It’s scary. Taking those first steps towards becoming a professional photographer feels like walking into a dark abyss without a flashlight. What if you make a mistake? There’s no clear path to follow for a new photographer. There’s no corporate ladder to climb. Often times, it’s just you, your camera, and your drive. And that’s really exciting too.
So congratulations if you’ve made that first step!
Creating your own path is one of the most rewarding parts of having your own creative business. The experiences you gain will force you to grow in leaps and bounds making you a better creative and better business person in the long run. But the start of that path is often confusing and not so straight. Most people stumble and get a bit lost along the way. We’ve all been there at some point, myself most definitely included.
With over 15 years as a photographer, I’ve come to recognise common mistakes a new photographer makes when working with clients for the first time. Read below to learn the top 5 mistakes new photographers make and how you can avoid them.
New Photographer Mistake #1: Not Managing Expectations
All photographers work differently so make sure that you manage your clients’ expectations right from the beginning. Doing this in a clear, easy to understand manner makes for a smoother client/photographer relationship because it lets both parties feel confident that they know what they’re getting and what’s expected of them before agreeing to job.
Things to clearly discuss before agreeing to a job:
- TIMELINES: Discuss what you need from your client by what dates, and when you can be expected to send your deliverables
- JOB INCLUSIONS: Outline exactly what your client will get including how many images, the size and type of files they’ll receive, usage rights, and any other services included in your fees
- EXTRAS: Explain what may be charged extra to your quoted fees
Don’t assume that your client understands how you work. Being clear with your services and process before you start a project will help you avoid awkward misunderstandings later down the track.
New Photographer Mistake #2: Not Having A Contract
The best way to manage expectations and protect your business is to have a contract. Writing down the scope of every job in one official document makes it easier to hold both parties accountable for their end of the agreement. That way, if there’s a dispute later, instead of resorting to a “he said/she said” scenario, you can point to your contract as the official agreement.
Include in your terms and conditions the finer details of your policies such as payment schedule, usage and copyright, and your policies regarding cancellations.
Having a contract doesn’t just protect your business. It builds confidence in your clients that their photography is in the hands of an experienced professional. It also forces your clients to really think through their instructions to you before a project starts. That way, if they change their mind about something, you can explain how you held up your end of the agreement and that changing the original scope of the job may mean charging additional fees.
Be sure to get your contract signed by your client before you start any work. It’s also important to sign the contract yourself and send them a copy in order to make the contract official. Don’t have a printer and scanner to sign a hard copy? There are plenty of apps and websites that allow you send, digitally sign, and manage your contacts all online making the process easier for you and your client.
New Photographer Mistake #3: Forgetting The Target Audience
A big difference between photography enthusiasts and pro photographers is that a pro knows how to shoot for their target audience. Commissioned work means that you’re no longer shooting images to please yourself. You now have a brief to fufill and a brand message to communicate.
In other words, it’s not about you and what you like. Commissioned photography is about what appeals to the target audience of your client. So you’ll need to find out what that is.
Ask your client to detail their target audience, their brand goals, and what message they want to convey. The images you create will be how your client reaches their audience so the more you understand who you’re speaking to, the better you’ll be able to make your clients happy.
New Photographer Mistake #4: Forgetting That You’re The Expert
Too often, new photographers allow themselves to be pulled around by their clients even when they know that their client doesn’t have a clue.
Remember, your client hired you because they lack the expertise or resources to do the job themselves. You client is the expert on their product, their target audience, and their campaign, but you are the expert on the photography and how to best translate their campaign message into imagery.
Don’t be afraid to take charge of the photography. Yes they hired you, but you are the boss of your business. You’re not just a set of hands operating a camera according to their instructions. You are the photographer meaning that your services come with specialised knowledge, experience, and creativity. Bring your skills to the table and not just your camera.
Listen to the problems your client is trying to solve with photography and offer solutions if you see a better way to accomplish their goals. It’s a two-way conversation that’ll often require compromising on your side, but stand firm on the essentials you’ll need to do a quality job.
New Photographer Mistake #5: Not Charging Your Worth
This is probably the most common, most costly, and most heartbreaking mistake new photographers make when building their business. It’s easy to undercharge, especially when you’re new, because it’s so hard to put a monetary value on your worth. It feels personal, but it shouldn’t be.
Fear of being priced out of a job often leads new photographers to under quote. But it’s not your job to make your services cheaper to fit a client’s budget. It’s your job to run a sustainable business by finding clients that can afford your services. And there are plenty out there.
When working out your photography rates, remember that all your expert knowledge, talent, and skills need to be properly compensated. On top of that, there’s your time, your gear, and your business overheads to pay for. If your client complains that you’re too expensive, think about how much money, time and resources they’d need to do the same job themselves. You bring value to their business and it’s best to work with clients who appreciate your value.
If you decide to negotiate lower rates, be sure to adjust your service to reflect that lower rate. Maybe offer fewer photos or shorten the length of the photo shoot. But be wary of lowering your services too far. It’s important to maintain your reputation so be sure you never lower your services so far that you’re no longer able to offer top quality. For me, I would never release unedited photos because I want full creative control over my work. Know where your boundaries are and stick to them.
Bonus Tip: Be Kind To Yourself
You will make mistakes. We all do. So when it happens, be kind to yourself. You’re human. Use the experience as an opportunity to learn. Reflect on what happened and what you can do to avoid those mistakes in the future. Then leave your mistakes in the past.
Remember, the more successful a person becomes, the more likely they’ve made some giant mistakes somewhere along the way. Making mistakes is the best way to learn and grow so you might as well embrace the inevitable. Welcome to life as a professional photographer.
- C xx