When you’re experiencing something for the first time, everything seems so new, exciting, and promising. I remember coming across the first wedding photographer’s blog I ever discovered and realizing there was this glimmering world of creative entrepreneurship that I hadn’t even known existed. I quickly became obsessed with starting my business, growing my client base, and checking off all the boxes on my “photography dreams” bucket list. The ULTIMATE dream was to do this business full-time, and that happened so quickly and unexpectedly that some days I’m still questioning if this is my real life.

It’s amazing working for yourself, but it also requires an insane amount of dedication, initiative, and responsibility. You have to be prepared for each day’s obstacles and mistakes, and plan for both the best and the worst. It’s both a thrilling and incredibly challenging venture, so here are three tips for that photographer who’s thinking they might want to do this thing and chase their dreams of being a full-time creative!

1) Make your business official. Choose a name (I would recommend your own name, because branding yourself as an integral part of your client experience is invaluable), set up your social media accounts under that name (Facebook page, Instagram account, etc.) and register as an LLC. It’s an online process that takes less than an hour and costs $100 up front and $50 per year after. Becoming an LLC separates your personal assets from your business assets (I would highly recommend opening up a business back account to separate your funds) and protects your personal assets like your car, your house, your emergency savings account, etc. in case you were to ever end up in a legal battle regarding your business. Anything can happen and it’s best to be prepared and to protect yourself in every way that you can. Equipment insurance, liability insurance, and indemnification trust are all ways you can keep yourself covered in case the worst happens!

2) Invest in several solid pieces of equipment and learn the in’s and out’s of your camera. You don’t need an expensive full-frame camera body when you’re just starting out. My first DSLR was a Nikon D70s (which I’m pretty sure you can buy used for $150 – seriously). I then upgraded to a Nikon D300s ($1,600) for about a year before making the switch to Canon’s 5D Mark III ($3,000). I built my business for years and worked with dozens of clients before purchasing the Mark III. My point is, you don’t need to have the latest and greatest to take amazing photos. In most circumstances, it’s actually much more dependent on the lens. Here’s the craziest story that’s kind of embarrassing to tell! When I was shopping around for that second camera body, I made my decision based on how “blurry” the backgrounds in the sample photos were. You know what I’m talking about, right? The beautiful creamy background behind the subject that makes the photo “pop.” Well, that’s not dependent on your camera body at all!!! That’s all in the aperture, which is determined by how you change your camera settings and how wide your lens can go! The 50mm 1.8 or 35mm 1.8 are GREAT lenses to start out with in portraiture as opposed to lenses that only have an f stop of 3.5 or 4.0. You will be blown away by what a difference it makes having a f/1.8 portrait lens on your camera as opposed to the kit lens! I bought the 35mm 1.8 in 2010 and then didn’t purchase the 50mm 1.8 until 2 years later. Both lenses are only a couple of hundred dollars and are so worth the investment. Once you get those lenses, learn how to shoot in manual (programming your camera’s settings by hand) that you can get the most out of those wide apertures! Shooting in manual was a GAME CHANGER for me and it will be for you, too.

3) Go out and take pictures for free. This shouldn’t be anything revolutionary, because you’re probably already taking tons of photos for free, but the best thing you can do is get your name out there with as many people as possible so that you’re the first that comes to mind when they think “photographer.” Shoot your friends’ senior photos. Have an outing where you all just hang out in a park and just have fun taking photos. Experiment with your editing to discover what feels the most “you,” but try to keep all of your edits relatively clean so that they don’t look so far from real life that you’ll be wincing a few months down the road as you look back on your work. (Sadly, most of us have been there… so I have to try to prevent you from making the same mistake! Haha!) Take your camera with you whenever you’re heading out for a day (or night!) on the town and just have fun. Then come home and SHARE those pictures!! Whether it’s through a blog or your personal Facebook page, tag your friends and experiment with hashtags to reach a larger audience. You never know who might see one of your images, so make it as simple for people to contact you as possible! If you don’t have a website, list your email address in your bio (and make it a professional one). You might be surprised by who you hear from!

Now, of course, this isn’t the recipe for becoming a full-time photographer… it’s just a list of several steps you can take to get yourself closer to that dream. And if your dream is just to be a part-time photographer on the side, that’s amazing too! You’ll likely have more dispensable income to spend on your business and that’s great!! :) Whatever you do, stay inspired and remember why you love photography. I remind myself of that before every single shoot or wedding I go to and it’s what gets me through the most challenging of times. Being a creative is incredibly fun, but it’s also a ton of hard work when you’re being asked to produce your art in a consistent, professional, and profitable way. It’s been one of the greatest adventures of my lifetime and one I know I’ll never forget. Here’s to dreaming big for 2016, and to turning our passions into profitable ventures!

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