Advice for New Photographers

This is a reposting/update of a blog I wrote on Myspace Jan 16, 2007 3:59 AM.

This was in response to a request for advice from a new photographer.  Take from it what you will.  In the eyes of the general public, we are all only as good as the worst of us until we can prove ourselves better.  Let’s try to bring up the base line so none of us have as far to go.

My first piece of advice is never undersell yourself.  It is hard to sell yourself as a high end photographer if everyone thinks you are a budget photographer.  Many small budget brides expect as much or more than big budget brides.  They often still think they have paid too much and will make you work for the $500 (or however much) they think they have over paid.  People who are willing to pay a premium for photography are buying your art and see it as such.  You will have more freedom to shoot what you want if your clients view you as an artist rather than a technician.  

Of course, like all generalizations, this isn’t always true for either small budget or big budget brides.  There are big budget brides with tight purse strings and a view of photography that doesn’t include art and laid back small budget brides who just want beautiful pictures.  Pick your desired market, and price yourself for those brides.  If you really want to photograph someone’s wedding, feel free to give them a discount.  Just make sure you are clear this is a discount and not your normal price.

When setting a price, sit down and figure out how many hours you will spend working on the wedding.  Beyond simply shoot time, there is pre and post-production.  For every hour shooting, I spend around 5 hours in post (editing, color correcting, posting images on line) and pre-production (meetings, planning, equipment cleaning).  This does not include the time and costs associated with albums.  Figure out how much you would want to be paid per hour to shoot and to preform post production tasks.  These can be different.  Once you have your hourly fees, do the math.  Your prices should cover this cost plus any overhead such as assistants or second shooters, parking fees, or snacks for a long event at a minimum.  MS Excel is a fantastic program for this job.

If you are shooting for a friend, be clear from the outset what is included as a “friend” bonus and what they are expected to pay for.  Your friends should understand that this is what you do for a living.  If you are shooting their wedding, you are unable to shoot a wedding for someone else.  I have often given friends discounts in the form of free time or prints as a wedding gift.

Do not let people bully you to back down from your prices or give things away for free.  This is the amount you feel you are worth and this is how you make your living.  You should strive to accept only the weddings that meet your requirements in both price and general niceness of the couple.  If they are trying to bully you before you sign a contract, this may be an indication of the relationship to come.

Get paid in advance.  If this is not an option, do not release any images until your full price has been paid.  Once you release anything tangible, it is next to impossible to retrieve it if they do not complete their payment.  Some people will balk at this, but the only industry that does not expect payment in advance of delivery is restaurants, and they get stiffed every so often.  As a small business, getting stiffed on a wedding where you may have several hundred to several thousand dollars in overhead for an event is a big bummer.

Try to book with the couple rather than their parents.  You want the couple to love the pictures most.  Booking with parents can sometimes put you in the middle of a power struggle.  This is never a pretty situation, and often frustrations can be taken out on you.

If you get the good food, great, but either way, make sure they feed you at a long event.  Any event lasting over 6 hours will probably have food.  If it’s a buffet, grabbing a bite on your way by is easy.  If it’s a seated dinner, make sure there is something to eat, even if it’s a vendor meal.  Talk to the coordinator and kitchen/serving staff if you don’t see any sign of food for you.  A hungry photographer is not shooting her best.  Always pack snacks just in case.  In addition, try to make friends with the other vendors.  They will refer you for one thing, and if you show up to a wedding full of vendor friends, your day will often go much more smoothly.

Find out if there are family members or other guests who do not get along.  If the parents of the bride had a nasty divorce and continue to loath each other, they should not be next to each other in any pictures.  Sometimes it is better to keep them out of the same pictures all together.  Speak to the couple about what they want.  Friends and relatives should suck it up and be nice to each other for the bride and groom’s sake, but this does not always happen.

Be true to yourself.  It’s obvious when you’re shooting in a style that is not your own.  Your images suffer.  It’s great to try out new styles, but do that on your own time, not on the clients’.

Always check your equipment the day before the shoot and the morning of the shoot before you leave your house.  If it’s been a while since your last shoot, take it out a few days early and do some test shooting just to make sure everything is in tip top shape.  Clean your gear thoroughly.  You can’t leave a shoot to buy more batteries (although, you could send your assistant in an emergency) or rent another camera body and it’s easier to shoot with a clean camera than to retouch all of those dust specks.

