9 ways to build your photography business

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For many photographers wanting to create a legitimate business one of the hardest steps is going full time. Making photography the only job you do and committing 100% into making it work can be daunting when you start out. How do you start your photography business? How do you make it into something that works for you and pays?

I still remember starting this business. It took just over 2 years for me to build it to a point where I could stop doing  the Graphic Design work I was doing and commit fully to my photography business. Those were 2 very hectic, busy and full on years and at times I questioned everything. That’s normal! Starting a business is one of the most stressful things you can do and certainly isn’t for the faint hearted or for those who aren’t prepared for hard work and long hours.

There is no magic button to make it an immediate success, but there are things you can do to get you on the right path. You won’t be able to do all of these straight away but if you can make them a priority it will make a difference to your business.

1. Be sociable, make friends and network.

I wrote a post recently about the importance of networking. Its such huge step to building your business name and making connections with others in the your industry. It doesn’t have to be large intimidating groups, you can contact some local suppliers and ask if they want to meet for coffee. If you wait to be invited it isn’t going to happen. If no one knows you are there, they can’t ask you to join them! Get yourself on social media, get chatting, get connecting and start building your community and your network.

2. Don’t be afraid to take risks.

Ok. Easier said than done for many people, but being successful in business means you need to be bold. You need to be a little fearless. Not only do you need to show up for social get togethers but you need to keep pushing yourself creatively as well as on the business side of things. This can be setting up your own styled shoot…reach out to vendors you love and would love to work with. If you have a friend who has recently got married ask to do a shoot with them. Offer a free portrait session so you can practice working with people. Inquire about second shooting with someone you know or who’s work you admire. Submit your work to a magazine or a blog (scary I know, but it’s worth a shot). Maybe you sign up for a workshop that you would love to do even though you can’t quite afford it. Whatever it is you need to take the risks and not be afraid. You will need to do these things eventually so why not sooner than later.

3. Be professional

This is surprisingly simple to do and you do not need to spend a fortune to do it. Being professional from the word go is a mindset, not a budget. You don’t need an expensive website and this is definitely where the saying ‘less is more’ comes into its own. Keep things simple, tasteful and clean. Its the best way to not make mistakes that make you look less than the professional brand you are aiming for.  By all means add elements that reflect your personality, but until you can afford to do things properly by employing someone to help you create a great brand identity it’s safest to keep it simple. Look at how other brands present their work. It’s very easy to find great WordPress templates that don’t cost the earth and give you a professional looking web presence.

How you act and present yourself is equally as important. Be polite, be punctual, be honest. If you have only been in business for a year then tell people. You will only be setting yourself up for a fall if you claim to have more experience than you have and end up not being able to do a job properly. Dress in a way that reflects you and how you want to present yourself as a brand. This is not saying you have to wear a suit (I have never worn a suit in my life), but you do need to remember that what you wear will say something about who you are and what you do. Reply to enquiries swiftly and efficiently, if you take 3-4 days to reply to someone they will probably go elsewhere. Make sure your kit fits what you need it to do. If you have to hire a camera or lenses then do that until you can afford to buy them. I did this a lot in my first year or two of business. Make sure you know your kit, practice, learn and aim to improve with every shoot.

4. Be your own cheerleader

This can be a very hard thing to do. Self-promotion doesn’t come naturally to most. We struggle with self confidence, we worry our work isn’t good enough, we whisper ‘look at me’ from a corner and hope someone might notice. This isn’t going to do anything. You HAVE to start promoting your work. If you don’t no one else will! This is the essence of marketing. It’s not being big headed, it’s not being vein, it’s being a business owner who wants people to see what they produce and create a buzz about their work. Your website, your blog, your social media presence, other blogs and magazines are all ways you can and should be promoting yourself. Not only are these a great way to share what you do, but they are all FREE!

