Home How-To Tip Of The Week Are You Ready To Go Pro?—06/06/11
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Monday, June 6, 2011

Are You Ready To Go Pro?—06/06/11

Selling yourself as a photographer requires more than just a camera

This Article Features Photo Zoom

Accepting assignments is a big step in a photographer's life. When you buy a DSLR and crank out a web site, you look like a lot of professional photographers out there. But do you really know what real professionals know? If not, you may not be ready to trade pictures for cash. Here's how to know when you're ready to sell your services, and what to do about it if you're not.

Confidence
Taking someone's hard-earned money in exchange for pictures is a big responsibility. If you don't know what you're doing, you could damage your credibility, ruin a friendship or even bankrupt your budding business. If you don't feel entirely comfortable exchanging your skills for money, you may not be ready. When you feel confident that you know you'll nail the shot and please your client, you're well on your way. If you're still suffering from novice jitters, that's okay: Just let your customer know that you're new and you're still getting the hang of things. As long as you're honest and up-front, nobody's going to get burned. If your confidence is wavering, consider more practice. A number of shoots under your belt will make shooting confidently second nature.

Professionalism.
Did you sleep through a scheduled midday photo session? Did you forget your lens, battery, or CF card at home? If any of these things happen to you, your client may not be too happy with your lack of professionalism. They'll probably look elsewhere for a new photographer. Before you risk damaging your credibility, be sure you're on time for shoots with the necessary equipment on hand. If you're not up to the challenge, be up front with your client so expectations are tempered. If you really want to behave like a professional, make sure you've got vital gear backups and you're early and prepared for every shoot.

Shooting and Lighting Skills
Nobody expects a newbie to be perfect on day one, but if you're in over your head and have never done something before, think twice before you accept a job out of your area of expertise. If nothing else, practice ahead of time so that you can deliver what your customer expects in a timely and professional manner and keep the shoot moving smoothly and efficiently. If you lose your subject's trust early in a shoot, good luck getting it back. Hone your skills ahead of time with practice, by attending seminars that teach you best practices and techniques, and by knowing your camera and lighting gear inside and out.

Keep Postproduction In Perspective
It's easy to get burned in a cycle of never-ending postproduction, particularly if you aren't a computer wizard. Before you sell someone a portrait package in which they're going to be isolated on a white background, for instance, it would be helpful if you really knew how to isolate them on a white background. Lighting and shooting play a big part in this, but even worse is when a photographer tries to cover up a lack of shooting skills in the computer. If you find yourself working to fix a lot of things in the computer, practice more in order to get it right in camera. If your post-production skills aren't great either, you're in a double bind as you've got something else to learn. Thankfully there's no shortage of Photoshop training books and programs out there.

Perfect Your Printing
Prints have long been a revenue stream for professional photographers. These days your customers are used to ordering their own pictures online for as little as a few cents each. If you plan to charge exponentially more than that—as you should for a great print—then you need to do an exponentially better job. I recently saw a selection of portrait prints, professionally made in a legitimate photo lab, and I wondered how the photographer—someone who had taken money from an unsuspecting customer—could have made such mistakes in the images. Instead of cropping to make proportions fit new print sizes, the photographer simply squished and stretched the images until they fit. Talk about a way to lose a client. If you don't have the basics down, you probably shouldn't be selling expensive prints—especially if your customer could do it better themselves. If you want to make great prints, rely on a great lab to help you with its expertise, and make sure you've got the post-production skills to prep the images for printing.

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