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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?”

If you have more questions, please leave them in the comment section of this post and she will try and answer more in a future “Ask Deb” guest post.
deb-schwedhelm Ask Deb! Get Answers to Your Most Pressing Photography Questions Guest Bloggers Photography Tips

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.

houllis01 Ask Deb! Get Answers to Your Most Pressing Photography Questions Guest Bloggers Photography Tips

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.

lake-perry-kids Ask Deb! Get Answers to Your Most Pressing Photography Questions Guest Bloggers Photography Tips

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!

family-photographer Ask Deb! Get Answers to Your Most Pressing Photography Questions Guest Bloggers Photography Tips

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.

deeney0510-757-Edit Ask Deb! Get Answers to Your Most Pressing Photography Questions Guest Bloggers Photography Tips

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.


No Comments

  1. Allison on June 7, 2010 at 10:49 am

    How do you deal with competing photographers who think you have no business in photography? I am struggling with a couple of badmouthing photographers right now.

    • Jenny on April 6, 2012 at 9:46 am

      oh my goodness allison I totally knwo what you mean! I actually was going to go into business with a friend who turned out to NOT be a friend. she took what I taught her about lightroom and creating cards, scrap pages, basically everything that makes my work mine, then she began to hate me and claim my work of her daughter as her own, stalk my page, tell everyone I am bad at photography (although why she stole my work is beyond me!) and she even recently told her actual professional cousin in the area (a year after our friendship ended, she’s still at it) that I “claim to be a professional photographer” and he went on my page and outed me in front of all my clients, badmouthing me, offering me advice in a snide way. My point is, haters are gonna hate. lol I know that sounds immature but its the truth. Also, I get crap from other photographers because in my area, anyone who charges under $50 sucks, quite frankly, but anyone who’s really good costs at least $80, all the way up to $300! I charge $35 for a full session and $20 for a mini, and I get no respect from the more expensive photographers, because they think because of my low price, I’m one of those photographers running around with a big black camera editing in and calling myself a professional, when I consider myself somewhere inbetween the really bad locals and the really good ones. lol I just tell them 1) I call myself an AMATEUR. I do not claim to be a professional and I charge very little for what I do 2) I photograph people for a reason (in honor of my nephew who passed at 7 weeks and we only have 3 pictures of him which is heartbreaking) but since my equipment (editing stuff, etc) costs so much, in order to provide quality work for people, I need to charge in order to invest and 3) there are worse photographers in the area than me (because believe it or not, even if you’re just starting out, there’s always someone around looking to do it the easy way and get away with as little work and investment and knowledge as possible! hence what I call “picnik photographers”) and they should go bug one of them before moving on to me :)I also might say something like “I’d like to know how many sessions you’ve had recently, your price, and what your clients said about if your work is worth the money, because all my clients come to me for the price, and are blown away by the result” because as cocky as it sounds, that’s usually what happens. The trickiest part is just getting people to come to you. if you’re getting business, if your clients are happy, don’t let them get you down, all the nay-sayers! My clients are thrilled with my work even though I know from my research I still have a long way to go, but most of my clients have seen or heard horror stories about photographers in my area (there’s about 100 and a new one each day it seems lol in one town! gah) and they’re really skeptical about going with a local photographer. If they’re happy with my price, my work, my patience, sometimes they even tip me. I try not to let them, but that’s when I know I’m doing it right. If you go to give someone a disk or finish up a session and they ask you “how much was a session again?” and go to pay you and they insist you take $5 more than what you were charging them, take heart! that has happened to me a few times (I’ve also had a “free” session pay me $35 and insist I take it!) and I can guarantee whoever is making fun of you, they are probably charging so much, their clients wouldn’t even think of tipping them! that’s the great thing about keeping your prices low and your mind on what you as a person would afford, which photographer you would hire, then if the really like your work, they