5. Keep learning

The world is your oyster when it comes to continual learning. Online training is a brilliant place to start. There are lots of resources that can help with your learning and filling in the gaps in your knowledge. Workshops offer wonderful opportunities to learn alongside other photographers (which is a lovely way to meet new friends too) and to learn from a person or people who you admire. Many photographers who have been established for a while offer workshops or mentoring. This can really help if you have gaps in your knowledge or just want a bit of a refresh and some new ideas. I still attend 1-2 workshops a year to learn from others and challenge myself creatively. You will never know everything and it’s important to not settle for OK. If you want to do well you have to keep learning. The day you stop learning and stop developing is the day your business stops growing.

6. Keep a check on where your strengths are

What do you really enjoy doing? What are you drawn to? What excites and inspires you? What’s getting people interacting most on social media? What are your clients most complementing you on? This will help you learn where your strength are and where you might look to specialise. If you love working with couples and get a kick out of capturing events then this might lead you more towards photographing weddings. If you are a baby whisperer and love to create beautiful images of newborns then you might be finding your niche with families and little ones. Finding the areas you thrive in will help you to develop your business. There’s nothing wrong with working across a few areas of photography but don’t do something just because you feel you should. Do something because you enjoy it, find it challenging and creative and a joy to do. This will be reflected in the work you produce.

7. Just do it!

An honesty moment here…just do it and don’t have a pity party if it doesn’t all go to plan first time round! There you go. When you look at the photographers who have busy businesses, who shoot wonderful things and seem to have a perfect life don’t for a second think that they woke up one day to all of that. They didn’t. They got there through hard work, long hours, trials and errors and lots of learning. For the first 2-3 years of my business I had a full time business/career as a Graphic Designer as well as starting the photography business. I also had a small child to look after and tried to have some sort of life with my husband. I worked 6-7 days a week most evenings. It wasn’t easy. I missed out on things, my work came first a lot of times, I didn’t have much money to spare, but that was what was needed at the time to keep the momentum going and build the business.

When you feel it’s getting on top of you keep remembering how wonderful it is to be in the position of running your own business. Try not to compare yourself to others. It can be a one way street to self doubt and a fast track to your own pity party. It’s easy to look at someone else and think ‘How do they have that? Why can’t I work there? What have they got that’s so great?’. The minute you start down that route you become so busy focussing on someone else that your own business is forgotten. You are failing to focus on your own strengths, the positive things you have to offer. If things aren’t working the way you want them to then sit down an look at why. What is it that’s missing? If you need to get someone to help then look at getting some 1-2-1 mentoring. Find where the gaps are and work out what you need to do to get yourself back on track.

8. Find your style

This is something that does come with time and with practice, but everyone has a natural style of shooting. Something that comes instinctively. This is what you need to harness. The only way this happens is by taking photos, a lot of photos! Try out different lenses, different angles, different ways of working with light. You will start to see patterns about how you approach an image. Things you like and things you don’t. If you want to learn how to replicate a certain techniques or style then research it and work out how its done. As your skills develop learn to trust your instincts.

9. Get the official bits right

This probably should have been higher in the list as its a pretty important point. When you set up in business you absolutely must make sure it’s done right. Here are a few things to look in to:

• Tax. Make sure you register the business and make sure you pay your tax! If you aren’t sure what you are doing get an accountant to help you.

• Business insurance. This is public & product liability and is a must if you want to work safely.

• Equipment insurance. Make sure you kit (whether owned or hired) is covered should anything go wrong.

• Contracts. For the benefit of you and your clients get a contract in place for every job you work on. Make sure you are covered.

I hope this has been useful and informative. Most of these are tips for the first year or two of business, but they are all things that will help to get you set up in the right way. If you have any other questions just leave a comment below or email me on fiona@fionakellyphotography.com.

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Thanks for popping by

Fiona x

 

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How to capture genuine emotions and natural portraits.

