Starting off in the photography business is rather easy actually. Most anyone worth their spit can go online or to their nearest camera store and buy a professional camera, assign themselves the title of a professional photographer, bang out a few buisness cards, create a free website, and get started but there is a vast difference between just calling yourself a professional and being one. It doesn't take but a few minutes of scrolling through sets of pictures for a consumer to know whether they've been screwed over by "said professional," or rather they've been treated to professional photography services. Don't be the former, because that will end in you having just a few jobs far and in between and a bad reputation, and in a super competitive field such as photography, your reputation, the quality you put out, and your skills should all be solid and will keep you employed.
1. Know Thy Camera
If you don't know a thing about white balance, rules of thirds, or how to handle shooting photos in a dark party room with only candle light, your weaknesses will become very aparent when you sit down at your computer later and review your images. Though there are no real professional or technical requirements by law to become a photographer, you should take these as such. Enroll in as many photography classes as you can, intern with a professional photographer, read every book on photography you can, go to the internet and youtube and learn, and most importantly practice, practice, practice before you ever except a single dollar from anyone. Do NOT rely on family and friends for honest reviews of your work. Join online photography forums and groups who can and will reveiw your work for free and give you some really honest opinions. You need these whether you want to hear them or not. If your reviews are coming back all negative, you're going to need more work. Better learn that now, then later when a client wants their money back. For a lot of jobs you will be familiar with the places and locations and situations that may arise, but for that many more, you will often be surprised by the conditions presented to you or that happen as a result of the event. Weddings don't always happen at sunset. Sometimes they happen at 12 noon on an extremely sunny day, and if you're reading that sentence and saying why would that be a problem, the sun is great...you certainly need to do some research and know how to work with the camera you have to get the shots you need under the conditions that exist.
2. Be Professional At All Times
Your business cards, website, attire etc. should be as professional as possible. Case in point, I once got handed a business card from another photographer that read "Flower Fairy Bird Photography," and there were flowers and fairies and birds all over the card with super cutesy script. The card didn't give me any information on what type of photos this person shoots, the name was super juvenile, and sadly, the website reflected as much. Don't lose clients before you even begin. Look online at other websites and compare which ones you would probably book just looking at them, and which you wouldn't. Take note. Come to sessions and events ahead of time. Be waiting for the client, not the other way around. Answer phone calls and emails asap. Have contracts ready to be presented with pens available. Follow up with clients after jobs with thank you letters or emails...even if you hated them or the events...they may lead you to other clients. Do not bad mouth clients, even to other photographers. People talk, someone may know someone, and then you have a bad reputation which you don't need. Be presentable. The simplest attire is the standard all black which works for most events (you might consider making a business shirt with your info printed on back), but when in doubt inquire with the client about a dress code and don't be an idiot, wear comfortable shoes as you will be on your feet most of the time.
3. Be (OVERLY) Prepared
Don't just show up with 'a' camera and 'a battery.' You need to come overly prepared. Here is how you separate the scrubs from the big dogs. Create a master checklist for yourself that includes everything you will need for a session. Multiple flashes, batteries, camera bodies and lenses, cleaning cloths, chargers, tripods, reflectors, contact info for clients, snacks and water for yourself, meds for yourself (headache, cramp meds, insulin, antacids...you never know how you will be feeling!), contracts and pens, laptops, phone...whatever you need go through this list before a gig, double check, pack up the night before, and you will be ready.
Now think about your clients. Assume that they will show up in some way unprepared for your session if you are say a portrait photographer. For this reason, I bring snacks and water for clients, hair brushes/combs (in plastic wrap), lip balms, tooth brushes/paste, hairspray, generic make-up, mirrors, lint rollers, tide instant stain removers, paper towels, make-up remover cloths, razors, trashbags, blankets for sitting on the ground, mini fans, gum for all those engagment photo clients and their kissing, etc. I can tell you on every single job I've ever had, the client bag I have created has been used by every single client. Most used items: the hand mirror, water, gum, and mini fans. They see the bag and they know you are super prepared because they sure aren't.
For example, I had a maternity shoot where a client told me she was going to bring a chalkboard she'd made to write some info on and she showed up and was frantic becuase she forgot the chalk, but guess who handed her a fresh new sparkling box? I had another session that started in beautiful sunny conditions and an hour later, we were in a total downpour, but I'd brought extra umbrellas for them, knew how to shoot in the rain, and we continued and finished their engagement session. Stand out. Be prepared. Anticipate the needs of a client and your own.
