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30 Things you Should Know to Help you Start a Photography Business

Kasia Zachwieja/ J'Aton  photo: Gina Milicia

Kasia Zachwieja/ J’Aton photo: Gina Milicia

In this post Gina Milicia – author of our brand new eBook, “Portraits: Making the Shot” shares 30 lessons for those wanting to get into the photography business.

“Follow your bliss and the universe will open doors for you where there were only walls.” – Joseph Campbell

1. Find the best photography course or workshops that work for you

If you are going to invest in a photography course/workshop do some serious research first.

It’s a huge investment so find out who the teachers are. Are they industry professionals that are going to be teaching you relevant styles and techniques?

Is the style of teaching suited to your personality and photography?

Who are the ex students that have gone on to create successful careers?

Consider weekend workshops and online courses held by experts in their fields.

2. Find a great mentor

A mentor should be someone who has had a successful career, whose work you admire and is passionate about what they do. They should be available for at least one hour a month.

3. Get as much industry experience as you can

Intern with as many different photography businesses as you can, both large and small. My first interning gig was with a food photographer. I’ve also worked with high-end commercial product photographers, car photographers, and fashion and wedding photographers. I came away with valuable skills that I still use today.

4. Be Flexible when looking for an internships

When you are looking for an internship it’s often easier to offer your services on a casual daily basis or weekends or even nights rather than trying to find someone who will commit to a long-term internship.

5. Sweep the floor and scrub the toilet

I landed a full time assisting job with a fashion and celebrity photographer because he noticed I scrubbed his toilet and cleaned his studio when I had nothing to do

6. Hang around with people who inspire and support you

Some of your friends and family are going to try and talk you out of pursuing your dreams.
They have good intentions but it’s your dream not theirs.

7. It takes 10,000 hours of work to become a master of your craft

If you spend 3 hours a day photographing and editing photos you will become a master at it in 10 years. There are no short cuts or magic formulas, just hard work.

8. Photography is not a job it’s a passion

When you love what you do it never feels like work.

9. Learn to embrace failure

Some of the world’s greatest entrepreneurs had spectacular failures before they found success.

Henry Ford had 5 businesses fail before he founded the successful Ford Motor Company.

Thomas Edison failed 10,000 times trying to invent the light bulb and after the 10,000th time; he succeed

Don’t be afraid to make mistakes

10. Your uniqueness is the most important asset you have

The photography industry does not need another Ansel Adams, Annie Leibowitz, or Alfred Stieglitz. Develop a unique style that sets you apart from everyone else

11. The most common cause of failure is quitting

Most people give too early. Building a business takes years, there will be set backs. Commit to the long haul.

Fact: the average entrepreneurial millionaire has been broke or nearly broke 3.2 times

12. There is no such thing as overnight success

It took me 5 years to actually make a profit. It took me ten years before that profit was enough to afford me a decent lifestyle

13. Having a full time or part time job while you build your business is a great idea

I worked full time in an Italian restaurant for the first 5 years

Having another job while I built my business had the following positive effects

  • It gives you something positive do everyday while you are waiting for your first breaks
  • It removes that “desperate” energy around you. Trying to find new clients in this headspace is really difficult. Nobody wants to hire someone that appears desperate it makes them wonder what is wrong with you.
  • Your part time job may be the source of photography leads or your first big break. It was for me.

14. You will constantly be surprised by where your big breaks come from

I landed my first paid advertising shoot from waitresses I worked with. She introduced me to her husband who ran an advertising agency. One day he asked me to do a shoot for his agency. It was a simple product shot that should have taken an hour. I worked on it for 2 days, made a loss but earned a very happy and lucrative client.

15. Every time you are rejected means you are one step closer to success

Collecting new clients is a numbers game. In my early years I discovered that when I was showing my folio to Art Directors and Editors I was getting 30-50 “no’s” to every “yes”.

It took me many, many years to work out that this rejection is never personal. It often just comes down to potluck if you meet with someone on the same day they happen to have an assignment that suits you.

