HOW TO BE A SURGEON:
- Practice cutting people open. Be confident in yourself so others will be confident in your abilities too!
- Fix what is wrong inside in a professional manner.
- Spend time learning how to sew the person shut.
HOW TO BE A MARINE BIOLOGIST:
- Drive a boat out to the coral reefs.
- Find some fish or shrimp or something to study.
- Drive boat back and do something at your lab. Be sure to wear a lab coat so you look professional.
HOW TO BE A POLICE OFFICER:
- Get a uniform and practice putting it on.
- Drive around in a police car, because that is how you can look professional and let everyone know you’re a police officer.
- Protect and serve and enforce laws and catch bad guys and other stuff like that.
HOW TO BE A PARENT:
- Get a carseat for the baby, and use it regularly.
- Don’t let the child get eaten by alligators.
- Pay for the child to go to college if he wants to when he’s 18.
HOW TO BE A HAIR STYLIST:
- Get some scissors.
- Learn how to use a hairdryer.
- Buy shampoo.
HOW TO BE A CHEF:
- Cook food that people like so they will eat it.
- Wear those cool chef hats.
- Have a kitchen staff to clean up your mess.
HOW TO BE AN ARCHITECT:
- Figure out what kind of building you want to make and draw a picture of it.
- Have some people who know how to build buildings construct it.
- Oh and also I guess someone has to pay for the building so you should figure out that part of it too.
HOW TO START A PHOTOGRAPHY BUSINESS:
- Practice taking pictures.
- Become popular on Facebook.
- Make a website for your business.
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The first six How To lists above were made up by ME. I am a parent, and I spent a decade as a cop, but I have absolutely no knowledge at all of how to be a surgeon, a marine biologist, a hair stylist, a chef, or an architect. Nope, I sure don’t.
The last list, How To Start A Photography Business, is a summary of the bullet-point items on the blog of a popular ‘rockstar’ photographer this week. And gosh, I’ve been a professional photographer for the past ten years, and I had NO IDEA that those three things were all I needed to do. Boy, I sure could have saved myself a lot of time and money and effort if I’d know that those three steps were “How To Start A Photography Business!” (For those of you keeping track, yes, that was sarcasm.)
To be fair, this tactic isn’t new. There have always been those who try to simplify steps to success. Success sells, baby. Show me the m.o.n.e.y, right? People don’t want exhaustive lists outlining how many squillions of steps are involved. They don’t want the truth about how damn hard it’s going to be to go after their dream and be successful at it. They want quick and flashy and sexy and easy.
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Rockstars in any industry are an interesting phenomenon to me. I’ve never understood hero worship. I believe, in the words of one of my kids’ favorite childhood books, Everyone Poops.
In the photography industry, there are a number of rockstars who haven’t maintained successful photography businesses for any length of time. They started their businesses, then quickly rubbed elbows with the right people, and the next thing you know they’re selling their ‘brand’ instead of their photography.
Let’s get this straight: I am NOT knocking photographers who do workshops, speaking gigs, or sell products. That’d be hypocritical of me ;D. But I do object to rockstars with very little experience in actually running a business that pays the bills for their family from photography alone spouting off like they invented the camera.
So, lately there’s been a rash of posts like the How To Start A Photography Business list above, where the rockstar in question is just taking some random tiny crumbs of information that happen to pertain to starting a photography business, and feeding those crumbs to people as if they were big juicy steaks. And for some reason, people are lining up to slurp up those crumbs. They slurp up the crumbs and they shout from the rooftops, “What a delicious steak you have given me! Thank you! I cannot ever explain how fantastic and amazing and inspirational this juicy steak is!”
But not everyone sees the steak. A lot of people (most of whom have been running an actual photography business for quite some time) see that there is no steak, that the masses are being fed worthless crumbs. And we can’t understand WHY. WHY do they not see that THERE IS NO JUICY STEAK??
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Are my How To examples above ridiculous? Perhaps. But what’s the common thread in all of them, and in the How To Start A Photography Business list? That’s really NOT all there is to it.