If I had a pound for every person who has told me that they hated having their photo taken I would be a very rich woman! For most people the idea of having their photo taken seems a really alien and uncomfortable experience. I put it down to years of being told to look at the camera and fake a smile. You must remember the horrendous school photos we were all subjected to every year. My son has them now too. All you see from the resulting pictures are forced smiles and stiff poses. All the way from childhood we are told to stand still, look at the camera and smile…’say cheese!’ No wonder people have bad memories of having their photo taken!

This is why I love to capture photos that tell a story. Images that don’t just have the person sitting still and looking at camera. Photographs that capture a little something of the person in them.

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Despite not enjoying having a photo taken, everyone reacts positively and loves photos that capture something of the essence of a moment. An image that shows the real person, not overly posed; a natural reaction.

Capturing that emotion is not straightforward, especially when someone is aware that they are being photographed. Its one thing managing to grab an amazing photo of someone laughing, smiling or even crying, when they aren’t aware that image is being taken. Quite something else when you have a rather camera shy person stood in front of you! This is when its up to you, as the photographer, to gain that persons trust and help them relax in front of the camera.

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Here are some great ways to get those great ‘natural reactions’ with just a little assistance.

1. Reach out to the person & put your camera down for a moment.

I know, the irony isn’t lost, but just think of how much of a wall that camera can be, especially to someone a bit uncomfortable about having a photo taken. Its a great black lump that stops your rather nervous model from seeing your eyes and connecting with you. I’m not suggesting packing the camera away, but lower it a bit every now and again. Have a conversation, ask questions and find out about what makes the person you are photographing tick. Once they trust you and have connected with you a little they will relax. Once they have relaxed you will start to see the real person, and while you are chatting you can start taking a few pictures. The conversation will make them more animated and you can begin to capture some real reactions and show their personality.

This works for couples too. If a couple is a little nervous then get chatting to them. Ask them questions, such as how they met, or what films they enjoy, what restaurants do they like. Anything to get them talking to you and talking to each other. Once they start chatting together you can almost step back and leave them to it. Just making the odd comment here and there will keep them interacting.

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2. Keep taking photos.


Once you have put the person at ease then take the time to take a few more photos than you think you might want or need. As with any new situation, most people take a little while to get into the swing of it so keep taking those shots. Make sure you try a few different angles and crops. Most people have a ‘good side’ or a pose or position that’s more flattering than others so try out some options. Don’t be afraid to give a little direction, after all they can’t see how they look through the camera.

I find a little light direction useful for couples too. Many people get stuck knowing where to put hands or how to stand. They overthink the whole thing and this is when it can all start looking too stiff and awkward. Asking a couple to hold hands, hug or lean against each other is easy and helps them feel safe because they are connecting together. I tend to find a spot with great light, where I want to take the photos, ask the couple to stand together or hug and then once they have relaxed step back a little and give them some space. I always start with photos from further away and then slowly get closer. This allows the people or person to ease themselves into the whole photo shoot. The last thing a nervous person needs is a camera up close and personal on the first shot, it takes a while and some trust to relax for close up portraits.

If things get stuck and you aren’t sure what to do next, go for a walk. Its my go to ‘let’s shake things up a bit’ shot. A bit of movement can help the person or couple relax and give you time to find a new spot or get some new ideas for the next photo.

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3. Have a bit of fun, and be a little silly.

You may find some people leap into the whole ‘photo shoot’ thing quicker than others. One way of figuring out the persons comfort level is to have a little fun and get them to play around with different expressions. Can they be a bit silly, serious, sad or cheeky? (Feel free to join in and help them get into the swing of it!).  For couples maybe you can ask them to play a game where they have to jump from spot to spot without bumping into each other? You could also try some word related games eg. ‘If Tom was an animal, what animal would he be?’. You will be amazed at the reactions and this always gets some laughs and discussions going!

This isn’t the be all or end all, as some people will immediately feel really self conscious, but at the very least they might start giggling at how silly they feel and you have immediately helped them relax and the ice is broken. You don’t need to stick with this for too long, especially if someones clearly not comfortable with it, but it can work well.