There are some very famous examples of people who experienced countless rejections before they achieved success

  • Author, J.K Rowling’s manuscript Harry Potter was rejected 12 times before she found a publisher
  • Walt Disney was knocked back 302 times before he got financing for creating Disney World
  • Several record labels rejected The Beatles
  • Colonel Sanders, the founder of KFC had his famous secret recipe knocked back a staggering 1009 times

16. Seek constructive criticism and learn from it

One of my greatest learning periods was during a 3-month stint working in a photo lab printing Black and white prints. Yes, last century when we marveled at the new mobile phone that was the size of a small refrigerator and twice as heavy.

I was shooting models tests all weekend and bringing them into the lab to print and process during the week. Two of my co-workers were 30+ year veterans who would critique my work and give me suggestions on improving technique and style.

Show your photos to as many industry professionals as you can. Ask for constructive criticism and learn from it. This is a great time of growth and learning.

Be grateful for all the praise your family and friends will always give your work but remember they will always love everything you do and may find it difficult to point out any faults.

17. Dress to impress

If you want people to take you seriously then you should take your appearance seriously.

18. Always read the fine print

Never sign a contract before reading the fine print. If you don’t understand it then find someone who does.

19. Work your strengths, hire your weaknesses

Aim towards outsourcing all the things that take you away from earning money for your business like book keeping and web design. Your time would be better-spent blogging or marketing.

20. Social Networking

Blog, tweet, flickr, facebook, instagram, google+, linkedin do it all and do it often.

Share your work, support other artists whose work you love and be generous with your information.

21. Shoot personal projects that inspire you

Unless you are lucky enough to be working for cutting edge magazines or alternative clients who love to push the envelope shooting only paid work will give you a very generic looking folio.

Shooting personal projects give you a chance to test new lighting styles, lenses, locations and it’s a brilliant way to showcase your personality.

22. Have a consistent workflow

Name and number and file every shoot in a consistent way. If you’ve ever spent hours looking for an image or even worse lost files you will understand the importance of this point.

23. Back up twice

Keep one hard drive on location and another off site. Hard drives fail. Protect your files.

24. If you pay peanuts you get monkeys

Use professional assistants. Having a great assistant means you never have to sweat the small stuff. Everything is taken care of. This means you can focus on getting the shot

25. An inexperienced make up artist or stylist can ruin and entire shoot

Work with a variety of different Hair and Make Up artists and Stylists till you find the ones that compliment your shooting style.

26. Always shoot in RAW

A RAW image file contains all the original data that the camera censor captured.

A JPEG is a compressed file that only retains about half the data of a RAW file.

Give image the best possible chance from the start. No excuses. Just shoot RAW.

27. Never store your memory cards in your back pocket and don’t shoot an entire job on one card

Pockets get holes in them and cards fail. I found out the hard way.

28. Be quiet

If you depend on your creativity for your living, then your most valuable piece of equipment is your mind. Taking time out everyday is a great way to do this and

29. Make friends with other photographers

The best advice on equipment and technique has come from spending time with other photographers. Social networking makes it really easy to connect with different photographers from all around the world.

30. Just start. Today

“Whatever you can do, or dream you can, begin it.” -Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

The first thing I did when I decided to become a photographer was to get business cards printed that said Gina Milicia PHOTOGRAPHER. Even if I wasn’t 100% convinced I was ready or good enough the simple act of printing cards made it real to me.

I started out with a basic SLR camera and a cheap zoom I borrowed from my brother. I photographed only in daylight for the first 2 years because I could not afford flash gear and worked hand held because I also could not afford a tripod.

There will never be a time when you are 100% ready. There will always be something missing. Just start. Today.

A few great books that inspired me.

Gina is the author of four dPS eBooks including:

You can buy one for $19.99 or grab the whole bundle for only $49.99 (save 38%) from any of the links above.

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Gina Milicia
Gina Milicia

has been a professional photographer for more than 25 years. She has photographed some of the world’s most high-profile people including royalty, billionaires and A-list celebrities. Often travelling the world, Gina also runs photography workshops and private mentoring sessions. You can sign up for her free ebook on “Portrait and Post Production Essentials” and see more of her work here. Check out her podcast “So you want to be a photographer” on iTunes.

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