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FAQ: Answers from a Professional Photographer

FAQ: “Dear Laura” {Answers from a Professional Photographer}

Though the names have been changed, these are actual questions that were left in comments or that arrived in my email.  Laura Novak, a well-known professional photographer, is answering some of these frequently asked questions.


Question: Dear Laura, I am one of those people that just offers a disk of pictures. I know it’s bad move and I don’t want to do that anymore. I want to offer prints but I just have no clue how to do it. Can you give me some insight? Thank you, Want to Change

Dear Want to Change,

Kudos for you to want to take your business to the next level and moving past taking photographs and providing a disk, and wanting to offer more to your customers. It is not an easy task, and it won’t happen overnight, but the biggest piece of advice I can provide is to get your customers excited about the experience they have with you and the artwork you offer.

When you take photographs and supply a disk for, let’s say $300 – it’s great money at first! Wow! $300! Rock on! But then you realize about half goes to the government, and that computer you will need is pretty expensive, and hmm… you really like to spend time editing but that seems to take a long time and you really do need sometime to answer your phone because you are getting so busy your children forgot what you looks like… And before you know it you are paying your customers, instead of them paying you! Yikes! Also, you are teaching your customers that your work is worth $300, not a penny more. And that is all it will ever be worth. I personally like to allow my customers to determine what my work is worth without dictating a price ceiling for them.

In the absence of other compelling information, like a strong marketing message or exciting wall products – your customers will always default to the belief that your photography is a commodity. You will see this belief evidenced in questions such as “how much is your disk?” or “how much are your 8x10s?” The best way to combat allowing your work in becoming a commodity is to offer high quality photography, develop exciting products that appeal to your target market and a offer fantastic experience that differentiates you and allows you to raise your prices. Again, this isn’t going to happen overnight… you will need to spend time going to conventions or workshops where you can see how advanced photographers do this and learn about their approach, customize it to be your own and begin to educate your customer on whey they should invest in your work, what makes you different. Get them excited about new products that you offer and educate them on the quality difference between what you do and what why the can’t get that get elsewhere. Over time you will find the disk question subsiding and more and more people investing in fine art wall collections and albums.

Hope this helps,

Laura

Question: Dear Laura, Wow! Thanks for the great advice in your interview. I am sad because I am trying to brand myself bit get overwhelmed and can’t afford to pay someone to do it. I know what I want in my head but can’t seem to do it myself. Any advice? Thank you, Overwhelmed by Expenses

Dear Overwhelmed by Expenses,

Thanks for your question! If you don’t mind I am going to answer your question in a broader way because I have often gotten this question in different forms. It sometimes sounds like “I can’t afford a projector, any advice?” or “I can’t afford backup gear, any advice?” But it’s all encompassed in the same question. When you are starting your business, is incredibly important to budget out everything that you feel you will need to operate as a professional photographer. This includes, but is not limited to:

* gear and backup gear
* insurance
* samples of your work
* hiring a graphic designer to do your logo
* marketing materials such as postcards and a business card
* sales tools such as a projector and laptop
* website and dedicated phone number
* incorporation fees, business license, etc
* insurance & professional association
* education such as workshops and classes
* computers, software, Photoshop actions and templates

Some of these will require one-time investments such as branding or a projector, others will require ongoing investments like actions, workshops and software upgrades.

The first step is to list out everything you think you will need within the first year and what it will cost. Be conservative. Do your research. Don’t scrimp.

The second step is to write your business plan. I do offer a business plan educational product that is specific to photographers ($100 off using code “MCP”).  You can get free generic ones online… Where ever you get your business plan, please make sure to get one. In this business plan you will outline a strategy for not only what your initial investment is but also how long it will take you to recover it based on cash flow projections.

The third and final step is to get funding. You can get a small business loan or line of credit from your local bank. There are SBA backed loans available, as well as loans that are specific to minority or women owned businesses. Check your local SBA office for details. You may also go to your spouse or a family member and ask them to support this endeavor financially – and they will sure to be impressed by the professional approach you are taking with your new venture.

The more seriously you take this process, the more seriously you, your friends, your customers and family members will take your business. So do I recommend scrimping on professional branding because it’s not in the budget? No, I recommend starting your business when you can afford to purchase what you will need to begin operating. This is, without a doubt, the best (and least stressful!) way to set yourself up for a successful career as a professional photographer. Can it be done by self-funding on cash every time you have a little extra money? Sure, it can – but based on my experience as well as speaking to many beginning photographers at my workshops it is much more stressful on your family, yourself and your customers.

Good luck!

Laura

Question: Dear Laura, WOW!!! What an awesome interview! So inspiring…and so much helpful information! I have one question for you! How often do you scout new locations?? Well you’re probably like me, all day every day. Also, what is the MOST important aspect to you when you pick a location? Lighting or other?? Thanks so much for all the tips! Thanks, Need Location Help

Dear “Need Location Help,”

We are definitely the same that we are always both looking for great locations! The most IMPORTANT aspect is the lighting. When I coach photographers I often tell them that a photograph encompasses three important components: lighting, background and expression. The only element in that equation that is optional is the background – so you can have a great expression, wonderful lighting and a mediocre background. But you can’t have a fantastic background and mediocre lighting or a awkward expression. I think photographers love really unique backgrounds for their own creative satisfaction, which is great! But at the end of the day I think clients really want to see their children’s beautiful faces in a way that is genuine and natural which can happen in pretty much anywhere with the right eye for lighting.

Earley0044 after 600x400 FAQ: Answers from a Professional Photographer

Have fun finding the light…

Laura

 FAQ: Answers from a Professional 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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2 Comments

  1. 1
    Kristen Perschon says:

    I’m sorry but I have to say that I would never get pictures taken from a Photographer that didn’t allow me to get the disc. I don’t ever get prints and don’t want to, I use the pictures on my blog, Christmas cards, etc. I have taken photography classes and everything, but I think it is a mistake to not provide the disc.

  2. 2
    Erin says:

    Please keep more of these posts coming! I love them, and I’m learning a lot from Laura. Thank you:D

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