Beginning a career as a full-time photographer can seem like an impossibly daunting task. What if I can’t find clients? What if they don’t like my work? Trust me, the self-doubt can be inescapable sometimes, even after four years of education and graduating with a BFA in photography.
When I first moved from Ohio to SoCal, I worked as a restaurant server. Even with my hard-earned degree, doors didn’t just fly open on my arrival. I quickly realized that if opportunities weren’t going to find me, I had to go out and hunt for them, leading me to (gasp!) hit Craigslist and (double gasp!) work for free. My first California photoshoots in October 2014 were with couples that agreed to let me take their engagement portraits for free and second shooting for a photographer who was willing to let me work for them unpaid.
Anytime you meet a photographer and are in the mood to hear a hilarious story, ask them about their first experience photographing a wedding. It rarely goes as planned and is almost never glamorous. Mine was at an apartment complex, and I watched as the bride even cooked her own food! It ran three hours late, I had to shoot in the dark, and I did all of this for completely free. We all have to start somewhere! What kept me going was a confidence in my art, belief that this would all be worth it and a healthy sense of humor.
My battle for my own photography business was hard fought, especially when it came to pricing myself. In 2015, I increased my wedding photography prices from a big, fat $0 to $600, then a few months later from $600 to $1,100 as I slowly gained confidence, clients and a portfolio to match. I continued my photography education online and practiced constantly, booking any job I could get. I steadily and incrementally raised my prices until, at the end of 2017, I arrived at my current minimum price of $4,700.
So much of beginning any business is knowing what your services are worth. I wasn’t under any delusions that I would be paid big money for my first wedding. I knew that I had to start small, building my portfolio through low paying weddings, styled shoots and engagement sessions. For many beginning photographers, the most difficult hurdle to jump is our own pride, but once we can overcome that, we can start working to build a portfolio worth being blissfully proud of.
To be completely honest, when I arrived in California, I didn’t mean to become a wedding photographer, but the more I shot, the more I loved it, and the more I loved it, the more I advertised myself as a wedding photographer. The first thing I learned about advertising was to be smart and make responsible financial choices. Choosing to use The Knot’s front page listing (the only advertising I have ever paid for, in fact) was the best decision I made when I was working in a lower budget range, and it is how I began booking those dreamy weddings! I was lucky enough to book a couple gorgeous weddings to show off in my portfolio. I will say, what worked for me may not work for everyone. That's such a beautiful aspect of our industry, we are all unique in the ways that we run our businesses and how we started.
But the most important thing I learned early on as a photographer was the unique benefit of making friends with others in the industry. I tirelessly followed their social media accounts, liked and commented on their posts, offered to participate in styled shoots and attended networking events. I was genuinely interested in getting to know others in our industry - and I've made some lifelong friends from doing so.
The photographing, editing, advertising and networking all sounds like a lot of work, doesn’t it? Well, it is! Over the last two years, I sacrificed many nights of sleep and dates with my husband in the pursuit of my dream. I squeeze every moment out of my days, editing during my daughter’s naptime and liking Instagram posts as my husband slept. But I do all this now knowing that I’m building toward a stable, less all-consuming business structure in the future.
After two years of the full-time hustle, I have built an extensive referral base, found my way onto many vendor lists and spend my days shooting and editing some pretty breathtaking weddings. My favorite saying is that the journey to success is a marathon, not a sprint, and, boy, has that ever proven to be true. There is no magic recipe for booking clients and no substitute for hard work. But the best part of building a business of your own is that all of the work, sacrifice and dry, sleepless eyes are immeasurably worth it.
I feel like this post would be nothing with a little "where I was then compared to where I am now" Below on the left I have my very first paid wedding ever (in 2015) and on the right is the most recent wedding I photographed (that's completely edited - still catching up from a crazy January!)
Over the past two and a half years, I have established a personal style that I am finally happy with and I have film to thank for that. It's created consistency in my portfolio, ultimately establishing trust with potential clients. After all, brides love to know exactly what they are getting. I'll get more into my start with film and how it has changed the trajectory of my photography business in an upcoming post soon!
Thank you for stopping by! I cannot wait to continue my educational blog posts for photographers - I have so many fun topics to cover in the weeks to come!