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Successes and Failures of a First Year Photographer

One Year Later: Successes and Failures of a First Year Photographer

by Chelsea LaVere

In the teacher world, there is a huge emphasis on the First Year. The First Year is all about what worked and more importantly, what didn’t work. It’s all about reflection, reflection, reflection. I am formally trained as an English major and an elementary school teacher, and so it is a double whammy when it comes to reflection. Well, the teacher world is much like the photography world, in order to grow, we must revisit our successes and failures.

Photo1 600x398 Successes and Failures of a First Year Photographer

In my first year, my failures were numerous, but a few stand out as lesson-learners.

  • All I saw was everyone using Nikon D3s or 300s and saying a photographer isn’t a photographer without the top of the line equipment. (One local photographer actually snubbed me when I said I use a D40!) That gave me a confidence failure. Ansel Adams is my hero, and I always go back to what he once said, “The single most important component of a camera is the twelve inches behind it.” Some people take some sucky pictures on a pro camera and some take some stunning photos on an entry level. It’s the photographer, not the equipment. I rocked my little Nikon D40 for a long time.  I did upgrade about halfway through the year to a Nikon D90 only because it would be more reliable to me and my wedding work. It may not be a D300, but I get the exact results and compliments I want.
  • I decided to help a client’s cousin with custom design work using old home snapshots and detailing her daughter’s graduation. Over a month’s period of price quoting and designing, she made all of these requests.  I worked with them, and then she “dropped off the face of the earth” after I sent her two invoices. Two weeks later, my client received a graduation invite in the mail. It was not my design– she went with a Walmart option. Lesson learned? Do a contract and deposit even for family of clients to at least compensate your time and decide if you even want to dedicate your time on non-client custom design work.  Nooo way for me.
  • I have organized two mini-session events in the past 12 months. Not one person signed up. Well, one person did, but g-mail ate up her registration, so it never happened. Lesson? I still don’t know. I’ll be a little gun-shy to offer another mini-session though.
  • It is true. The first year you don’t make much money. You have to build your equipment inventory, purchase packaging. Do this, buy that. However, the solid, growing list of clients is good enough reason to keep investing.

Photo2 Successes and Failures of a First Year Photographer

In my first year, my successes were even more.

  • I invested a lot of time getting to know every single client (and still do!). Every single client also knows that I call Bit of Ivory a “photo-fam.” I emphasize that when you book with me, you gain a family. I’m all about relationship building.
  • When I got my first client inquiry from my website (meaning not from a friend or a friend of a friend—a real stranger!), the joy was unbelievable! I embraced that enthusiasm, but also put on the face of professionalism and confidence. I knew I had talent and a solid product, but I needed my client to have faith in my abilities with my small portfolio. That client, now friend, has already brought four other weddings to me. I always joke with her that I should hire her as my marketing director!
  • I went out of my comfort zone and emailed the owner of a local cupcakery to present a partnership idea. One, I love cupcakes. Two, they are really yummy cupcakes. Three, the owner catered to the same market demographic as I did. I happened to contact her at the perfect time because we are now good friends and partners. I exchanged my photo services for store redesign purposes, and she’s advertising for me. Small businesses helping small businesses.
  • Using my Cupcakery connection and my love of getting to know clients, I organized a Brides’ Night Out to decorate cupcakes and invited all my brides to meet each other and to talk wedding. They each brought a girlfriend with them, and we had a ton of fun! This will definitely be done again next year.
  • I recognized a desire of mine to want to encourage women’s self-confidence and create classic impressions. And so Persuasion Boudoir was born. Within two days of its grand unveiling, half of my first marathon sessions were booked. When there is a need in the community, news will get around!
  • Everything really changed when I found my post-production style. When I invested in Adobe’s Lightroom and really commanded that program, everything bursted. People started commenting more. Clients were excited more. I opened up my own proverbial flood gates of personal success!

The best thing is that a photographer’s life is always changing and always presenting new ideas. May I continue to have successes and failures… but hopefully more of the former.

Chelsea LaVere is the portrait, wedding, and boudoir photographer behind Bit of Ivory Photography in Hampton Roads, Virginia. She is also an art teacher at a local private school and considers herself very blessed to get to teach what she loves as well as do.

 Successes and Failures of a First Year Photographer
 Successes and Failures of a First Year Photographer

Jodi Friedman, MCP Actions

Jodi Friedman is the founder of MCP Actions. She designs popular Photoshop actions and Lightroom presets that make editing faster, easier and more fun.

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28 Comments

  1. 1

    I love this post. Thank you.

  2. 2
    Christina says:

    I found this very helpful as I’ve only officially launched my company in the last few months … and because I love my Nikon D80!