Bring an assistant.  They are invaluable!  I always shoot in a team of two or more.  If you have little to no experience as a wedding photographer, go be an assistant or a second-shooter for a seasoned pro.  Wedding photography might look easy (we show up to a party and take pretty pictures, right?), but there are nuances and issues that pop up unexpectedly.  What do you do if the flowers are late or the groom’s pants break or the bride has a melt down.  Well, you keep your cool and use the knowledge you gained working with other photographers and shooting your own assignments to find a solution.

Don’t buy cheap equipment.  If you can’t afford the really good stuff, go for the medium level.  Never buy cheap.  Camera bodies have dropped significantly in price, and you can get a great camera for as little as $1000-$1500.  If it’s another $100-200 to get a slightly faster lens, find the money.  Lenses are especially important.  A cheap lens on a great camera will often lead to worse pictures than a good lens on a cheap camera.  The lens that comes in a package with many cameras available today is a cheap lens. If you can only afford 1 body and 1 lens right now, work with what you have and save up for the good stuff.  Don’t blow your money on a full set up of slow lenses made with cheap glass.  The lenses I would suggest starting with are: 24-70/2.8 and 70-200/2.8.  Yes, these are expensive, but you can shoot any event with these two lenses.  Beyond that, I would suggest a wide angle and any fun specialty lenses you may want.  But as a word of warning, variable f-stop lenses will drive you crazy and are generally cheap lenses.  Buy a fixed f-stop lens (that’s the little number after the focal range) in the 2.8 or 4 (at the slowest) range or faster if possible (the lower the number, the faster the lens, the more light it lets in, the darker the situation you can shoot in).  I buy the majority of my gear from B&H and One Call.  For computer stuff (like DVDs, another thing to NEVER skimp on, and memory cards) I like NewEgg.

Shoot in RAW.  Editing, color correcting and salvaging exposures are all good reasons to avoid jpeg.  Also, RAW files are generally larger dimensionally, so you can print them larger.  Memory is getting cheaper every day.  Keep an eye out for rebates. 8 gig cards are my favorite size.

Find a good lab.  No, an AWESOME lab.  A mediocre lab makes your pictures look mediocre.  Period.  Many labs will provide you with test prints (you send files, they send you prints so you can see the quality). 

Protect your images.  If you want to give files with your packages, work that into the price.  Files are like gold and should be treated as such. Always back everything up to DVD immediately.  Hard drives are a great way to access files, but if they corrupt, you will be glad to have the originals on disk.  Never skimp on DVDs by buying the cheap-o brand.  I have used Verbatim & Memorex with great success.  Fuji & Sony disks aren’t bad either.

Finally, your outward professional appearance is key.  Always speak clearly without using an overabundance of slang.  Parents cannot relate and are often the ones holding the final say of where their money is going.  When e-mailing, double and triple check your grammar and spelling.  LOL, OMG, UR and the like are not English words.  They are fine for chatting with friends, but should never enter any professional correspondance.  The world has not moved to text-speak, and using it gives an impression of youth and unprofessionalism.  Captial letters are your friends.  Never use a lowercase “i” when speaking about yourself.  Never use lowercase letters to begin sentences or for proper nouns.  Of course, im etiquette applies as well, so don’t “yell.”  Also, limit the number of punctuation marks to meet proper grammar, and limit the number of exclamation points only to situations where there are absolutely necessary to express your point.  I cannot stress how important all of this is.  As someone who looks far younger than I am, being taken seriously by potential clients is extremely important.  You would not want to do anything to lower their opinion of your professionalism.  Of course, we are also artists, so don’t feel like you have to dress like an accountant.  A bit of funk in the wardrobe or an interesting hair color are generally acceptable in our field.  If someone decides not to book you based on your appearance rather than the quality of your photography, that is not a client you wanted anyway.  I like to wear something fun for meetings, however, my shoot uniform is all black with soft soled shoes.  I started shooting in suits, but now I wear black pants and a nice black shirt. 

Good luck!  I hope this was helpful.

Claire Presnall

Rebecca Claire Photography


~ by rebeccaclaire on February 8, 2009.

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