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09-06-2010, 03:53 PM   #1
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Those of you who shoot professionally - any advice?

For those of you on these forums who shoot professionally, full or part time, do you have any advice for a 19 (almost) 20 year old who is trying to follow in your footsteps.

I've been taking pictures seriously since I was about 15 or 16, and have been the head photog. for my high school or college since 11th grade (I'm now a junior in college).

I've tried to land part time jobs with wedding, portrait, and sports photography business among others, but most seem to want at least 1-2 years professional experience as well as an extensive setup (2 bodies, pro glass, etc).

All of you guys had to have started out somewhere. How did you break into the field? Did you begin shooting on your own first? I'm thinking about getting some business cards, buying a domain name and getting a few tshirts make up with the website name printed on them. I figured if I shoot enough little league sporting events the word will have to get out eventually.


Thanks in advance!

PS: I'm not sure what forum this should go in, so I apologize if belongs somewhere else.


Last edited by ChrisOBrien; 09-06-2010 at 04:23 PM.
09-06-2010, 05:55 PM   #2
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Build an online portfolio. Show people what you can do, and then they might ignore your gear. Some customers ask to see the photographer's gear, but for my wedding, I asked to see his portfolio. My photographer is fully booked, and he dumps any client that asks to see his gear. To be honest, his setup looked pretty ghetto, but his pictures showcase his talents.

When I was planning to go pro, I decided "crash" popular churches where weddings were held. If you dress nicely, nobody will stop you as you enter the hall with nice gear. Snap some pics and post it on your portfolio. You do whatever it takes...

I apologize if this is bad advice, but this was the only way I knew to prove my worth. I still don't do it professionally, but I have been asked...
09-06-2010, 06:13 PM   #3
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09-06-2010, 06:21 PM   #4
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I'm not a pro, but I'd think the fastest way to get in the loop would be an internship/apprenticeship with a pro. I'm sure people good at self promotion can find their way around on their own, but something tells me you're not one of those people (else you wouldn't be asking people here how you can self promote :-). At least, that's what I would've done had I wanted to go into that world.

09-06-2010, 06:29 PM   #5
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QuoteOriginally posted by ChrisOBrien Quote
but most seem to want at least 1-2 years professional experience as well as an extensive setup (2 bodies, pro glass, etc).
i'm not exactly a pro, but I have done a few fashion shoots and comissioned stuff.

2 bodies and pro glass is essential, I don't really know how you could shoot without it- you don't exactly need a full line up of pro glass, just one lens to cover the range- something like the 50-135 or tamron 28-75 would do nicely and give 'pro results', and maybe a 50mm 1.4 on another body to get some shots the other lens can't
although i'm sure you know already that lighting is more important than lenses as any lens will sharpen up at f11 so if you have strong lights/flash you can shoot at small apertures
although 'pro' standard equipment is mostly physchological- people take 'big lenses' seriously, to a client a massive lens looks more professional than a da LTD.

So invest in lighting, if you're working with clients I guess you have to have the real deal- but if you're just shooting stuff for your own portfolio then do everything DIY, make ringflashes out of pizza boxes, hold things together with parcel tape- but keep that away from the paying clients


and lie, just say you've got 2 years experience- technically that isn't a lie, you've been shooting for more than 2 years, so just twist the truth a little, get your foot in the door- your results and your portfolio will get you the job, the '2 year rule' is just the time it takes to really learn about photography and more importantly to learn your equipment inside out
09-06-2010, 06:31 PM   #6
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QuoteOriginally posted by RawheaD Quote
I'm not a pro, but I'd think the fastest way to get in the loop would be an internship/apprenticeship with a pro. I'm sure people good at self promotion can find their way around on their own, but something tells me you're not one of those people (else you wouldn't be asking people here how you can self promote :-). At least, that's what I would've done had I wanted to go into that world.
Here in Edmonton, whenever you post a Craiglist request to be an apprentice, you get tonnes of photographers discouraging you. I think it is mainly because they don't want more competition. So you literally get no help at all.

The other option is be a wedding crasher and build your portfolio that way. Another technique I've seen used is to do weddings for free (as a second hired-for-free photographer), but the customer would have to "buy" photos from you. So if you suck, they won't buy anything. If you are good, they buy a lot!
09-06-2010, 07:17 PM   #7
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QuoteOriginally posted by clark Quote
i'm not exactly a pro, but I have done a few fashion shoots and comissioned stuff.

2 bodies and pro glass is essential, I don't really know how you could shoot without it- you don't exactly need a full line up of pro glass, just one lens to cover the range- something like the 50-135 or tamron 28-75 would do nicely and give 'pro results', and maybe a 50mm 1.4 on another body to get some shots the other lens can't
although i'm sure you know already that lighting is more important than lenses as any lens will sharpen up at f11 so if you have strong lights/flash you can shoot at small apertures
although 'pro' standard equipment is mostly physchological- people take 'big lenses' seriously, to a client a massive lens looks more professional than a da LTD.