  3. 3
    keith says:

    So true about the equipment, its easy to worry/wonder/fret over getting the best camera and which one is it – really. But truly the most important part of photography is the person pushing the button. In my classes there’s a wide variety of cameras from point & shoots to the most expensive cameras d’slr’s. And they all have the ability to capture beautiful pictures.

  4. 4
    tricia says:

    I Chelsea. Thanks for your story. Although I’ve been assisting professionally for the 5 years, I am just venturing into starting my OWN business now. Very very excited. Building my portfolio and website now. I was wondering if you have any resources or advice on a standard workflow using Lightroom. I currently use PS3 and Bridge, but I know I need to incorporate Lightroom. I understand it’s lifechanging and time-saving once you maximize its capabiities. Any suggestions on workflow or resources to learn about incorporating it into my workflow? As I am starting to shoot more and more, I realize that the post production and editing process is key to working effectively and efficiently. Thanks so much.

  5. 5
    Stephanie says:

    Thank you so much! I’ve enjoyed photography for years but only in the last 10 months or so worked on launching a business. Its important to learn from those mistakes and successes!

  6. 6
    Karmen Weood says:

    Starting my business in December 2009 I can relate to this posting a lot! Thank you so much for sharing, and I hope your success continues!

  7. 7
    Karmen Wood says:

    Oh and I started using a point and click Kodak, now using a canon 50D and get very similar feedback! I agree that it’s the photographer not the camera!

  8. 8
    Libby says:

    Thank you! I am stealing your last sentence! What a GREAT quote and so true!

  9. 9
    janeris says:

    Good stuff. I’m in my first year of my official photography business and am learning more than the 6 years I’ve been shooting. Lots of things work. And (phew) lots of things don’t work. Let me get off this blog and go organize the list of the two. : )

  10. 10
    Melissa says:

    Great story. Thanks for sharing!

  11. 11

    I’ve been getting many emails about questions! Just go to my website and get my email address.

    I welcome them! Please don’t feel bad about asking; we gotta look out for each other. I’d be glad to help! :) (I just may take a little bit to answer them since I’m working at an academic summer camp right now!)

    So glad everyone is relating! Yay! Not the only one! ;)
    - Chelsea :)

  12. 12

    i really enjoyed your reflections on your first year. thanks for sharing your experiences with those of us just staring out.

  13. 13
    karlee says:

    offer minni-sessions! It gives those who can’t afford professional photography (me) the chance to get nice photos taken! I love when photographers offer them. I wish they offered them for every season. Great post.. very benefitial.

  14. 14
    Rachelle says:

    I just love this post!!!!
    It is so inspiring to see such great, imaginative work come from a D90 (which I also own). It gives me confidence to say “Yes, I have a D90 and I love it!” to a professional!

  15. 15

    Great post! A really insightful discussion about the first year as a pro.

  16. 16

    wow! awesome post! thanks a lot for sharing :)

  17. 17
    Amanda says:

    Great post! Really spoke to me. I’m starting to venture into professional photography and know I have a up and down year ahead. Nice to see how persevering can pay off!

  18. 18
    Jenny says:

    Just starting out with a D3000! Such an inspiring blog! Thank you for writing this out for those of us who just need a little encouragement!

    • 18.1
      Krutika says:

      I love the composition and the B&W trmateent. I have been converting more than a few of my winter pictures in LR2 and it is always surprising to see how that can improve on the image. Keep up the good work. You’ve been posting some very nice pictures here.

  19. 19
    Lorraine Nesensohn says:

    Great article very insipiring!

  20. 20
    Margie Duerr says:

    This post was VERY informative. As a budding photographer, this insight is priceless. Thanks so much!!

  21. 21
    forex robot says:

    Keep posting stuff like this i really like it

  22. 22
    Karina says:

    I too found this post to be most helpful and inspiring. I just purchased a D90 and to see such fabulous shots taken with one gives me confidence in my purchase but also shows me that I have a lot to learn! Thanks for sharing.

  23. 23
    Richard Wong says:

    Great post. I totally agree that it doesn’t matter what you shoot with as long as you can deliver results. I’ve printed 40 x 60′s for corporate clients on a Canon 20D. By the opposite logic, if you buy great gear then you would be guaranteed to have great photos.

    A photographer who stockpiles all the latest and greatest gear probably won’t stay in business long.

  24. 24
    Amanda says:

    Just starting out with a D5000. I have taken a few classes, and done photos for friends, as well as tested a few printers. What is my next step other than practice, practice, practice??

  25. 25
    Megan says:

    Awesome! As someone who wants to start up a photog business in the next year, this is soooo helpful! Just what I needed to hear.

  26. 26

    Thank you for sharing this! I clicked to open the 2nd year Successes and Failures and thought I should read this one first. Your ideas are so creative and helpful!! It reminds me that sometimes I need to think outside the box!! Continue the great work!! I’m on to read the next one!!

  27. 27

    WOW! Awesome Photography. You have a great creativity inside you….

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