the first day you decided to take your photography hobby to the next level and start your business? Whether that was years ago, or you are just starting out, your first few years of business are crucial to your future success. As in any endeavor, your first year is likely to have speed bumps and issues as you learn the most efficient ways to be the best photographer possible.

Since everyone has a different story, we wanted to share some of the things some of the pros missed out on their first year as a photographer. Maybe these are things you can relate to, or they are items you may have not come across yet. Either way, take a look at 16 things that pro photographers wish they did during their first year of business.

1. Realize You Are Not Just a Photographer

When the bride and groom book you for their wedding, they may not realize all of the tasks you will perform leading up to the wedding day. Not only will you be a resource for your couple,but you will help them plan out their wedding day schedule. When the day of the wedding arrives, you will tell the bridal party and family members where to stand and how to pose through every shot.

Related: Are you using this checklist to stay organized during the wedding day?

“You are a photographer/customer service expert/book keeper/marketing director/social media whiz/branding dude/website creation person/secretary/treasurer/CEO/CFO/ and pretty much any other title you can think of.” – Lauren Lim

You are a valuable asset to your couple, so remember that when it becomes challenging to be a business owner.

2. Find a Mentor

Similar to other careers, learning the ins-and-outs of photography can be a hands-on experience. Though this is the case, make sure to reach out to other local photographers who have more experience as photography business owners. These people can answer your questions, and can give you practical advice.

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Related: Reinvent your brand with inspiration from one of photography’s biggest influencers, Joe Buissink!

“I, along with many, many other photographers and small business owners, struggled through our first year, afraid to ask questions, making mistakes that could have been avoided had [I] just had some sort of guide or mentor to help [me] walk through it.” – Ashley Fisher

Asking for help can save you tons of headaches, and can help you focus on areas of your business that will assist you in your growth.

3. Second Shoot a Wedding

Think about learning photography as you would any other hobby or career choice. There should be some sort of education process to get you started. One of the best ways to understand what a wedding photographer goes through is to second shoot a wedding. The great thing about being a second shooter is you do not have all of the responsibilities of working with the couple, but you can test your shooting skills with someone who has a bit more experience.

“I shot my first wedding in June 2010 without ever second shooting or assisting another photographer on any weddings. In those early days my clients had an unbelievable trust in my abilities knowing very well what my skill set and limitations were at the time. I barely knew anything about flash photography, nor did I possess the posing skills and on-the-fly adaptability that I have today.” – Neil Ta

Second shooting a wedding will give you a live experience, which can help you develop as a photographer.

4. Back Up Your Images

One of the biggest photography nightmares is spending eight hours shooting the wedding day, uploading your images, and the next day realizing that they are all gone. Backing up your images on multiple resources can be crucial to your success. Without wedding images, you are not meeting your clients’ expectations.

“This is probably one of my most embarrassing confessions: I was one of those people who didn’t back up, and I lost all of my photos to a horrifying little hard drive failure.” – Joshua Dunlop

This can apply to your camera, as well. Bring along two cameras and additional memory cards just in case something happens during the shoot.

5. Create a Schedule that Works for You

A benefit of photography as a career is that you can work a schedule that best suits you. Much of a photographer’s job is to be creative, and that means not having the schedule you once did. When you’re shooting weddings during the day, sometimes your only option is to work late into the evening or very early in the morning.

“Initially if I wasn’t working 9-5, I felt like a failure. I felt lazy. I felt…like a bum. But isn’t being your own boss the blessing of owning your own business? I have the freedom to make my own hours, which by the way look very different than other people’s work hours, and that’s okay.” – Kristen Soileau

Avoid paying attention to what other photographers do, or what other people may think. If you feel comfortable working on images at midnight, then that should be the time you set for yourself after each wedding.

6. Be Confident in Your Pricing

As you start to gain experience as a photographer in your first year, you realize your prices are either perfect for your business, or they need some work. Once you set your prices that match what your costs are, make sure you are confident in your choices. Make sure you turn away clients who try to convince you to lower or discount your prices.

“From my experience, when a client starts to haggle, it’s a red flag that there will be issues for you beyond the initial decrease in package price. If a client is haggling over price, then it’s quite possible that he or she doesn’t fully value the work you produce.” – Jeffrey Saddoris

The more confidence you have in your pricing, the more ideal clients will come your way and pay the prices you set.

7. Avoid Stressing Over Mishaps in the Timeline

When you develop the day-of shooting scheduling with the bride and groom, you make plans based on that timeline. In many cases, timelines never stay as they are written. Sometimes people are late, or there are other issues that get in the way of the original schedule. It is important to avoid stressing the mishaps, and try to get the shots your couple really wanted.

Related: How does your morning-of wedding ritual give you the inspiration to shoot dynamic images?

Your couple will see you are in control, and will feel confident you are capturing the images that matter during the scattered timeline.

8. Direct the Wedding Day Shoot

The wedding day can bring about chaos; from the bridal party getting ready, to the rush of family members after the ceremony, there are many times your couple can get distracted from taking photos. As the photographer, it is important for you to gain control of the situation and let the bride and groom know what they need to do next.