So invest in lighting, if you're working with clients I guess you have to have the real deal- but if you're just shooting stuff for your own portfolio then do everything DIY, make ringflashes out of pizza boxes, hold things together with parcel tape- but keep that away from the paying clients


and lie, just say you've got 2 years experience- technically that isn't a lie, you've been shooting for more than 2 years, so just twist the truth a little, get your foot in the door- your results and your portfolio will get you the job, the '2 year rule' is just the time it takes to really learn about photography and more importantly to learn your equipment inside out
Thanks for the input. I'm actually looking to invest in a 17-70 f4 DA SMC sometime in the very near future. It's not as fast as "pro" glass, but it will certainly be an upgrade to my kit lens and give me a bit more zoom.
QuoteOriginally posted by innershell Quote
Build an online portfolio. Show people what you can do, and then they might ignore your gear. Some customers ask to see the photographer's gear, but for my wedding, I asked to see his portfolio. My photographer is fully booked, and he dumps any client that asks to see his gear. To be honest, his setup looked pretty ghetto, but his pictures showcase his talents.

When I was planning to go pro, I decided "crash" popular churches where weddings were held. If you dress nicely, nobody will stop you as you enter the hall with nice gear. Snap some pics and post it on your portfolio. You do whatever it takes...

I apologize if this is bad advice, but this was the only way I knew to prove my worth. I still don't do it professionally, but I have been asked...
Thanks! That's an excellent idea. And I have two very popular churches that are a five minute walk away! I might have to break at the old graduation suit in the near future

QuoteOriginally posted by innershell Quote
Here in Edmonton, whenever you post a Craiglist request to be an apprentice, you get tonnes of photographers discouraging you. I think it is mainly because they don't want more competition. So you literally get no help at all.

The other option is be a wedding crasher and build your portfolio that way. Another technique I've seen used is to do weddings for free (as a second hired-for-free photographer), but the customer would have to "buy" photos from you. So if you suck, they won't buy anything. If you are good, they buy a lot!
That's not a bad idea either! If worse comes to worse, they just don't buy from me, and I still get the experience



On a side note, is anybody familiar with the website Zenfolio? Perhaps I'm getting a little ahead of myself, but I like how simple they make it to sell prints.
09-06-2010, 07:29 PM   #8
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QuoteOriginally posted by ChrisOBrien Quote
On a side note, is anybody familiar with the website Zenfolio? Perhaps I'm getting a little ahead of myself, but I like how simple they make it to sell prints.
Personally, I've been more impressed with Smugmug. I think it looks more professional and I know lots of wedding photographers that use Smugmug.

I think they all work in the end.

09-06-2010, 07:43 PM   #9
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QuoteOriginally posted by ChrisOBrien Quote
Thanks for the input. I'm actually looking to invest in a 17-70 f4 DA SMC sometime in the very near future. It's not as fast as "pro" glass, but it will certainly be an upgrade to my kit lens and give me a bit more zoom.
I strongly suggest f2.8 glass, not just for the low light ability but for the OOF rendering


17-70 is a great walk around/landscape lens- but 17mm is very wide and I doubt you'll use that width it for pro work, people look distorted, and it's difficult to get a good composition with such a wide angle
but by all means get the 17-70 if you want to use it as an everyday lens too



here's another tip, location scout- even for portrait work a good location will raise the shots impact, so find somewhere with good diffused lighting and an interesting backdrop, get there at magic hour and shoot some portraits of your friends and family



i think personally set up as many portfolio accounts as you can, get your name out there, decide which one you like and use that as your main portfolio and use flickr as a critique board or something
09-06-2010, 08:08 PM   #10
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Thanks a bunch Clark! Perhaps it would be worth investing the extra $100 into a Sigma 24-70 f2.8 EX DG.
09-06-2010, 08:47 PM   #11
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Consider these ideas

Hi Chris,
There are a lot of disciplined activities you can initiate that will help you with your desired career.
You are going to have to work on multiple fronts, and be flexible. And it's going to cost more money than you probably want to spend, but that's photography.
You've gotten some good advice; some of mine will be redundant, some will not.

First an online presence can help if you foster the perception of an aspiring professional. That usually means an easy-to-navigate site with low-key graphic presentation. Smugmug or Zenfolio are both good. I prefer the former, they are more flexible in their page setup, and have been around long enough so that many working photographers have heard of them.
I would network around your college for a graphic artist who wants to build a portfolio and let him/her design your logo and site. You can trade services. It should be pretty easy as Smugmug has many building blocks you can weave together fast. In your presentation, be true to yourself and try not to be someone you are not.

Secondly, weddings, and sports imply different equipment and skills sets to some extent. That can be expensive if you quickly discover you don't like one or both types of gigs. I would suggest you limit your initial shooting scope to material you already have an interest in, or some expertise in.
If you played a lot of baseball or soccer, then shooting those events may be beneficial because you already are capable of anticipating much of the action. If you are hip to certain products or fashions, then photograph those. This advice applies to anything from PJ to technical photography.

Thirdly--very important--network with the working photographers who could benefit you. Perhaps the local chapter of the ASMP has a student-level membership. Go to meetings. Listen. Be seen. Ask smart questions. Be yourself.
The second network group I would recommend you ferret out is the more informal, semi-social, better-than-a-camera-club group of photographic artists, and wannabees. Usually you will learn a lot and make some friends. Especially pay attention to the older folks who really do know everyone and everything. Contact local arts groups, galleries that show photographs, your profs, etc to find out how to reach these folks.

