As a Palm Springs Lifestyle Photographer, I've learned a lot on this artistic journey. Some things I had to learn the hard way, some things were learned the slow way, and some things were a slap in the face awakening. So it got me thinking, if I could give my younger, newbie photographer self some advice... what would it be? I figured if this would have helped me when I first started, maybe it will be helpful to someone else who is actually just starting their photography journey. So... here goes....
Dear Newbie Self,
This is a letter to you, from me... you know, the future you. There's a few things I want to let you in on that I think could be beneficial to you....when you're me (what?!). There are things about this photography industry, this community, that you really should know before you get all involved in trying to make this adventure into your career. So I figured I would give you 10 lessons for your future journey...
1. Slow down and do things the right way.
Seriously, what's the rush? I know you're ready to get this show on the road and start being this big time photographer, but you need to get things in order first. For example... learn your trade! Just because you bought a camera, that does NOT mean you are a photographer! Yes, you become a Palm Springs Lifestyle Photographer, but you had to work your ass off for it, which you should do anyway, but you should have done it FIRST. Instead, you jumped in with both feet (and both eyes closed)... clueless with where you'd land. Take the time to develop your photography skills, learn to shoot in manual, learn how to properly expose an image, learn about light BEFORE you start charging for your so called "photography skills". Then after that, get your business stuff in order! Get a license (since you need one in your city). Get insurance to cover your ass and the ass of the clients who hire you...OH, and don't forget the EXTRA coverage to actually cover your gear in case of loss, theft, or damage. Get a business bank account. Get a sellers permit. Know that you need to pay taxes once you start collecting money and you need to charge accordingly. Figure out if you want to be an LLC or a sole proprietor. These are things you will NEED, you can't skip out on them. And for goodness sake, would ya just get Photoshop and Lightroom already!
2. Your pictures are not as great as you think they are.
Sorry sweetie, but it's true. You're new. You have NO idea what you're doing. You're trying different angels, different editing... and that's great! You should try new things, but you're going to outgrow A LOT of it! That crooked horizon...yeah, your subject looks like they're about to fall over. That selective coloring you just love so much... you'll get bashed for it if you post it in any photography group because it's considered an outdated technique (even though the NFL still uses it in their ads and commercials, haha). Seriously though. Try stuff... it's good for you, just know you're not going to stick with most of it for long. Because you're going to grow, because you're going to practice, because you want this so badly! And just because everyone in your family (or close circle of friends) says you "take great pictures", it doesn't make it true. Ask for constructive critique, and take it in before getting defensive over it. Pull the emotion (and ego) out of it (I know.. it's hard, but it's for the best in this stage). Just know that those offering CC are merely trying to help you be better, and their help will help you, trust me ;) Oh and that over-saturated, over-contrasted, green skin tone does NOT look good on anyone, I promise.
Figure out what you'd like to specialize in. While you're in your "trial phase", take the time to try out different types of photography genres. It's important to know what makes your heart sing! You might like it all, but you may not be good at it all. We quickly realized we did NOT want to do typical newborn photography with props and poses. While we love looking at those types of images, it wasn't was made us happy. Lifestyle Newborn Photography was. Figure out what moves you, what drives you, and go for it. Head on. This may take time, and that's okay. You've got the time, and anything worth anything isn't going to happen overnight.
4. Take some classes.
Take a business class, an editing class, a workshop...anything. Invest in your business and LEARN about the business!! How else do you expect to do it? The best way to do it, is to learn from those who have been there and done that. It'll be the best decision you make!
5. Stop buying all the gear because you don't really need it, and you end up not really using it.
Yes, we love our toys! However, stop spending money on things you don't REALLY need. What do you need a new crop-sensor camera for? Guess what...nothing. Save a little more, wait a little longer, and buy the full frame! Oh... and those lenses you thought would be the end-all-be-all to your photographs... yeah, not so much. And you'd know this if you took the time to actually learn about aperture and what it means and that having a wider one is the best thing for you and why. So instead of wasting money on lenses that are going to produce less than amazing images, just save a little longer, and get the better lens. Sure, the lenses that we had (that nifty 50, or that 55-250) were awesome, but once you learned about lenses, you quickly outgrew them. And while Canon holds it's value well... that really is only true for the good stuff. You're not going to get what you paid for it, not even close, because most people aren't going to want those lenses.
6. This is so much harder than you thought it would be.
While we love what we do, and couldn't imagine doing anything else, there are days when it's just... TOUGH! You'll have doubt, you'll feel like a failure, you'll be stressed, and you're probably going to shed a tear or two. This isn't going to go the way you thought it would. You're not going to just start charging for photography and making bank off of it. You're going to have to work your ass off. You need to figure out which system works best for you...i.e. In-Person sales, shoot & burn (but earning what you should off of it), or something else that you figure out for yourself. You need to know how much money you need to make to cover your costs, and you also need to be able to make a profit. You're a business owner now, and that entails so much more than just taking pictures. In fact, only 10% of a photography business consists of actually photographing something. It would probably be a good idea to look into some marketing classes, because let's face it, you suck at it. But don't be too discouraged. This feels too right for it to all be for nothing.
7. Know your worth, and stick to it.
Listen, you are WORTH the investment (after you've taken my advice). You deserve to be able to help pay bills, you deserve to be able to put money towards nice things, you deserve to have a future and a retirement plan. People will try to talk you into doing things for free, or "for exposure", don't fall for it. Most of them are just in it for themselves. Take it from me, the future you. It's not fair that they get their reward up front after the session and you have to wait for yours, and it most likely will never come. Don't let people take advantage of you. If you're going to do a session for free, make sure it's something YOU want to do for YOU, to build your portfolio. Because in the end, that's about all you're going to get out of it. For whatever reason, people try and rip photographers off more than any other business (or vendor) that I've ever seen. You're better than that, so don't let them get away with it.
8. You're going to meet some amazing people on this journey.
While not everyone will be worth remembering, a lot of them will. You'll have those who teach you valuable lessons about friendship and life. And you'll have those who teach you the hard lessons you'd almost wished you never had to learn. Some people are selfish, some people are giving... find a balance. Help those who need it because you owe it to those who helped you.
9. Allow yourself to be inspired, and be an inspiration.
Does this really need any further explanation? Inspiration is what will drive you. It will keep you motivated to be better, to try harder, to learn something new. Seek it out whenever, and wherever you can! And on the flip side... learn to BE the inspiration! Find a way to set yourself apart. It's okay to be inspired by another artist but always make it your own. Be true to yourself as an artist.. Oh... and get comfortable calling yourself an artist, because that's what you are. And give credit where credit is due. You'd want the same for yourself.
10. Don't compare yourself to anyone else.
They are not you, you are not them. Plain and simple. You have no idea what they've gone through to get to the point they are at in their journey. But it is just that...their journey. And this one is yours, all yours. You're on it alone and it's not a race, and it's not a competition. Support others, encourage others, learn from others...but stick to your path. Comparison is the thief of Joy.
11. A little bonus for you...It's going to be O.K.
I know it's scary at times. I know it's hard to beat down those negative thoughts. But you have to. You have to keep going. You have to push on, forward and upward. You have to keep reaching for the stars. Anything that is worth anything, is worth fighting for and working for. You got this! Don't give up!