When you read the title of this post, what was your first thought?
Did you think “better photographer” meant learning how to use your camera more effectively?
Did you think “better photographer” meant taking better photographs?
Did you think “better photographer” meant building a stronger, more successful business?
In reality, it can mean all of this and more. Photography has so many facets; each one you delve into can take years to learn and perfect.
Yet if you had to sum it up in 10 steps, what would they be? As I thought more about it and looked back over the past 20 years I’ve been a photographer, I realized I didn’t just look at it from a “taking pictures” angle. To me, being a better photographer also means building the business. And since that is the purpose of this blog, I thought I would divide it into 10 steps.
Know Your Subject
What is your area of expertise? What do you want to photograph from this point forward? People will photograph differently than landscapes. Models will photograph differently than a product or still life. Yet they all have their own unique qualities and can be made to look average … or the best they’ve ever looked. Whatever your choice of photography niche, study it and understand how to make your images that absolute best they can be.
When you pick up the camera, do you know exactly what to look for, how to frame it, and how it will look as a final image? Do you see it in your mind before you ever snap the image? Or do you approach it from the “spray and pray” methodology, knowing you’ll have at least one good look somewhere in there? Composition is everything in the world of photograph, even though its seemed to lose some of its true value in the digital world. Yet if you can “see” it first and shoot it second, I guarantee you’ll have a much better image … and a much better portfolio over all.
Know Your Equipment
Your camera is your best friend in this business. The more you understand it, the better your images will be. Know how to adjust shutter speed, ISO, F-Stop and white balance. Be able to use the special shooting options in the correct way. Learn what lenses work best for your photography situations. Understand how to prolong the life of your equipment. And understand how it works in all situations. When the camera becomes an extension of who you are and you can use it without thinking, you’ve mastered it.
Where will you primarily be photographing? If its in the studio, creating the perfect lighting is easy. Use lights, umbrellas, soft boxes, gobos, reflectors and mist machines – anything you can to get the perfect quality of light for your subject matter. When you head outside, study lighting from a natural perspective. Yes, you can use fill flash to make your images pop. But also learn to watch how and where light falls to create truly dramatic images without the necessity of external flash. And when you go on location, use a hybrid of the two to create the best light for your situation.
Dig Deeper: The Quality Of Light Will Increase Your Sales
Recognize The Moment
To me, this is the one area that separates amateurs and professionals. A professional can “feel” when the right image is about to occur. Yes, they may shoot a handful of images to make sure they capture it perfectly. But they are ready for it. They’ve anticipated the perfect situation and know when something is about to happen. They watch for signs, are set up and waiting rather than running to catch up. They may even have a hand in setting up the magic to allow the image to occur naturally.
Practice, Practice, Practice
Mistakes may be the best way to get better at what you do. Head out into the field and make a ton of mistakes. Along with those mistakes you’ll occasionally see something great. Ask yourself what made that image great. Then try and recreate it – without all of the “mistakes”. Over time, you’ll begin to see more “wow” and less “mistakes”. But even as a seasoned professional, try something new and be willing to learn from your new mistakes. Never, never be afraid to make those mistakes.
Invest In Your Education
I easily read 1 or 2 books per week, along with multiple ezines, magazines and other learning sources. Even if you just added up the books I read, you would come up with a grand total of 52 books per year. Over a 20 year career, that would equal 1040 books I’ve read as I’ve grown my businesses. Add in it all the seminars I’ve attended and the amount of information I’ve accumulated is truly amazing. Yet each piece is of value. Some books I read again and again every year. And I always learn something new because I’m in a different time and place with my business and my life. One piece of information can literally turn yourself and your business around, pointing in you in a new direction. If you want to change your life, change your education habits.
Dig Deeper: What It Takes To Maintain Success
Know Your Clients
Who is your perfect client? If you say anyone breathing, its time to rethink your target. The more you can define who they are, what they look like, what they enjoy, and why they are great clients for you, the better your business will be. In this “flat” world, its no longer important to define your ideal client as someone living within 10 miles of you. If you can define them in a detailed way, you can easily find them all over the world.
Marketing and sales may be your least favorite things to do. Yet they are what defines your business and your success. Marketing is what you use to let potential clients know you exist. Once they know you exist, an effective marketing system will bring them in and convert them into quality, paying customers. Without learning and mastering these skills, you will never have the business of your dreams.
“I would rather be a poor, starving artist than feel l overcharged for my work.” Have you ever said something along those lines? I’ve dealt with many clients over the years that have those beliefs. Why? Why can’t you love what you do AND make a great living at it too? One of the reasons I created my most popular program – Pricing Your Photography – is because I learned a long time ago you can do both. Doctors make great money. Business owners make great money. And so to should a photographer. But you have to know how much to charge, what to consider and how to design your pricing structure in order to make it all work.
Dig Deeper: Is Your Photography Business A Mac or a PC?