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“I was not good at directing people AT ALL. I would just stand there, say lots of ‘ummms’ and after twenty or thirty awkward seconds of silence, I would position the subjects where I thought looked best.” – Jacob Loafman

Make sure you are specific about what locations the photos should be taken in, and how the subjects of the images should pose.

9. Buy an Affordable Camera

As a first year photography business owner, it is likely you are still building your income and have a budget which helps you stay on track. Try not to buy the most expensive camera available, especially if it is outside of your budget. If you are not increasing your profit the first year, it may be difficult to do so in the next year.

“I bought both the lens and body off eBay using money I had saved from moving back in with my parents, something which at the time seemed like a step backwards in my life, but if I had never done this I would not of been able to afford a camera when I did and the journey would never have begun.” – Colin Nicholls

As long as you know what to do with the camera, it may not be necessary to have the most high-end gear right away. Remember, YOU create the images, not your camera!

10. Find Inspiration from your Past Work

When you first start shooting as a wedding photographer, your images may not be as good as you want them to be – and that’s okay! Something helpful to do as you are learning new techniques throughout the year is to look back at your first images. Look to see what improvements you have made, and what you can still work on in your future images.

“I decided to take a look through my Lightroom catalog and I got a chance to see really how much I improved, and it inspired me to blog about my year through photos and memories.” – Bri McDaniel

You can find inspiration from your past work to go on to shoot better images in the future.

11. Take on Only What you Can Handle

As you take on the role of wedding photographer and business owner, your plate immediately becomes full. There are hundreds of important tasks for you to take care of on a weekly basis, while needing to meet and book new clients. This is a great time to realize you are only one person, and you cannot take on everything you are handed.

“You can’t be the best maternity/baby/child/senior/couples/wedding/commercial/boudoir/real estate photographer and still have time and energy be a decent human being/friend/significant other/mom/etc. with a life outside of work.” – Allie Bennett

Since you need more time in your schedule, outsource your wedding photography editing needs to a specialist. Once you do that, you can start outsourcing other parts of your business that do not require your attention.

12. Become Visible

In every local market, there are hundreds of photographers as competition. During your first year, there is no buzz about you or what you can provide your ideal clients. It is important to take action and get your name out in the photography world. Take the necessary steps to develop your business and start reaching out to your ideal clients.

“Sometimes people get a bit stuck about how to get visible, but it’s actually so, so simple. The only thing you need to ask yourself is the magic question: ‘Where would my kind of client be looking for their wedding photographer?’” – Marianne Chua

The more visible you are, the more likely that ideal clients will come to you first.

13. Be Unique

In comparison to other photographers, who have similar skills as you, what makes you unique? What qualities do you have which tell ideal clients you have a Signature Style that no one else has? For you to capture the attention of your ideal clients, especially in your early years, you need to do something to find your unique abilities.

“What people tell me is I’m accepting. No matter what group, condition, life-stage or lifestyle you consider yourself to belong to, I can photograph you, your union and your partner in crime.” – Mike Allebach

When potential clients can identify you by how unique you are, this will give them more of a reason to look into your work, and book you for their wedding day.

14. Learn From your Own Experiences

Even though you are a wedding photographer, you are also a person. Many of your life experiences can help you run your photography business, and meet clients who are perfect for you. When you are providing services to the bride and groom, think about the process as if you were them. If you have hired a wedding photographer in the past, or any other photographer, how would you rate the experience?

“Looking back and knowing what I do now, I would have done things much differently. Every single ‘mistake’ I made with my own wedding photography, I’m using to help me provide the best service possible to my brides.” – Dana Cubbage

Use your past experiences with photographers to develop how you will interact with your clients before, during, and after the wedding day.

15. Value Yourself

As you are looking for clients to work with in your business, it is important to place value in what you do as a photographer. This is your source of income, which means that you do not have the time to spend on clients that will not help you grow. While it can be tempting to book every client that inquires with you, remember the core values and beliefs of your business. If potential clients do not share those values, take time to determine if you want to invest time working with them.

Related: How can you increase the value of your images today?

“I’ve learned that I need to take myself seriously, or no one else will either. So what does that look like? It means knowing what your time is worth, and NOT offering work for free all the time.” – Abby Grace

When you place value in your business and you as a photographer, you will attract clients who want to pay the prices you set and will not ask you to compromise yourself by changing prices of your products or services.

16. Charge What You Are Worth

Although you love the clients you work with, you have to remember that you are a business owner. Owning a business means you have to pay yourself for your time for each wedding. If you are not charging your clients prices that cover what you do for one event, you are missing out on increasing your overall profit. The way to grow as a business owner is to charge what you know your services are worth right from the beginning.

“If you don’t know how much you’ll need to charge to make your desired amount of profit after taxes and expenses, you’ll end up having to raise your prices significantly your first few years and will lose clients in the process.” – Jamie Swanson

Make sure your prices reflect your services; if they are too high or low (or change every year), potential clients may be turned off to working with you.

As you continue to learn new ways to improve as a photographer and a business owner, you will find that you can book the clients you love and increase the profit for your business. Learn additional ways to grow your business with our How to Grow your Wedding Photography Business Guide: 2015 Updated Edition!

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