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4. What happens in between the ‘shots’ is the key.


These are the times when you can see the real person you are photographing. These moments are the ones that happen right after the shot that the person was waiting for. They relax, they stand or sit the way they would naturally and this can make for wonderful photos that reflect the true personality of your subject. What this means for the photographer is that you should be ready to shoot at all times. Be prepared, anticipate the unplanned and look for those perfect shots that capture your subjects natural reactions. When you are moving from one spot to the other, have your camera ready. Don’t put it away!

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5. Do a bit of homework before the shoot.

Its amazing how much you can find out about someone before the shoot by asking a few simple questions and chatting a little, even over email. The more you can find out before the easier it will be to get a feel for the person you are shooting and what makes them tick. It also means they will feel more comfortable with you as they will get to know you a bit through this process too. This can help you to work out what to say or do that will make them relax and allow you get those fab shots.

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When it comes down to it, there are no hard and fast rules. Nothing is going to guarantee that you get that killer shot that just truly sums up the person or people you are shooting, but you can certainly help things slightly. Be yourself, be friendly and chatty and above all be ready, prepared and constantly watch whats happening because you never know when that perfect shot is going to happen.

Hope you find this helpful. I would love to hear how you get on with your portraits.

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Thanks for popping by

Fiona x

 

When to say ‘no’ in your business.

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It is the eternal struggle of the self employed person. Knowing when you really should say ‘no’ to something. You know the feeling…you have a few bookings, but not enough to fill the diary. You are a little worried that you might not get any more jobs and the enquiries aren’t coming in as fast as you hoped. Then when you do get an enquiry you are SO keen and eager you practically leap on the person and almost without really thinking about it properly, or working out if you are the right fit for the client (and they are the right fit for you) you take on the job. Slowly you start to come to the realisation that it’s not really the kind of job you want to do. Maybe you don’t see fully eye to eye with your client, or their ideas leave you a little cold. Maybe the money they are paying you is less than you wanted (or needed), or maybe you have a niggling feeling that they don’t really value the job you are doing.

Or the other thing that can happen when you don’t learn to say ‘no’ is that you take on too much. This is something I am very guilty of doing! Your are getting the enquiries and the bookings, your diary is full, your time disappears, you are working all hours and eventually you crash and burn. The first year I freelanced as a graphic designer I was busy, happily so. But because I wasn’t used to working for myself and not having a regular income I kept working and working with a slight panic that if I didn’t work I wouldn’t get paid. It was fine for a while, but you know what happened? At the end of that first year I crashed. I got so horrendously ill that I spent two weeks in bed. It was rubbish! It was also a huge lesson learned.

Rest assured, we have ALL been there. There are times for every business owner when we take on jobs that really aren’t the best fit for us. We take on jobs because we worry we won’t have enough work to cover the bills or keep the business going. We take on job because we feel we can’t say no, like we are going to disappoint someone if we do. We take on jobs because we love the thrill of working on something we love to do and figure ‘it will be fine, it’s just one more job, I’ll make the time for it’. When that happens all you end up doing is getting frustrated and exhausted. You don’t look forward to the job. Maybe you can’t put 100% effort into it because you are tired or you just can’t click with the client? Then you get frustrated because you know you aren’t doing the best you can do and you worry that the client isn’t going to be happy. It becomes a vicious circle and it’s not a happy place to be. This is the time you need to learn when to say ‘no’ in your business.

Don’t be afraid to say ‘no’ to a job if you are feeling exhausted and overwhelmed. If you can’t give your all then you aren’t giving the best you can and that isn’t fair to the person who is paying you for a service.

You owe it to yourself to keep fit and healthy so you can give each and every one of your clients 100% and the best experience you can offer. You owe it to your clients, as much as you do to yourself, to know when someone isn’t a good fit for your business. You want to work with people who excite you with their ideas. People who ‘get’ what you do. Someone who can’t wait to work with you and someone you know will love everything you do for them. These are the clients you want and the clients you deserve.

