Going pro – Lessons learned a few months in.

2012-06-27 by rfusca. 1 comments

So many of us dream of it.

 What if we could get people to actually pay us to take pictures!?  

Enjoying some nature

I made the leap a few months ago to dive into professional, part time, portrait photography.  Not just a casual note to friends of “Oh hey, I’d like to take your picture for money” but an honest to god, client serving, advertising, web site managing , tax paying photographer.  I offer on location shooting and mainly (but not only) shoot on the weekend – this doesn’t include weddings (yet).

Since so many of us talk about about it, I thought I’d share some lessons learned so far.  Is this everything?  Absolutely not.  Will you find yourself in the exact same situation?  Absolutely not.   Have I been successful for being in business for just a few months?  I’ve been booked, selling numerous prints, and making money nearly every weekend for the last couple of months.

Here’s 3 things I learned in the last few months that made a big difference.

Get out there, in public, and shoot.

People need to see you out and taking pictures.  Wear clothes with your logo, a hat, a sticker on your camera bag – something that starts to tell people who you are.  You need to start getting yourself in the public eye and taking pictures that expose you to as many people as possible.  For the first few weeks, if I wasn’t booked, this is what I was doing.  I was shooting some program, sporting event, something, somewhere, in public.


One of my first big breaks came from charity work.  It was a kids soccer program for special needs children.  I went one Saturday morning to take pictures of the kids playing (with the the program’s permission) and donated the pictures to the program – no strings attached.  It was minutes before I received an email back raving about the pictures and more importantly – an invitation to come back the next week and setup a little portrait session with each kid after they got their last game medal.  Photograph the kiddo, give mom and dad a business card, and then post the pictures for them to buy.  Loads of sales and exposure to many, many people who now associate me as a valid, working, professional photographer.

Get out there and let people who know who you are. Exposure is king.

Be efficient in post processing.

I’m a big research guy.  One of the first thing I did was talk to several people who had been in the industry in my area and weren’t anymore. Over half of them gave the same reason – “Too much time spent processing afterward.”  Many of them told me for a one hour shoot that they would spend as much as 4 to 6 hours post processing!

Don’t do that.

First off, get it right in camera.  Don’t take a shot and know that it’s going to require an hour worth of Photoshop to get it right.  Unless you’re sure they’re going to buy it as a large print on the wall, it’s probably not worth it.

Second, get the right tool for the job.  A huge, huge amount of the work can be done in just Lightroom (I’m also under the impression that Aperture excels here as well).   I’ve had a Picasa and Gimp workflow before…it’s not pretty.  The newest version of Lightroom goes for 150 USD and it will be the best money you ever spent.  You’ll crank through your pictures at lightning speed comparatively.

Total craziness

Third, people pay for the emotion that pictures present.  Your processing should be emotion driven.  Don’t spend a long time on an effect that ultimately does little for the emotion of the picture.

How long does it take me to post process and what do I typically do?  If a shoot goes great and there’s no surprises …  I cull an hours worth of pictures down to 20-30 pictures,  correct for color, tweak crop and exposure, and spot heal acne and such in about an hour.  I’m quite ruthless though in my culling – if its not flattering for the client naturally, then I rarely spend the post time on it.  Clients usually have their photos back quickly and they love it.

Get your post processing streamlined and efficient so you can spend more time at the camera.

Offer deals, but know that your quality ultimately sells.

I bucked ‘the establishment’ a little and offered a LivingSocial deal (a Groupon like service) – large, LARGE discount on services, half the discounted initial revenue shared with LivingSocial, but massive exposure – thousands of people in the area.  That’s really against the current ‘wisdom’ of internet photographers.

On the stairs

I read countless posts of – “these are bargain hunters, they won’t buy any past the purchased deal”, “expect these people to be rude and not interested in your business beyond the phenomenal deal you’re offering”, and other such warnings.  So, whats been my experience with the advice offered?

Total and utter crap.

Every customer has so far purchased a non-trivial amount of prints beyond the initial deal.  They’re giving out business cards to neighbors.  They’re booking future sessions.  Why?  Because they rave about the quality of the pictures.  The deal included only one print and low res digital files.  If they want additional prints, they have to come back.  You give them 20 high quality pictures for a major event in their life – kids 1st birthday, engagement, newborn, etc – and there’s simply no way that their family or such will want only 1 between them all.  They will order because they want amazing pictures from you.

At the end of the day, deal or no deal, your quality sells once they’re “in your door”.

So far, going pro has done more for my photography than anything else.  I’m consistent, polished, and personable and my pictures grow by leaps and bounds.  I’m not practicing on clients.  Just growing in the profession.  In the future, I’ll cover the practical reality of shooting on location and part time.