Tips for the Aspiring Photographer – Birmingham, Alabama Portrait Photographer

I get frequent emails from people thinking of starting a photography business asking for advice. It’s hard to narrow down everything I wish knew when I started my business into one email, but I thought I would touch on a few points in a blog post. This does not nearly cover all it takes to start up and run a successful photography business, but hopefully it can get you headed in the right direction. Many things I learned from research, asking questions or just trial and error. This is not meant to be a preachy post at all. A lot of this information is stuff I learned the hard way. Hopefully it will help make the road a little easier for you!

Learn Your Craft:
It is so important to have a solid foundation of the technical side of photography before you open a business or take on paying customers. Once business takes off, you will not have the spare time to learn. Take time to be completely comfortable with your camera before you have someone paying you. You do not want to be worrying about camera settings during a shoot, it should be second nature. There are so many things to be thinking about during a shoot: background, foreground, composition, lighting, posing, exposure, depth of field, shutter speed, ISO, etc. These things need to be intuitive. Practice on friends and family for free. There will come a day where you are comfortable and feel like you are in complete control of your camera. That is when you can begin to think about starting a business.

So since you need to know you craft, here are some great places to start. Check and see if your local university has courses or if there is a private photography school in your area. I learned a lot from magazines, books and online forums after taking courses at our local university. There is also many online training courses such as or even YouTube. Creative Live offers free webinars that are fantastic from some of the best photographers in the business. Photographer workshops can be a great way to learn as well, but most are geared to those already with a good grasp of the technical.

A Facebook Fan Page Does Not a Photographer Make:
I saw this quote on another photographer’s status the other day and it is so true. Anyone can create a fan page or buy a website template this day with little to no investment. Having a website or fan page, does not create a business. You need to pay sales tax, income tax, have a business license, and understand how to price for profit and run a small business. Professional Photographer magazine and PPA are wonderful resources to help figure out the business end of photography. (PPA offers great webinars as well.) It’s also very important that you maintain a high level of customer service. Have deadlines for delivering proofs and products and stick to it! Return emails and phone calls within 24 hours. Don’t take on so much that your customer service suffers. I highly recommend taking a business course as well. You will soon find out that very little of being a professional photographer is photography. You want to make money doing what you love, right? Don’t let lack of business skills kill your dream job!

Good equipment is very important, but not if it means going in debt. Photography is VERY expensive. Choose your equipment wisely and don’t just buy the latest new toy. Having a good camera body is not as important as good lenses. Glass lenses are the best quality and sharpest. Prime or fixed focal length lenses tend to be the sharpest of all. Decide what kind of photographer you are when selecting lenses. Do you like to get in close to the subject or stay far away. Do you like the look of a compressed image from a telephoto or do you like the distortion from a wide angle. Typically lenses 70mm and farther are more flattering for portraits, but that can also be a personal preference. Invest in good glass.

Stay Organized:
Create a smooth and routine workflow. Make sure to back up all of your images immediately and in more than one place. There are many options for backing up media, for example, Time Machine for Mac that does it automatically for you. Drobos and RAID systems are great options for backing up as well. I highly recommend using Adobe Lightroom to process your images.  Photoshop actions can be fun and bring a unique look to an image, but they can also be time suckers. Every minute you spend on the computer is costing you money and time you could be spending with friends or family.

Keep Growing:
One of the best pieces of advice I got when I was first learning the art of photography was: “Never let yourself plateau.” I really took that to heart. You will come to a point in your growth as a photographer where everything “clicks” and you feel like you have this whole “photography thing” figured out. You will be pleased with the way your images look and think you have it in the bag. Wrong. I have had this moment at times and now look at those images and think, “wow, I have come a long way.” I want to always look at past images and see how I have grown. That is one of the main things I like about photography. There is always more to learn and ways to grow. Push yourself to learn new techniques and skills. Never stop improving.

Elizabeth - August 19, 2011 - 10:24 pm

Very well stated!

David - August 21, 2011 - 11:36 pm

Thanks Ashley, great advice. Are you offering any workshops in the near future?

If I may add a couple points, some pro labs also offer webinars that are a great way to learn. I’ve taken some from Millers. Rangefinder and After Capture are magazines that are full of great advice and articles from pros.

I’ve got several good books on photoshop, but have yet to really spend the time necessary to learn the program. Some of my fab portrait and wedding photographers use the creative actions from Kubota and others to get those wonderful shots full of feeling. Ashley Warren, Amelia Lyon, Heather Bookout, Amber Stricklin. Outstanding artists in photography that wasn’t really the case several years ago. What inspiration you are!

katie - August 23, 2011 - 3:35 pm

Great post! I have been spending every free moment I can get(which is not often) reading articles and watching “how to” videos on the things you mentioned above…background, foreground, composition, lighting, posing, exposure, depth of field, shutter speed, ISO, etc. It’s not easy and it definitely takes longer(for me anyway) since I am basically teaching myself and taking whatever free online classes I can. I continue to struggle with lighting and editing. And since I work full time and have a toddler to chase after, finding the time to work on those areas is challenging but i’m planning to sign up for a photoshop class at Auburn in September and take an online class for lightroom. Recently I had a friend ask me if I could take some photos of her younger sister about to start HS who wanted some fun photos with her friends. The weather was horrible and it was overcast but for about 30 minutes, we had some decent light and made the best of it. Of course when I came home and reviewed the photos I found things I should have done differently (used a reflector for one thing), but I just used it as a learning experience for the next time. Anyway, her friends on FB saw the photos, loved them, and have been e-mailing me to schedule a time to have their photos taken as well. Young teens love free photos and I love the experience and positive word of mouth (you never know when you will need it in the future!)Thanks again and sorry for writing a book as a response!

Juan - September 8, 2011 - 11:41 pm

Very nice and spot on! I think is very (VERY!) important for every professional photographer to continue his/her education. The basic theory might be the same but the trends change and it’s just important to always stay up-to-date.

Darnae - August 16, 2013 - 3:44 pm

Great post and insight. I am beginning to research and study the art of photography. Could you explain why digital images are becoming more popular instead of printing and packaging photos?

admin - August 16, 2013 - 8:13 pm

Darnae, I believe we live in a digital world now. I do think we are making BIG mistakes by a) not understanding the value of digital files and many photographers are WAY undercharging and b) those files may be unreadable or lost in a few years. After helping clean up after a tornado, I saw the first thing the victims did was gather photographs. People just don’t realize the value until it’s too late. 🙁

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