4. Protect Yourself
Newbies very rarily think about this one, but we live in a world filled with lawsuits. You may be asking every friend you have to help you practice with their photos and thinking that because they are your friends, they will allow you to post their photos all over the internet. As annoying as it can be, protect yourself, your future finances, and your name by having anyone you shoot photos of with the intention of using or posting them later in any shape or form sign the most basic of model contracts. They basically all say the same thing, and can be found easily online, that this person gives you the rights and freedoms to use their images in anyway you see fit and will not sue you. In addition to this, consider a liability contract that says you are not responsible say if you're taking portraits of someone who decides that they are going to jump up on an old rickety bridge that snaps and they break their leg in 2 places, that you are responsible. These types of contracts are especially needed if you often shoot alone with no other assitants or helpers as witnesses.
5. Know Who You Work For
When you get to events in particular, there are going to be a lot of people who want pictures of this or that person or thing, but when you sign a contract with whomever's paying you, they want what they paid for, not what their guests are paying for. Having said this, tred lightly. Sure if she's incredibly insistent, you may endugle grandma in two photos of her grandsons, but then make a hasty retreat back to getting the photos you are getting paid to get. Make 100% sure that by the end of the day/event/session that you have gotten all the shots that you discussed with your client to the best of your ability.
6. Get the shots no one else will have
Every event has the same shots from eye level of the room, the guests, the building, the birthday girl, the bride, what have you, but once you too have gotten the standards, get shots from floor level, go up a stair case and shoot down on the room, tilt your camera and change the angle, frame a shot of the bride from behind a rose bush or frame the birthday girl out of focus behind the burning candles of the cake. Shoot shots of kids at their eye level, shoot a shot of a toast lying on the floor as all the glasses clink above you. Get creative, but also pay attention to details. Don't just shoot the business meeting, shoot the itenerary inside and out, the catering for the event, the podium looking out over the room, the boss drinking a coffee, a close up of employee reward trophies, people laughing, people taking notes, the long line for sign up for the meeting. Make 100% sure you have the shots the client wanted you to get first and foremost, but these extra shots give more detail and context, or in the case of a wedding in particular, these are all the details the bride/groom/family paid for that if guests or they don't notice or remember, they will have at least the memories in photos to showcase all the elements they spent months pintresting.
7. Charge Clients What You Are Worth
Do not waste your time being underpaid for your services. Shooting a 6 hour wedding for 100$ is going to end up costing you more than the client to shoot that wedding. If you simply consider the time you will have to spend photoshopping and editing those photos, let alone your need to live and eat, and the gas money to get to locations, the packaging, costs of your client bags and equiptments, and the fact that photos of things like weddings will be passed out and handed down through generations, your time and effort are worth a lot more, something that clients don't often grasp, but you need to. If you can truly produce quality images, you need to create a pricing structure that reflects that. Sure starting off you may feel that you have to charge less just to break in, but as you improve, don't be afraid one minute to raise your prices. Clients will pay for quality as they should so first and foremost, make yourself into a quality photographer rather then working for scraps. You also need to be able to explain why you shooting a wedding is worth 2 grand, and you need to be able to do this confidently to clients who will often try to bargain you down to poor pricing. Emphasis once again, on tip number 1, which is know thy camera, up your skill level, be able to produce before you get to this step earnestly. On many a webpage, pricing lists are not listed because a)your work should be able to speak for itself and be worth whatever price you list b)your pricing can and will change from time to time and you shouldn't be held to some set list forever c)we're talking life long memories for people which are the things people would save in a burning building...these are priceless.
8. We all Start Somewhere...Pay it Forward
Not every photog gets to start off with $8,000 worth of grade A equiptment. It may take you years to build up your stash, your skills, to get a studio, etc. but do it because you love it and never stop improving or learning. Along the way however, don't get bogged down on needing to have this or that piece of equiptment or not working becuase you don't have a studio. Work with what you have, work outdoors, go to clients houses, borrow things, rent things, barter with other photographers, go online to eBAY for discounted equiptment, learn how to DIY! We all start somewhere, but don't let that starting place be what stops you in the long run. Also pay it forward is huge for me. I have been helped by a lot of seasoned pros with everything from tips, to equiptment, to advice, to jobs where I was allowed to step in and intern in exchange for information and help. Don't be afraid to ask others and when you get to that place, give others just starting out the same help and advice you got. You have to keep at it, keep practicing, networking, getting your name out there. It is a constant thing that doesn't stop because you didn't land a few jobs. Keep going, keep trying, keep searching and always remember your work should speak for itself, so work and get help from others until you get to a place where you are in control and have mastered the light.