"I have a camera and I want to become a photographer. Where do I start?"

"What gear should I buy? What should I charge? How will I know when I'm ready to take on clients?"

I see these questions over and over. In various photography groups I'm in. In private messages. In classes I take... And I usually type out a HUGE response, then inevitably delete it. Because I'm never sure people will listen. (Would I have listened when I got my first camera 10 years ago?).

So here are a few of my suggestions for photographers who are just getting started, from a photographer who is still growing herself. In no way do I want this to be discouraging- I just want to offer some insight that might help you honestly assess if you're truly ready to take on paid clients. (And I'm throwing in a few of my before/after shots just for kicks and giggles!)

Shoot. Shoot. Shoot. And shoot some more. Learn how to shoot in manual. Shoot until you can read the different lighting scenarios. Shoot until adjusting your settings in-camera becomes instinct. Shoot until you know how to nail focus. Shoot until you can picture the final image in your head while you're composing it. Shoot until you don't have to rely on Lightroom or Photoshop to correct your mistakes (Editing software should be used to enhance your images- not to correct photos that have been poorly shot.). Do you know the difference between RAW and JPEG?

Grab models. Practice posing them. Practice shooting them in different lighting conditions. Learn how to interact with them so they relax in front of the camera.

I'm in the middle of a Project 365 (for more info on that, check out this blog post) and it's been one of the BEST things I've done for my growth as a photographer in years! I HIGHLY recommend a daily shooting project to anyone wanting to hone their craft.

Edit. Edit. Edit. Until your colors and exposures are correct. Until you've learned your editing style. Until your processed images have a consistent look and feel to them. Until you have developed a style and voice. This has been an ever-evolving journey for me and one I'm nowhere close to completing it, but I'm MUCH closer than I was when I started.

Don't worry about your gear until you've mastered the basic knowledge of photography. A $3000 camera isn't going to help you if you can't read the lighting or compose correctly. You can learn as much about light, composition, and "seeing" your shot with a $300 camera as you can with a $3000 camera.

I remember one of my proudest photography moments was when I was in the middle of a class with my little entry-level DSLR, and the instructor walked up to me and said "You've outgrown that camera, Sis." When your photography skills are pushing the limits of what your camera can do, THEN consider the upgrade.

Don't take on jobs you aren't ready for. Weddings. Births. Events... These are all milestones that your clients can't redo. Don't be scared to shoot these sessions if you have the ability, but PLEASE don't commit to shooting them unless you truly feel you are ready for them.

This was one of the most painful lessons for me to learn. As a newbie photographer, I was saying "Yes" to any and every client that approached me, and I found myself in waaaay over my head with a session that I was absolutely not skilled enough to shoot. The photos were terrible, the clients were angry, and I was devastated when it was over. (It's been almost ten years and I STILL want to cry when I relive that fiasco) It was months before I picked up a camera again and this time around, I was a lot more intentional. (And much more humble. Haha.) I took classes. I went back to the beginning and tried to master the basics. I took my time before I started saying yes to clients again.

With that being said, I wholeheartedly encourage you, as a beginner, to shoot as many families, couples, kids, etc that you can get in front of your camera. Create a model call and set the expectation early on that you are still learning, but shoot the heck out of those sessions that aren't "once in a lifetimes"!! (And don't feel bad about charging them a small, reasonable session fee- even if you are still learning! Your time is worth something and they'll have some great snapshots in return!)

Embrace constructive criticism. Find photography friends you trust who are eager to grow together. Find a mentor. As you are developing a shooting style, don't be afraid to ask for advice. I still frequently reach out to friends that I trust in the industry and ask for critique on sessions that I'm struggling with or business ideas that I'm toying around with. Community over competition. EVERY.DARN.TIME.

When you feel ready to start taking paid clients, be ready for business. Take a business class. Decide how your business will be structured. Set up a business checking account. Learn about contracts. Learn about model releases. GET LIABILITY INSURANCE. Get insurance for your gear. Get set up to take online payments. How will you deliver your galleries? I could go on and on... But seriously. Take a class that will help prepare you to truly run a business. (This class was a game changer for me- I wish I'd taken it sooner!)

If you are a new photographer and you have questions, please feel free to message me! I love chatting about all things photography!!!

Now enjoy a few of my "then and now" photos. Haha!