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How do you know when you’re ready to start charging for your photography?
When someone is willing to pay you for them.
There you go. In twenty-two words, I have answered one of the most-asked questions in photography.
In all seriousness though, that is pretty much it.
You only have to look at the story of many photographers and how they started. They simply took an offer to get paid, fearing they were not ready.
Let’s be honest right out of the gate. You will be nervous as hell – probably convinced you are a fraud – and will be fearful of delivering the images to the client. Awaiting their reaction, you may wonder why anyone would pay you to take photos. This is natural and is more commonly known as “imposter syndrome.”
To put it simply, it is the feeling that your work isn’t very good and doesn’t deserve the attention it gets. Albert Einstein also suffered from this, so if this sounds like you, you are in good company.
The truth is, people who are highly skilled or accomplished tend to think others are just as skilled. Because you see what you do as simple, you don’t see the vast amount of skill involved in the work you do. You take it for granted because it comes so easily to you.
It is also human nature to be more critical of your own work than that of others. Put this into a world of social media where everyone is #livingtheirbestlife, and there is what appears to be a never-ending stream of amazing images you see as better than yours. Now you have the perfect storm.
The fact that Einstein suffered from this shows there seems to be no level of accomplishment that makes you able to see worth in what you do. In some cases, higher accolades and awards make things worse.
You just need to remember you are skilled in what you do and your work is good.
Unfortunately, if you suffer from imposter syndrome, you may never be able to rid yourself of it. However, there are things you can do to make it easier. Tactics include talking with others about your issues and taking note of the positive feedback you get. People don’t have to say nice things about your work; they say them because they mean it!
Most importantly, remember that almost everybody suffers from this in one respect or another. I suffer from this badly. Repeatedly, I think my work is awful and wonder why people want to pay me to take their photographs. I convince myself that unless I have taken the best photograph in the history of photography of whatever I am shooting, then it is a failure.
Luckily, I have a great family who support me through the tough times and remind me that people pay for my work because I am a good photographer.
There is always a huge element of “fake it til you make it.” You sometimes need to have faith in yourself and go for it. Standing at the edge of the diving board is the worst place to be because you have time to think. Sometimes you need to jump off and try your best. At times it will be graceful, sometimes you may bellyflop. However, in reality, all that is hurt is your pride (and your belly obviously).
Let’s say a friend asks you to photograph their kids because they have seen photos on your Facebook and want some of their kids. They are happy to pay you for the photos too.
My advice is to go for it.
Let’s say the worst happens, and the photos turn out to all be awful (this is more than likely not going to happen. Even if you do not get loads of great shots, you should get a few keepers). All you do is own up and say you are not happy with the photos and they deserve better. The only thing that is an issue is you have to give up more time to retake the photos.
Photographing a family portrait is the perfect example of when fake it until you make it is okay. Shooting a wedding, however, is not!
The fact that weddings are a one-off event and if you are not 100% certain you can deliver, then you shouldn’t do it.
I have seen (as I am sure many of you have) people on Facebook groups asking questions like “I’m photographing my first wedding next week, I have this lens and that lens. Which will be better? Also, do I need a flash?”
This is irresponsible. You need a certain level of skill and knowledge to photograph a wedding, especially if you are getting paid for it. You cannot gain the knowledge to photograph a wedding by asking questions in a Facebook group a few days before the event. You need to have it before you take on a wedding.
There are always news stories about a wedding photographer getting sued for ruining a couple’s wedding day. Please don’t become one of those. If you aren’t sure if you are ready to photograph a wedding, you probably aren’t.
With that said, your knowledge does not have to be in wedding photography. I know lots of photographers who have never photographed a wedding, but I am sure they would do an awesome job. As a starting point, you need to know how to photograph in a variety of lighting situations. You need to know how to solve exposure issues your camera may throw up, and you need some spare gear in case your main camera dies.
For most photography there are three simple questions:
If you answered yes to the above three questions, then you have the right equipment to be paid for your photography. Will a variety of lenses and gear make things easier? Yes, but a beginner DSLR with a kit lens is more than capable of producing beautiful images people will be happy to pay you for.
As with the knowledge requirements above, the gear requirements for shooting a wedding are different. A wedding requires a different amount of equipment. The most important is to have two camera bodies. If you have one camera body and something goes wrong, you are in a mess. A spare camera body may not be needed, but it is better not to need something and have it there than to need it desperately and it not be there.
In terms of lenses, most wedding photographers tend to go for two f/2.8 zoom lenses or two to three prime lenses. What is best for you depends on how you like to shoot. Fast lenses are always best for weddings as you can use wider apertures to get more light into the camera in low light scenarios such as dark churches.
For those of you looking for specifics, a zoom lens shooter will use a 24-70 f/2.8 and a 70-200 f/2.8. They may also have a prime lens with an even larger aperture for situations where there is really poor light.
A prime lens shooter mostly works with a 35mm and an 85mm. They may also have a 135mm or a 24mm. These are generally f/1.8 or faster.
Now again these are the basics. I have not included flashes, memory cards, hard drive backups, etc.
I will take this opportunity to remind you again; you really do need a high level of skill and equipment to be able to shoot a wedding. It is hard work if you know what you’re doing. If you don’t, it is like a 12-hour waking nightmare.
Now for those of you starting to charge, you will always wonder how much should I ask? When you are first starting, you may photograph for an incredibly low rate, and that’s fine.
No matter what some may say, you are not ruining the photography industry by charging $100 including all the images when you are starting out. The truth is, people looking for photography at that price point are not going to be purchasing from photographers who charge thousands of dollars for a photo shoot.
There isn’t a right or wrong answer. My first family shoot I charged £50 including the images. My first full wedding I charged £500. Would I charge that now? Of course not. However, at the time, I got some cash, I built my portfolio, and most importantly it built my confidence.
The follow on question is how do you know when you are ready to charge more? Again this is down to you, your ability to deliver beautiful images and your confidence.
The moment I decided to raise my prices was when I was paid £600 to photograph a wedding where the couple had spent over £10,000. They didn’t book me for my price; they loved my work.
After that wedding, I doubled my wedding prices.
This led to more inquiries. Not only that, but I also received inquiries for the type of weddings I wanted to photograph. Was I convinced that raising my prices that much would mean no-one would book me? Of course, but they did, and I eventually raised them again. You just have to be confident, and remember, your prices are something you can easily change.
There you have it. You are now ready to start charging. Or, maybe you’re not.
The fact remains that in most situations when people offer to pay you, you are ready. The only thing that might mean you are not is you and your confidence.
You might be the type of person who will happily throw yourself off the 10m diving board and see what happens. Or, you might be the type of person who starts on the side of the pool and works your way up until you are at the 10m mark, confident you won’t bellyflop.
However, at some point, you need to leap. It will be scary, but I promise you, it won’t be as scary as it is in your head.