I still remember the first time I said ‘no’ to a client who had some to meet with me. Ok…I wasn’t quite that blunt, but I didn’t take on the job. From the first meeting I had a gut instinct that it wasn’t right. The things they talked about as being important to them didn’t resound with me as much as it should. It was scary and I questioned the decision a few times, but ultimately I knew it was the right thing to do. You HAVE to learn to trust your gut instinct in these situations. If it tells you something doesn’t feel right, it’s generally for a good reason. Don’t be afraid to turn a job down now and again. I’m not suggesting you sit their waiting for that one perfect client and not working at all! That would be business suicide. But you can learn to be a little more selective. Start working out who you want to work with. Who is your ideal client? What do they love? What is it that will make them a perfect fit for you and the style of work you do?

When you know who you want to work with you will learn when to say ‘no’ to those you aren’t right. Nothing beats that feeling of working with a client who you totally connect with. Who is a complete joy to meet with, talk to and create something amazing for.  Why would you want to work with people who you don’t get that feeling about when you could find people who do give you that?

Next time you have an enquiry, ask questions. Find out about them. What do they love? What’s important to them? Do their ideas sit with what you can provide in terms of style and approach? As a photographer, particularly a wedding photographer, it’s so important that you have a connection with your client. It’s a very personal job and being able to put someone at ease takes understanding and a level of trust that you will find hard to get if you haven’t truly connected.

I am by no means perfect at getting the balance right between work and life, but I now know the signs to look out for. I can recognise when I need to slow down a little. I know now when I have to say ‘no’ because I have taken on too much. I also know the people who I love to work with. When I meet with a couple to discuss their wedding I know pretty quickly whether we are a right fit for each other. If we aren’t then that’s ok. It’s much better that they find a photographer who they connect with and it’s better for me to find clients who totally trust me and love the way I work.

Why not make this a challenge for 2016? One step closer to having the kind of business you want, the kind of business you deserve. A step closer to working the way you would like to work and with the people you would like to work with.

Please do let me know how you get on. If you have any challenges or questions do ask.

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Thanks for popping by

Fiona x

The importance of networking

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14 years ago I left my full time job as a graphic designer. I had nothing planned and no work to go to. It wasn’t the best of departures from the company I had been working for. They weren’t the best of employers and by the time I left I was so desperate to get out of there I didn’t even care that I had no job to go to. Prior to this (rather horrible) job I had worked at a two other companies, one of which was Freemans catalogue. Despite the fact this wasn’t the most creative work and they were based in Stockwell (not the nicest area of London) I loved the job. I got to travel the world art directing photo-shoots (pretty awesome) but more than that the creative department was young, dynamic, fun and enthusiastic. We all wanted to make the most of the jobs we had and during that time I made some amazing friends.

Fast forward to those years later and leaving that horrendous job. What did I do on my first day unemployed? I decided I would freelance for a while and so I started calling all the friends I had made from my Freemans days. By this point many of them had moved to different companies and many of them were in rolls that enabled them to bring on freelance staff. Through those friends I got freelance work. Through that work I made more connections and then got more work. For 6 years I freelanced as graphic designer and art director and I didn’t go to one interview. I didn’t apply for one job. All the work I got was from word of mouth and recommendations. From people getting in touch with me to see if I was available to work.

All the work was from my network of colleagues and friends! THIS is the importance of networking.

I am an outgoing person, I am an extrovert and I can cope with being in the scary situation of not knowing people and having to introduce myself and just chat. I can get on with pretty much anyone. I know this is a fortunate characteristic to have when you are in the business of promoting yourself and running your own business. I also know not everyone finds it that easy and for some of you the idea of meeting people you don’t know will make your palms sweaty and give you palpitations!