Fourth--be useful. Develop expertise in some technique, tool, software etc and help those above folks solve problems. A lot of older working photographers are struggling with the transition to digital. They like the idea of Lightroom, but need help with a digital workflow. Most everyone is frustrated and befuddled by color management. This will generate goodwill and respect for your talents damn fast.

Fifth--don't get religious about your equipment. They are just tools to make you money and sometimes create art. If you go the sports route, ditch the Pentax gear and go with one of the big two.
If you do events, get fast 2.8 zooms and a 1.4 prime and some serious lighting. Pentax high-end gear (not the f4 lens you called out) will do, but your skills will be tested without shooting FF.

Sixth-work with non-profits as a volunteer to build up your book and make connections. Consider the fire department. My friend turned a volunteer shooting gig there into a steady part-time one with an equipment budget and travel. Little league may be good, but remember these are kids and because the parents don't know you there may be challenges--including legal release ones.

Time for bed. Hope this helps.

M
09-06-2010, 09:28 PM   #12
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QuoteOriginally posted by ChrisOBrien Quote
On a side note, is anybody familiar with the website Zenfolio? Perhaps I'm getting a little ahead of myself, but I like how simple they make it to sell prints.
I've been with Zenfolio for two years and really like them.

As others have noted, network, network, network. Offer to shoot for friends, neighbors, strangers, and build a portfolio. Shoot, shoot, and shoot some more.

Good luck!
09-07-2010, 07:04 AM   #13
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I don't shoot professionally but have done a few paid shoots here and there, and a lot of the advice on this thread is quite good and valid, but there seems be the other side of being a 'professional' photographer that hasn't been covered yet: the business side. This is especially true if you have to work for yourself in your own business, which seems to be the general trend, as opposed to shooting for an agency or studio or a company. If you want photography to be your main source of income, then you've got to have a fair grasp of all the boring, non-photography aspects of being a photographer. This includes legal paperwork, contracts, model releases, promoting and marketing yourself, gear insurance, public liability insurance, invoicing, etc, etc. This is all on top of being competent at actually taking the photos.

This stuff might be getting ahead of yourself, but it is definitely something you'll have to think about if you do want to end up choosing being a photographer as your career path.

Best of luck
09-07-2010, 08:52 AM - 1 Like   #14
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QuoteOriginally posted by ChrisOBrien Quote
Thanks! That's an excellent idea. And I have two very popular churches that are a five minute walk away! I might have to break at the old graduation suit in the near future
DO NOT do this. If you want to be taken seriously as a professional, you do not crash weddings.

It gives all of us a bad name and when you are caught you will not likely be able to shoot in that church for real when you have a legitimate wedding to shoot.

Plus, you'll make it that much harder for other pros in your area to shoot without having restrictions placed on them because you did something stupid.

If you want to get experience shooting weddings, look through Craigslist and offer up your services. There are plenty of people looking for cheap photogs who are on a budget.
09-07-2010, 10:39 AM   #15
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QuoteOriginally posted by pop4 Quote
I don't shoot professionally but have done a few paid shoots here and there, and a lot of the advice on this thread is quite good and valid, but there seems be the other side of being a 'professional' photographer that hasn't been covered yet: the business side. This is especially true if you have to work for yourself in your own business, which seems to be the general trend, as opposed to shooting for an agency or studio or a company. If you want photography to be your main source of income, then you've got to have a fair grasp of all the boring, non-photography aspects of being a photographer. This includes legal paperwork, contracts, model releases, promoting and marketing yourself, gear insurance, public liability insurance, invoicing, etc, etc. This is all on top of being competent at actually taking the photos.

This stuff might be getting ahead of yourself, but it is definitely something you'll have to think about if you do want to end up choosing being a photographer as your career path.

Best of luck
Thanks! I'm not quite as worried about the business side to be honest. I have no intentions of making photography my career (I'm majoring in Human Biology), but it is something I'd like pursue now while I'm young, and hopefully something I'll be able to continue doing on the side after graduation. My biggest question was exactly how to get started, but it seems like everyone has answered that question for me.. network!

Also, that's another reason why I'd use a site like Zenfolio or Smugmug, for around 10% of the profit they will receive, print, and ship the order as well as take care of any customer service. Perhaps way in the future I would prefer taking care of the printing or customer service myself, but for a way to break into the field, it seems like a pretty good deal!
QuoteOriginally posted by alohadave Quote
DO NOT do this. If you want to be taken seriously as a professional, you do not crash weddings.

It gives all of us a bad name and when you are caught you will not likely be able to shoot in that church for real when you have a legitimate wedding to shoot.

Plus, you'll make it that much harder for other pros in your area to shoot without having restrictions placed on them because you did something stupid.

If you want to get experience shooting weddings, look through Craigslist and offer up your services. There are plenty of people looking for cheap photogs who are on a budget.
Wow, I didn't even think of it like that. Thanks for keeping my head on straight, Dave!
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