can afford to tip you, whereas most of my nay-sayers are the $100-$300 photographers most people wouldn’t even dream of hiring, because that price scares people off. So most of the time when a local photographer bashes you it means:1) you are charging less than them for maybe not the same quality of work, but way better than what they wish your work quality was compared to theirs2) they’re not getting much business anymore because “not so good” photographers (in their mind) are stealing their clients. I know this for a fact because all of the photographers bashing me, I saw that they are having to advertise more often since I started out ;)3) long as you are not a dreaded “picnik photographer” (although picnik is shutting down, its moving over to google, and to me, any photographer who uses free software exclusively has “no business” in photography lol and trust me, I can spot which ones use LR, which ones use photoshop, etc), your pictures are usually clear, the lighting is good (at least post processing, no one is always perfect SOOC and if you don’t believe me, check out your local favorite photographer and ask to see a before and after to see how much work they put into their editing, it will amaze you!) and you have some good ideas, and as long as you are not trying to charge more than what your work is worth (or, well maybe it probably is worth $300 with what you put into it, I know my editing takes forever and if I think about it, the time I put into it is actually worth that much, I’d just never charge it) you are doing just fine and simply tell them you’ve put a lot of time into your work, a lot of money, a lot of research, and you have happy clients. then block them from your facebook, don’t read their blog comments, block their phone numbers, whatever you have to do. don’t have a contact me directly on your site, provide your email so you can block the ones giving you crap, but if its mostly a new one every few days or something, make sure you express how long you have been photographing and say something like “I don’t claim to be the best but I have some happy clients and I’d love to take your pictures. no hate mail please”. for awhile, I had to write no hate mail please on the local site when I advertise, because as lame as it sounds, it actually works. when I put no hate mail, I had no hate mail. also, on facebook, I ban any local photographers who “like” my page and I sometimes say “if you are a local photographer, I ask that you stay off my page. I have had problems in the past, and my pages are for potential clients only. sorry for the inconvenience” and you’d be amazed, just saying this keeps the hate mail down because they know they’re not supposed to be on there (not that you can stop them lol) and so they’re not going to contact you and bash you and let you know they were stalking your work when they have no intention of ever being a client.Photography is a competitive field, believe it or not. Especially because most clients don’t believe they should have to pay for it, even though we pay for all the stuff that goes into it. I still have people ask me to do my work for free. I’ve gotten hate mail from people saying “oh goodness… just do it for free!” really? really? after investing thousands in it, I’m going to pay for gas and a babysitter so I can do your pictures for free? I do sometimes, do free sessions, if I can afford it, but people are really ridiculous and don’t believe they should pay you for your time, so its understandable that other photographers might get a little antsy when they see you’re charging. I’m sure you’re not charging as much as the more expensive ones or you wouldn’t be on their radar! t he only reason they’re getting after you is because they see you as a threat, meaning you’re cheaper than them or cheaper and ALMOST AS GOOD or maybe even BETTER than them. either way, either your price or your quality of work AND price put together is competition for them, otherwise they would not be even contacting you.Now that’s not to say if you really really stink (I’m sure you don’t just being on this forum means you’ve done some research and probably at the very least use good editing tools which can really help anyone) they aren’t going to tell you so, because I’ve written people (nicely of course!) and reccommended some editing tools for the ones who use free sites like google or picnik to edit their client photos. Some people just don’t have an eye for photography! Try posting in a forum like yellow sky actions photographer forum (you don’t need ot use their actions) in the critique section. there are wonderful photographers in the world who will tell you some helpful tips and they will tell you if you’re just not doing it right, and they’re from all over, so they’re not your biased, fearful local of luck! 🙂

  2. Courtney on June 7, 2010 at 12:47 pm

    I’m curious about the “lessons learned the hard way” by starting business too soon. If there are specifics that you feel comfortable sharing – please do! Great post, thanks for sharing Deb!

