Starting the Photography Business – Part 1

Self portrait of Richard Terborg Digging

Every person has his or her own way. I can only share with you the path I’ve walked. Once you have decided that photography is the thing you would like to pursue, you do some research on the photography businesses around you. And sooner or later you will hit a wall with a question that will stick for a while: Who am I? And what do I want that will make me happy? Before you figure out who you’re trying to reach with your work, you need to figure out who you are, and what it is you have to offer/give.

What do you want? Who am I?

These questions have been keeping a part of brain busy for a while. To me it always seems to evolve, but in its core there is always something that relates. Something that is you, and has been you ever since you were a child. What I have found out is that I am not a job description. I can’t go out and tell you I’m an Accountant, or this type of Photographer. This is because I think a human is way more complex than just one job title. So you start looking at your life and figuring out what is unique to you and your persona.

To get you going, here are a few questions:

  • When you were younger, let’s say 9-10 years old, what were you generally doing?
  • When was the last time you felt alive and completely engaged in the moment? Where was it?
  • Imagine a magic genie appeared right now! And gave you 12 months off with all the money you would want. What would you do? From the first month to the last?

This is a way to start figuring out what it is that you really want to do with your time and life.
Personally, I wanted to:

  • Connect with other like-minded photographers that didn’t believe in competition, but believed in a mutual friendship that can grow together.
  • Connecting crazy, cool, creative people and making fine art together. This being costume designers, clothing designers, makeup artists, stylists, models, other photographers.
  • Teach what I know (giving back to the community that taught me).
  • Create awesome, cool, beautiful work I’m happy with for me and my clients.

Once you’ve narrowed it down, it’s time to make it your business! Onwards!

Connecting with like minded Photographers

Now that you have the list of things you want to do with your time, you can start looking at ways to achieve those things. I started with that which came naturally to me first. That was connecting with other creatives and photographers. The photographers I connected with I found using the social media channels. By being in the groups and getting inspired I would look for all the courage I could find, to write them an email and ask the things I wanted to know. Some didn’t answer, but with the precious few who did, I’m happy to say after so many years we still swap ideas and stories. So don’t be discouraged when someone doesn’t answer. Just keep looking for those that really do want to help.

The Crazy Cool Creatives!

Same way for the the crazy, cool, creative; designers, makeup artists, hair stylists, stylists, models. I started by joining a small local photography group. They would put out a casting call, asking for models and makeup artists who wanted to build a portfolio and got a cool location to shoot in. I would use this to start my modelling portfolio and connecting with the people at the shoot. Instead of playing with my lights, I would be chatting with the makeup artists. Seeing if one would want to collab on one of my projects. Model Mayhem has been another great resource.

Nowadays most have moved to Facebook. Creating moodboards for what you would like to achieve and putting a casting call out there to see who wants to help. A lot of ideas never got through or any attention. But every time I got one, I would do my extreme best to create the best work I had, so to attract the group for the next project. After the work was created I would email magazines, galleries to see if they would want to host the series or put the series on display.

I would upload it to competitions. Anything to get the attention to the work we created. After a few years and a whole lot of collabs later. You will know who you work best with. With whom you create your best work with. These are the people that reach out and take the best out of you, these are the people that stick and those are the people that will form your base team and they will stick with ya as you will with them.

Giving back to the community

Because I felt so loved by the community that helped me and helped improve my work etc., I wanted to give something back. I started by looking for the people that I could help. Who were the people I was trying to reach. Teaching what you know is meant for the people that want to learn- usually people that are in the same field as you. This meant I was going to need a network of photographers. In order to reach them, I needed to show people I knew what I was talking about. No point in teaching if you have no idea what you’re doing and why.

Even though I didn’t go to school for this stuff, I could teach the people what I knew and that was a real life example of a photographer teaching himself. So I started using myself as a subject to analyze and went through how I do things, and solve the problems that come along.

I targeted the group by adding meta data to the pictures that I was uploading. I started naming and listing all the things that made up the shot like the lenses I used, at what focal length, where my lights were, at what power setting, and putting in little diagrams of the lighting setups. This information wasn’t useful for the clients reaching out to hire me as a service, but it didn’t hurt them or kept them away either. And if it doesn’t hurt…  keep doing it!

Slowly more photographers started following me. They were asking more diagrams and they started asking if I teach workshops. I collected all their information, and when I had 10 people, I created a workshop page on my website and asked the list I had and the community if anyone was still interested. They could sign up:

And to this day the page is still there. These 3 things. And finding out where these people hang. Like on what blogs, what creative meetings, networking get together. And going there with a specific mission to finding that person or group of people is the foundation on which I started to build. From there it was on to selling the service and creating an income. That is a big part, so I’ll post that in Part II!

Be a Free Range Human – by Marianne Cantwell