Whether we’re talking about being a cop or a parent, there is very little in this world that you can break down into three easy steps and *bam* everyone who tries it becomes successful and rich and famous and beautiful and able to leap tall buildings in a single bound. I don’t even know if I could give you a comprehensive three steps to brushing your teeth!
To do something as important as starting and running a business, and to do it well, is not a three-step half-assed undertaking. It’s just NOT.
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~ by Heather Skau
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Sometimes, a picture is worth a thousand words. And in my explanation of *Where exactly have the Photographers: Do Not Bend folks been?*, a photo should sum it up for you pretty well.
Here’s the photo.
In case you’re not sure what you’re looking at, that’s an x-ray of my left forearm. Those bone ends should not overlap. And in case you’re not sufficiently horrified yet, I’ll explain that what you’re looking at is a compound (or open) fracture of both forearm bones on my left arm. An open fracture means that not only did the bones break, but they poked OUT of my skin.
Thanks to the marvels of modern medicine, my forearm bones don’t look like that anymore. They look more like this:
Two plates and sixteen pins were surgically introduced to fix the breaks.
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I’m healing. But my arm is twice the size it should be, and I can’t even put on my own socks yet. Go ahead, ask me how annoying that is.
Every day is better though. I’m posting this info just to let everyone know that I’m sorry I’ve been out of touch and unable to answer emails. And to further let you know that the forum launch, as well as other scheduled goodies such as upcoming Show Me Your Studio articles, are running just a bit behind while I heal a bit!
Thanks for your patience and understanding. Looking forward to getting back into the swing of things very soon!
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Let’s get something straight.
- If I tell a wanna-be photographer that they should work on their technical skills before jumping into business, I’m not saying that out of hate.
- And if I tell an aspiring photographer that they would truly benefit from taking some business classes before opening up shop, I’m not just trying to keep the little man down.
- If I mention to a hobbyist that running this business requires more time, energy, and devotion than I ever thought possible, I’m not spouting off negativity.
- When I talk about how oversaturated my market is, I’m not trying to limit my “competition.”
- If I openly discuss how appreciation for true professional photography has nosedived in recent years, I’m not being a temperamental artist.
- And most of all, I’m not an ”old timer” out of touch with the fresh, exciting new world of photography in 2012.
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What I AM is an experienced professional, with ten years in this industry, who is being honest about the state of the photography profession today.
What I am is truthful. You want to start a photography business? Great. Let’s talk about how to do it RIGHT. I’m not trying to piss on your parade. I’m trying to hand you a damn umbrella. Because a dozen years ago, when I was starting out, there really was no way to avoid getting rained on, and I’d like you to not get drenched like I did.
A dozen years ago, there were few forums, webpages, and other treasure troves of information out there regarding how to prepare yourself to run a successful photography business. We “old timers” are the ones who CREATED the forums, the webpages, the treasure troves of information. We freely shared our experiences, good and bad, as we navigated the brave new world of digital photography. We built a factory and we manufactured the damn umbrellas.
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There’s a saying, rather crude but funny…I’m sure you’ve heard it before.
- I’m not going to tell you that you don’t need to have great technical skills with your photography before you even think about starting a business….because you do.
- I’m not going to say it’s ok to ignore the business side of it, that will all work itself out later on …. because that’s not true.
- I’m certainly not going to tell you that your photography business will easily fill your pockets with little investment of time on your part … because that’s a lie.
- You won’t hear me saying that you’ll be able to find all the business you want just as soon as you open up shop … because I’d be blowing sunshine up your ass if I said that.
- I won’t wax poetic about how everyone openly shows their appreciation for my talents, values my hard work, understands how expensive providing top-notch service and products is, and never questions my desire to make a decent living and feed my children … because damn it, people might love what I do but the starving artist stereotype exists for a reason – loving my work does not always equal monetarily valuing my work.
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So when I tell you, new photographer, about the challenges you will face should you decide to continue forward in your quest to be a professional photographer, I assure you my intentions are good.