There are ways to network and ways to get over the scary stuff.  Here are a few pointers that will help.

  1. THINK OF WHAT YOU CAN GIVE TO OTHERS
    This really is one of the most important things to remember when networking. While everyone wants to make their own business a success no one is an island and thinking purely of what YOU can get out of networking will get you nowhere. Why should someone support your business when they don’t know you? When you first start networking with new people think about how you can support them? Can you recommend them for a job? Can you share tweets they put out? Can you share facebook posts they are sharing? Think of the small ways you can say to someone else ‘I think your business is great, I would like to support you.’ By offering your support to their business people will start to see you as someone who is helpful and nice to work with. You will build friendships and good professional relationships based on mutual support. When the time comes they will remember you when they are thinking of who to recommend.
  2. SOCIAL MEDIA IS A GOOD PLACE TO START
    If the idea of hurling yourself into a network event scares the life out of you then you can start networking on social media. When I first set up my photography business I would spend an hour or two every evening on Twitter. I introduced myself to people, I followed people, I chatted, got involved in conversations and then started promoting my business at various weekly tweet up ‘hours’. One that I always enjoy is #weddinghour. This was set up by Lisa Hogg of The Wedding Affair and runs from 9-10pm every Wednesday and is a great place to get your work out there and also to meet and chat with fellow wedding professionals.
    If Facebook is more your think there are a lot of groups that you can join and network in. Search and find ones that are relevant to your business or areas you would be interested in.
  3. NETWORK EVENTS
    At some point it really is necessary to meet up with people. Social media is great, but nothing beats actually chatting to people face to face. Many of the Facebook groups will organise meet ups so why not try attending one of those? Most of the ones have been to are relaxed meet ups in bars or pubs, so nothing too full on. Remember that many of the people going won’t know that many people. If you are a bit nervous about attending on your own, why not suggest meeting up with someone before? Most people would be happier walking into a network event with someone else so don’t feel you can’t ask!
    If the idea of attending a bigger network event still feels out of your comfort zone one way to network in a less scary way is to arrange something yourself with a small number of people. Once you have been chatting to people on social media for a while, why not arrange an afternoon tea or lunch with a small number of those who you have connected with?
  4. ARRANGE 1-2-1’s
    I have to be honest, I quite like network events. Often its a chance to get away from the office, to actually speak to real people (something you need to do when self employed!) and a time to have a good catch up with friends I have made in the industry. The downside of network events is they are often busy, loud and not necessarily the best places for actually chatting business. This is why I also like to do 1-2-1’s with people. This isn’t as formal as it sounds! It’s a chance to catch up with one person who you would love to connect with. It can be a chance to just get to know the other person and their business a little better. Or it can be the chance to talk about ideas you might have that might include their business in one way or another. Think tea & cake or wine & nibbles. Unsure how to approach someone? Try putting together a friendly email, telling them why you like their business, what you do and what you would like to chat to them about. Suggesting a coffee meet up is a great place to start.
  5. STYLED SHOOTS
    A discussion on styled shoots is a whole blog post on it’s own. In fact I could run a workshop about how to do styled shoots (watch this space!). For the sake of keeping this as a bullet point, Ill keep it brief. For those in the wedding industry styled shoots are an amazing way of networking and creating business contacts! Being involved in or organising a styled shoot allows you to work with those in the industry you would love to work with. It gives you the chance to get to know other people in a creative environment, show them how you work and build a great rapport and team feeling. Many of the people in the wedding industry who I love to work with now are people who I have done styled shoots with.

You should see networking as one avenue of your marketing plan. It’s as valid as any other strategy for building your business, creating demand and getting new clients.

Remember…networking is not about selling your business to people, it’s about connecting with others in business who will become your cheerleaders.

I would love to hear your thoughts on networking. What works for you? What do you enjoy doing? Have you any new ideas on networking to build your business? Feel free to share.

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Thanks for popping by.

Fiona x