A few weeks ago, the MCP Blog had a series on going from Hobbyist to Professional Photographer. While the contests have passed, the great information is all still available. Do a search and start learning. One of the prizes was a mentor session with professional photographer, Deb Schwedhelm.
Deb has generously offered to answer some of the amazing questions left in the comment section from that contest. To enter, photographers were asked to write: “the ONE question you would like to ask a seasoned professional photographer?”
What are some of the best routes to take, to go from word of mouth growth to kicking it up a notch and going to the next level?
- For me, letting my business grow from word-of-mouth WAS taking it up a notch. There’s no greater next level, in my opinion, than your clients sharing great things about you and marketing you. I can’t say I ever really did anything special (other than working hard and treating my clients well) to take my business to the next level.
What is the most effective way you have found to promote your photography business?
- Without a doubt, word-of-mouth has been the most effective way to promote my business. Over the years, I have had work displayed in a pediatrician’s office and a children’s boutique, been on first page of Google…but there is no greater way to promote your business than your clients sharing with their family, friends, co-workers, etc.
What’s the one piece of advice you would give another photographer, who is afraid to pursue photography full-time?
- If it’s your passion, there’s nothing to be afraid of – go for it and give it your all!! Work really hard and throughout the journey, never forget why you started – that vision, passion, desire and drive.
What is the biggest mistake you made when you were establishing your portfolio?
- My biggest mistake was launching my business too fast and therefore, I learned a bunch of lessons the hard way. Patience, patience, patience. Photography takes hard work, dedication and time. Learn the technical aspects and learn who you are as a photographer. I can’t stress either of these aspects enough, as it’s so easy to get lost or swallowed up in this industry.
How do you judge the light, so you can adjust aperture/shutter speed, on the fly?
- Different photographers have different methods to meter light on the fly – some use a gray card, others use their hand… I use a spot around me that i think is around eighteen-percent grey (a method i came up with over time). Of course, the proper way is to use a light meter. My advice is to take the time to truly understand light and how it works with your camera.
- My friend, Trish Reda, shared this on her facebook recently and I so love it – LIGHT. light, or electromagnetic radiation, consists of visible light, radio waves, microwaves, x-rays, gamma rays and other kinds of energy. It’s properties have both enchanted and puzzled scientists for centuries. Light makes the simplest and most basic thing possible – the ability to see beauty with our own eyes – while at the same time it is extremely complex in its physics and applications. – posted in the huntington library
- Light is complex and so important — take the time to truly see and understand light. you won’t be sorry!!
What do you consider to be essential equipment, and what equipment could facilitate taking my photography to the next level?
- Essential equipment? assuming digital — all you need is good DSLR and a good lens to shoot. Well, you also need a computer and software to post-process. But for camera equipment – a camera and a good lens is all you need to get to the next level. You need the knowledge of the technical aspects, time and practice. And then more and more practice.
How did you start building your client base?
- In the very beginning, I shot for free – until i was good enough (technical aspects down, consistent, etc.) and had a big enough portfolio that I could launch a website. Then one of the biggest tips I was given from a professional photographer was to set my prices where I saw myself in a year or so, and then offer a portfolio building discount. And that’s exactly what I did. I set my prices (where I thought I’d be in a year) and then offered a forty-percent discount. A few months later, I reduced the discount to thirty-percent and so on, until a year later, my prices were full price.
What do I need to do to take better pictures?
- Hard work, determination, passion, studying and practicing. Then more practicing, practicing, practicing. I wish there was a magic recipe to share but really, there isn’t. Know that you can do it but it takes time!
How do you get people comfortable in front of the camera?
- To be honest, I am really just myself. I’m usually goofy and play with the kids. I never start with kids until they’re comfortable with me. And if something doesn’t look comfortable, I call it – we stop and I ask them (and joke with them) to get comfy. With families, I position, but only slightly, and then let them do their own thing. In the end, every photo session is about being comfortable!
Can I pick your brain for a day?
- I think you might just be doing it 😉
What was the “ah-ha moment” that took you to the next level in the business?
- For me, this is easy – my ‘aha moment’ was attending the Cheryl Jacobs workshop (eight months after picking up a DSLR for the first time and two months after starting my business). Prior to that, I had been studying books, online information and forums. The forum that I frequented most ended up being very clicky and all with a similar style of photography. I never felt like I fit in and it wore on me. When I attended Cheryl’s workshop, I was so nervous, thinking I was different and my work sucked. But she shared with me that my work was good and it’s okay to be different. Being yourself is part of the beauty and power of photography. I left there a different photographer, for sure.
What have you found to be the most effective pricing structure?
- Pricing is so very, very hard. I know recently there has been a pricing resource or two here on MCP. but one thing i can share in regards to pricing is that it is so discouraging and frustrating, when photographers under-price their time, prints and products. When you think of everything that goes into a simple 4×6 print (time, print, packaging, etc.), there is absolutely no way any profit is being made when a 4×6 print is priced at five-to-ten dollars.
- This is a really great article i found a while back regarding under-pricing in our industry.
Which lens is your favorite and why?
- Personally, I go between my 50mm f/1.4G and my 28-70mm f/2.8. i seem to default to my 28-70mm when shooting families because of it’s versatility but you can’t beat the sharpness of the 50mm. I also love shooting with my lensbaby for my personal work.
What would you have wanted someone to tell YOU when you first started out?
- SLOW DOWN! Take your time. This is really hard work!! With continued hard work, passion and dedication, it will all fall into place in time. And before you know it, you will be overwhelmed and on the computer every night until 2 a.m. Enjoy your family. Enjoy the journey. And know that the learning never stops!
- Also, I try to share this with all I can – having a photography business is so much more than the joy of shooting; it’s managing a small business. You go from being a photographer to also being a photographer AND a business owner, secretary, book keeper, accountant, marketing executive, etc. Think about it. If you’re ready to start your photography business, take the time to do it right because soon enough, you could very possibly be overwhelmed.
Please check out Deb’s Site and Blog to see more of her inspiring work.