I love photography with a burning passion. I love the memories captured, the way we make time stand still. I love the details that would have been forgotten, but are now remembered because someone cared enough to capture it on film (or CF card!). I love the connections I’ve made with clients over the years. I love watching their children grow. I love knowing that my clients will have the best quality products I can find, to pass down for generations. I love providing for my family with art that I created with my unique vision. I love the history of photography, the way it has brought people together over generations and across the globe. I truly, honestly believe that being a professional photographer is an honor and a responsibility. I deeply care about clients being able to choose a photographer that has knowledge, experience, skills, and integrity to capture their special moments.
I care. A lot. And if you’re going to jump in and call yourself a professional photographer right along with me, I feel like I damn well am entitled to an opinion about you operating legally, knowing what the hell you are doing with your camera, and having a clue how to price your goods and services correctly.
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I’m handing you an umbrella. You can choose to accept it, or you can go find someone who blows sunshine instead.
My way is harder and takes longer, but provides you with a solid foundation for running your business.
The sunshine blowers way is easier and faster, but it’s sort of like skydiving – you get kicked out of the plane with absolutely nothing below you but hard ground, hoping like hell the parachute works. Except you’re not really sure how to activate the parachute.
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The Spotlight section of this website is, perhaps, a bit different from such features on other photography blogs. While we intend to wow you with beautiful images and let you get a peek at the person behind the lens, our Spotlight photographers will always be working photographers. Meaning that while they may or may not have other business endeavors besides their photography, they still actively and regularly shoot sessions for clients, and the bulk of their income is made from photography. They are in the trenches, dealing with client issues and the challenges of running a studio. While we respect and admire the achievements of photographers who now earn most of their living putting on workshops and speaking at conferences, those photographers are showcased in many other arenas. The Photographers: Do Not Bend spotlight will shine on photographers who quietly go about the business of creating art and memories on a daily basis. We’re sure you’ll be glad to discover them.
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Name: Heidi Lynne Lewis
Business: I started Heidi Lynne Photography in August of 2003…so I’m nearing 9 years in business, with the last 6 years full time. Living in the relatively small community of State College, Pennsylvania, I am not able to specialize in too narrow of an area, but I do focus on families, children, babies and high school seniors. As my business has developed, it has been most satisfying to build relationships and to see families grow from behind the lens of my camera.
Tell us about your studio(s): I had a home-based studio for 6 years, but moved to a separate studio location 3 years ago. While my home studio was very professional with a separate client entrance, I quickly outgrew the 500 square feet in the 3 years since it’s initial construction. When I found the perfect studio space with a huge north facing window in a rustic barn along a beautiful creek close to town, I gathered a few other local artists and we joined forces to form an artist cooperative (http://www.surfaceartistcoop.com). In this thriving creative space, I am able to have a fully functioning professional photography studio, complete with studio lighting, a natural light shooting area, a variety of outdoor shooting areas and a client meeting area. It is truly the perfect studio for me…
Tell us about the style of portraits your produce for your clients: I’d like to say that my style is somewhat undefined because in reality, my style is really driven by the client. But if I had to nail down one word to describe my work – - I’d say it is real. I’m very realistic in my shooting, avoiding forced looks/poses/styles. I do realize, however, that most people need some direction (unless they are under the age of 5…and in that case, I let them think they are running the show) so I’m very good at allowing natural posing to occur giving families some structure while still feeling comfortable and at ease.
Are you a self taught photographer, or did you have formal instruction? A little of both. My father taught me how to use a manual focus camera in 4th grade and eventually went on to learn darkroom processing in high school where I functioned as the chief photographer for both the school newspaper and the creative writing magazine. While I opted for the more ‘sensible’ career path of electrical engineering in college, I couldn’t stay away from photography and have been completely self-taught in the digital arena. As with any profession, continuing education is key and I am continually studying new shooting and processing techniques.