  3. Karen Bee on June 7, 2010 at 12:59 pm

    If you are on a beach 45 minutes before sunset, and your subject’s back is to the setting sun (but there’s no sun flare because the sun is off to the side), would you meter the subject’s face? When I do that I get blown-out sky and my Nikon d80 can’t seem to get clarity and brightness on the face. I might shoot that at say, f4 and shutter 125 or so. Looking for no hot spots and nice bright face. Help!

    • Jenny on April 6, 2012 at 9:50 am

      well for the moment I usually expose for inbetween the sky and the face to keep the details in both without too much shadow for the face, but then just clean it up in LR, light up the face. However, I think a flash with a soft box (its on my list of things I need lol) would be great for you if you do sunset pictures, I’ve seen a local photographer in my area using one and her results were amazing, however, much much cheaper is a $17 reflector sold on ebay, they go up to 40 inches. I know it doesn’t sound professional, carrying around a reflector, but it will bounce light off the reflector onto the face, so you still get your sunset, but the face isn’t dark. I’m ordering mine as soon as easter is over as I dropped too much money on easter baskets already. lol I wasn’t aware until recently reflectors were that cheap! and they’re portable. it would work in a pinch until you invested in a flash and a soft box cover for the flash (from $5-$20) good luck! love sunset pics! 🙂

  4. JulieP on June 7, 2010 at 2:25 pm

    Thank you Deb, your advice is priceless! xoxox

  5. Kai on June 7, 2010 at 4:00 pm

    I have to second Courtney’s query. I too am curious about those things you learned the hard way. I also would like to know at what point after starting your business did you think “hey, I can do this” and what precipitated that thought? Karen – If you want both the detail in the background of a sunset and in the person’s face, you’ll need to use flash. I generally kick my shutter speed up to 200, which is my max sync speed for flash, and have an aperture around f8, f9. You can close the aperture even further to get more detail out of the sunset and richer colors, but you’ll need to up your flash power.

  6. Jennifer Geck on June 7, 2010 at 7:36 pm

    Great article. Thank you!I’m curious how you came up with your contracts and other paperwork such as releases. Did you create them yourself, search online, ask a lawyer…?Do you use any special software to keep your books or for your scheduling?Thank you again!

  7. elizabeth on June 7, 2010 at 10:18 pm

    so, i’ve decided i want to be a professional photographer. i’m not sure where to start though. do i just start asking friends/family if i can take their picture for free and tell them my intentions? then from there just start building a portfolio and website?

  8. Cheryl on June 7, 2010 at 11:53 pm

    I don’t have a question, but a comment. That b&w photograph of the beaming mom with her husband and 3 sons gave me absolute tingles. Capturing beauty like that, emotion, telling a silent story, revealing a truth ~ that’s the sign of a truly exceptional photographer.

  9. Andrew Miller on March 14, 2012 at 10:29 am

    Oh, Im hooked on your blog!! Nononono – got photos to edit!!!!Thanks again,Andrew

  10. Jan on January 29, 2013 at 2:09 pm

    I am a 53 year old woman with terminal cancer. I am also the most unphotogenic person on earth. I would like to schedule a session with a photographer but feel if I tell them the reason for the appointment they will be weirded out and uncomfortable. I would like to do it as a surprise for my husband and kids as well as my obituary so i cannot just schedule a family session. I am not opposed to a fabricated story but the only reson people my age get individual portaits done is for their business cards or something like that and I want something soft and pretty. Any suggestions?

  11. ankur on April 18, 2013 at 7:37 pm

    HiProbably I should call myself a new born in photography. Although not my profession but just a part time hobby of mine. I would certainly want to develop on this and turn around my interest in it to something more, soon. For now I have a question which I thought should be best answered by professionals.I have been asked to take pictures / cover an event- an Indian classical musical performance soon. It’s a closed door auditorium. It will be low light is what I can imagine and certainly will want to avoid any flashes. What I have? Nikon D 600 +Nikkor 24-85mm f3.5-4.5 + Nikkor 70-300 mm f/4.5-5.6.With the above instruments please advise the best approach I should have on the event. Remember it’s something for the 1st time and I am excited to show my talent.

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