You’ve seen it hundreds of times: your friend buys a camera, a good camera–for $700 it had better be good, right?–makes some pictures, and they look pretty good. In fact, they look really good. It’s clear that your friend has ‘a good eye’, natural ability to compose an interesting picture. Naturally, you encourage your friend, maybe even invite your friend to make pictures of your family (hey, the pictures are way more fun than JC Penny, and they didn’t cost hundreds of dollars like the other pro’s). Actually, you like your friend’s pictures so much that you think people would be happy to pay for them.
And now the trouble begins.
There is No Mandate…
In Ancient China, a dynasty was started when some guy was encouraged by his friends to take over the world. They figured he was better than the guy doing the job right now, and maybe they’d get perks for knowing the guy and encouraging him when he was getting started. Next thing you know, he’s attacking the reigning emperor’s palace, and the people are saying that clearly the gods are no longer supporting the incumbent. They say, “Wow, the Chen’s clearly don’t have the Mandate from Heaven any longer.” And now poor old Jiang is left running the country, and his kids become spoiled terrors.
All because he posted his plans for change on Facebook.
So, the thing is, just because you make nice pictures doesn’t mean you have to do it for other people! Just because you enjoy it does not mean you have to do it professionally! Remember when you liked making pictures because it was fun? ‘Member when you convinced your wife that the camera was a good idea because you’d be able to make artful pictures of your kids? ‘Member how good it was to make pictures as good as the postcards at Yellowstone last year?
These are valid reasons to pursue photography, and they are enough. There was no mandate included in your camera’s manual that you didn’t read saying that if people give you props you need to ruin your love for making pictures by trying to sell them.
…Unless There Is
Then again, you may be the kind of masochist who does feel a need to make a business of this wonderful pastime. If you’re like me, you’re considering being a full-time photographer because you can’t not do it. I had to quit my job because I couldn’t focus on what people were saying: as they were talking, I just kept looking at the light falling on their faces and thinking about I might utilize it to make a good portrait!
So, how do you go from being enthusiast to being a ‘pro’? Well, the answers to that are surely innumerable, but I do have a few suggestions that will help you to be a truly professional person in your photography.
To Shoot, or Not to Shoot?
Let’s start with what not to shoot. When you’re learning how to control your camera to make the picture you have in mind every time you release the shutter, you need lots of practice. The main thing to remember is that “when the time to perform has arrived, the time to prepare has passed.”
So, you know that wedding you volunteered for? “I’d be happy to shoot your wedding for you–I’m building my portfolio, so I have a really low price for you, too.” Uh, weddings are once in a lifetime events, ergo not the place to practice!
I can say that I’m really not guilty of this one–only because no one hired me! I was totally ready to jump in if a couple asked me to shoot their wedding. There’s nothing like fussing with settings on your camera while fifty people are standing around in the hot August sun waiting for you to dismiss them. Even worse is getting home to realize there is a setting in your camera that let’s you shoot without a memory card…and you did.
I highly recommend making rookie mistakes–nothing ensures that you will not screw up again like totally embarrassing yourself in front of a client. Just make sure that that client isn’t depending on you for a once in a lifetime shoot!
Newborn babies are another thing you should not dive into. A baby that is less an a week old is tiny, and that’s what’s so great about the pictures. But if your client takes a look at the pictures a week later and hates them, there’s no reshooting. That kid has grown exponentially and will never be tiny again. Don’t take that risk.
Lessee, what other bad ideas can I get out of your head? Family reunions. Grandma is 97 and wants a picture of the whole family, which hasn’t been together since 1986. Run. Head for the hills. Make like a tree, and leaf. This is one thing you just shouldn’t be responsible for as a new photog. Trust me.
In this fascist regime I have implemented for new photographers, what are you allowed to shoot, then? Well, when babies are a month old, they are still quite small, and still quite sleepy, and all moms would be happy to let you experiment on their kid. Heck, invite mom back next week and do it again. And again.
How do you build your portfolio of wedding images, then? Second shooting! NOT! The last thing I need from a wedding is another couple thousand images to sort through, especially those from a less experienced shooter. When I need a second shooter, I trade with another pro so that I know she is making images that I would make myself–someone I trust not only to make good images, but also represent me well to guests. When uncle Tom asks for a quick pic of he and the groom, I need someone who can make that happen without a hitch and deal with Tom so that he wants to buy the picture later. I can’t use a second shooter, but I can use an assistant who will learn from use how to maximize light and help me make great images. To me, this is would be far more valuable than shooting candids.
Back to Portfolio Building
Ever heard of D.I.? Or the Salvation Army? Or Goodwill? These places have wedding dresses and gowns and suits in all colors for very little green. Buy a dress, invite a friend to model for a shoot, go to the chapel and make some portfolio images. Invite another gal to another chapel, and do it again! Go to reception centers and shoot there (plus, they’ll be impressed at your work ethic and likely recommend you to their prospective brides). Practice, practice, practice! It’s not like it’ll be hard work–you love this stuff, right? And, you can hand pick your models to be sure to get great looking images which is better than being stuck with a bride who blinks every shot and having to use those in your portfolio.
By the same token, get ten friends and practice making group pictures. Buy a pizza afterword, and it’ll be a fun time. For most people, I don’t recommend practicing on your own family; they should not have any bad experiences with your photography and I don’t know any moms who can’t tell their own kids to smile in every picture. Don’t get me started.
So, don’t feel pressured to make money with your camera. Be an amateur, a lover. But if you do want to go pro, then do it! And remember that proper prior planning prevents poor performance. Practicing all the time is the best plan for a good performance.
See also www.goingpro2011.com for excellent tips on how to break out and go pro for yourself.