What products that you produce completely knock your client’s socks off? I keep it pretty simple as I don’t want to overwhelm my clients (or myself!). Across the board, clients want to showcase their images, so session albums are very popular. Ranging in size from 5×5 to 10×10, and in styles from the very simple to the graphically designed, there is an option for every client. Gallery wrapped canvases as well as storyboard and mosaic framed collages are also very popular.
What color socks are you wearing? None. And in fact, I often photograph without any shoes on…one of my little quirks – - shoes just get in my way!
What’s your favorite thing about being a photographer? Being able to pull out personalities – - my favorite sessions are the most challenging ones! I also love being able to build lasting relationships with my clients. I treat my loyal clients like gold…and I can truly say that I consider many of my clients to be friends.
Least favorite thing? It’s not so much being a photographer, but rather owning my own business. Sometimes I fantasize about having a job with benefits, paid vacation time and regularly scheduled hours, but I wouldn’t trade it for the world.
Name some things that inspire you. Of course my kids/family/friends do…in so many ways. But when I’m shooting, and this may sound cheesy, my clients inspire me. Everyone comes from such different places in life and I find such value in hearing their stories. And it is how I connect with them…it is through this connection that I’m able to create beautiful and real photographs.
What’s in your camera bag? socks, deodorant, batteries, safety pins, tape. Oh, and a camera (Canon 5D Mk II) and a slew of lenses (99% of the time I use the Canon 85 f/1.2L, 50 f/1.2L or 135 f/2.0L)…
What is your favorite indulgence? chocolate dipped coconut macaroons.
What are people surprised to learn about you? My electrical engineering degree seems to surprise people, but even more so, the fact that this 37 year old loud mouth semi-extrovert used to be painfully shy and awkward well into her mid-20′s…
Who do you wish you could photograph – and why? Adele, Michael Phelps or Selena Gomez. For no other reason other than the fact that my kids would think my job was cool…
What are your goals with your photography – either personally or professionally? I would like to continue to grow my business, but also to keep the very personal level of connection that I have with my clients…it is a fine balance. I’d also like to develop a business offering ‘out of the box’ school photography to local area preschools, providing a unique style that is very different from what parents have become accustomed.
What advice would you give to someone wanting to start a photography business? It should be obvious that technical skills need to be top notch (you should know your camera inside and out, literally!), but the biggest mistake that I see new photographers making is not really having a full understanding of what it takes to be profitable. Whether you are working full time and supporting your family on your income, or whether you are only taking on one session a month to earn a little spending cash…you really need to look at the time you are spending on each client in addition to the costs of equipment/education/lab processing/software/etc., and figure out what you need to charge in order to be profitable. I would also recommend developing a good understanding of your target market (which may or may not be the same market that you are in yourself)…learn where they are from, where they shop, what they do in their spare time, what they value most… This will help you find your niche and will allow you to create a customized marketing strategy that will lead you to the clients with whom you have the greatest connection.
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We’re happy to welcome Joyce Smith, the talented woman behind Joyce Smith Photography and the indispensable WordSmith For Photographers, to the Show Me Your Studio feature! There’s lots to think about in her responses to our questions… thank you, Joyce, for your insightful information.
Kimberly & Heather
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NAME: Joyce Smith
DO YOU HAVE A HOME STUDIO OR RETAIL SPACE? retail space
WHERE ARE YOU LOCATED? Wayne, Pennsylvania
WHAT ARE YOUR FAVORITE THINGS ABOUT YOUR STUDIO? I love the calming white space of the studio–choosing the decor with little practicality (other than child-friendliness) to consider was incredibly fun. I love being able to offer the option of the studio to clients who wish to meet or who do not, for whatever reason, wish to hold a session in their home. I especially love my studio when it’s winter and a client from New Jersey drives to me rather than the reverse–I won’t lie!
WHAT WOULD YOU CHANGE ABOUT YOUR STUDIO? I’d change a million things. I’m very detail oriented and critical (but in a good way–ha!!) and saw the shortcomings of the place when I leased it two+ years ago. I’d love to have higher ceilings and yet more windows, for example, but most available spaces with those features are in Philadelphia proper and I prefer having a space very near my home (10 minutes and two roads away) and one where I needn’t parallel park.
WHAT ARE SOME PROBLEMS YOU FACED AND HOW DID YOU SOLVE THEM? As I mentioned, the space I choose, while it had many things going for it (hence the choice), also had numerous issues that needed to be worked around. It was truly hideous when I leased it and had some problems that could not be completely solved (such as unsightly baseboard heaters, which I definitely do not want to appear in any images!)
Here are ‘before’ images of Joyce’s space!
Because I wanted a space that I could maximize shooting options in and because I do not use traditional backdrops, it was a challenge to hide certain things and yet still have a functional space. I solved most of these issues with the furnishings–a Design Within Reach sofa and some white benches from Chiasso hide many a baseboard heater from view. Little things continue to challenge me, but I maintain that the only difference between this studio and others I might have leased is that I didn’t know all the problems that came with those spaces yet! In other words, they too could have issues and at twice the price.
The most important criteria–that the space have sufficient natural light, that it be in a neighborhood that could be “Anystreet, USA,” with trees and sidewalks just outside, that it have parking (it’s at a premium in the area), and that it be pet-friendly–were all met and I’ve loved being in the space. My next space will have higher ceilings and bigger windows and yet somehow magically exist in the Philly burbs.
And here are images after Joyce worked her magic on the space!
WHAT WOULD YOU ADVISE PEOPLE WHO ARE THINKING ABOUT RENTING A RETAIL STUDIO?
* First and foremost, consider your bottom line and the financial health of your business. I think many of us have a nebulous idea that having the credibility of a studio or possibly advertising from our very presence in a studio will make our business a success. While having a studio can undoubtedly help you grow your business, I believe having a successful business first, a big financial cushion, or preferably both are paramount. I’m entering my third year in the studio but had been in business for four years prior and had become successful enough to be the primary breadwinner in my family.
* Have a true heart toheart with yourself as well about how you expect the studio to affect your business. Do you want to be in the studio everyday? At the time I leased, I did not. Thus, even though my studio is on the first floor, it is just about a block off the beaten path and is not a place with countless pedestrians walking by and wondering, “When is that place ever open?” Also, while I initially thought that I’d love to separate business and home life and get everything out of my home, it became clear once I had the space that keeping my computer and equipment at home and using the space only for client meetings, sessions, or sales, was the right thing for me. Nothing beats editing images in yoga pants, I’m sorry.
Images created by Joyce in and around her studio.
So why did I make the leap? A studio had been in the back of my mind for quite some time, as it is for many of us I’m sure, even though I was always known as an on-location photographer (and I still love shooting in client homes). I reached the point, though, where I just could not take on more clients than I already was and continue to drive all over creation for each session. Or maybe I should say I reached the point where I did not want to do this any longer! Being able to have a place to shoot at least some sessions where some of the variables–of distance, of light, of decor–could become constants was the driving force behind finally making the jump. I also wanted a place to meet with clients before the session if they desired and for ordering if they prefer (though I am still 98% online for ordering, the option is there). Finally, I wanted to free myself from the “have beanbag, will travel” routine for newborns! Now I do indeed still have my beanbag, but it most definitely opts not to travel. Clients have the choice of studio or home for newborn sessions, but know that they will bring babies to me if they’d like that curled up, naked look. My space heaters are ready and they too no longer travel.
Another factor for me was that I planned to do workshops at some point (I have done four over the past two years with another planned this May) and wanted to use the space for that. I know myself and hosting a traveling workshop or one at a local hotel meeting room where I’m not in control of the variables is a tough fit for my personality.
In short . . . know yourself, know your budget, and know if saying “meet me at my studio!” will be as exciting in the dead of winter when you’re signing that check!
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Want to have your studio featured in Show Me Your Studio? Drop an email to firstname.lastname@example.org and let’s talk!