A while back I was invited to be a guest judge & speaker at Prestige Academy’s end of year photographic exhibition. I had the honour of welcoming guests & sharing some helpful advice to the graduates – I also had to judge the exhibition & select my top 3 winning images.
I thought I’d share my words of advice on my blog for others to read… here goes…
“I’ve been a freelance photographer for since 2011…
I thought I’d start off by sharing some background into how I got into photography.
When I was about 15 years old my grandfather gave me one of his old compact cameras. I always enjoyed taking photos and I’m pretty sure he got tired of me hijacking his camera all the time, so he finally gave in and handed over his silver canon compact camera. I took the camera everywhere I went and captured casual moments, people and landscapes.
After high school, people started telling me that I had a special eye for photography and that I should pursue my passion and make it my career.
1 year after school I enrolled in a 3 year course in photography at Ruth Prowse School of Art. 3 years seems pretty long but it taught me many important things:
In our first year we shot on film and I learned very quickly to set up my frame and take my first shot as if it were my last (as a student, film was so expensive and couldn’t be wasted by simply snapping away!) This helps me impress my clients on set at present by getting the shot fast and not allowing people to wait around while I tested my lighting and took hundreds of unnecessary test shots. Many people book me because I am fast at knowing my lighting immediately and getting the shot quickly. I arrive prepared with different shots in mind and immediately begin shooting towards them. I also learnt to look at the lighting and have a rough idea of what my camera settings need to be before taking my first test shot.
College also taught me to juggle many shoots at once – I am sure you (students) can relate – having so many projects on the go. I remember us complaining saying my lecturer was crazy giving us so many projects but it definitely prepared us for the future when there are deadlines and clients all wanting their imagery as soon as possible.
After leaving college I started my photography business immediately. Many people tend to carry on casually doing what they do and don’t think about their creative service as a business. I set up my business bank account immediately and started marketing myself on all of the social media platforms. I put all the money I made into the business account and paid myself a very small “salary” at the end of every month instead of living on the money I made AS I made it.
Then came the issue of getting clients…
I contacted clothing companies and asked if they’d be interested in giving me a few items to photograph – this was a way of me being able to show them what I can offer as well as practise my photography. I often get people asking for advice on how to obtain clients/contact companies to shoot for them for free as practise… the best advise I can give is to offer them a small preview of what you can do. Offering to shoot their entire range for free would be taking away business from a fellow photographer – no company will turn down free work and I always put myself in the other photographers shoes, wondering if someone offered a free shoot, and I lost my client, how would I feel? SO I offered/asked to photograph about 3 items, this way, you are making a connection with them and one day, should their other photographer be unavailable / maybe they prefer your photographic style, you may just gain a client. I’d also look at websites and pages of start up brands and email them identifying that they needed better pictures… I’d offer one or two outfits to be photographed and then send them my rates along with some images should they ever need photography in the future. Once they saw the professional images, many of them booked me.
I also networked and connected with people in the industry. I worked with an up and coming blogger and although it was mainly unpaid in the beginning we formed a strong business relationship and had an understanding that if any bookings were paid bookings we’d split the money 50/50. Eventually her blog grew and we could then ask clients to pay her rate and my rate separately but it took us at least 4 years to get to the point where we could quote our own rates and they’d be accepted. We went through our ups and downs but throughout the years we were always honest and spoke openly. We always knew how the other was feeling (good OR bad) and we always worked on creating a dream team with a strong business mind! It was great for the both of us to have someone to talk to, run ideas through, inspire each other and motivate each other – thank you Aisha!
Then I hit a catch 22 … I needed to upgrade my camera but I needed a large mount of money to do so. I needed to get bookings to make money to buy the camera but I needed the camera to get the bookings! I brainstormed ideas of how I could possibly raise money without relying on my shoots…. and suddenly I had an idea!! I got my friends together for a karaoke night! I contacted my favourite local bar/restaurant who agreed to my idea as I was providing a guaranteed crowd. I then bought a bunch of karaoke cd’s from a second hand store and invited my friends to join me at the bar on a Saturday evening. A donation of any amount/ small fee of R20 to enter would get them in to my fun karaoke evening and show their support. I was completely overwhelmed by how many of my friends showed up as well as how many donated way more than expected. I am forever grateful to those who attended that night and showed their faith in my business and their support as my friend. I raised more than half the money I needed to buy my second hand full frame camera & lens!!!
Through the years of freelancing I have learnt some important things to remember and I thought I’d share them with you:
- Assist different photographers – everyone has their own creative process and you’ll learn different tips and tricks from everyone.
- Treat every client as if they are your most important client – one day your smallest client may just be your biggest! I once shot for a blogger who was from a small town and had a tiny following on her newly created blog… but now she has worked her way up from an intern, to a magazine editor – who is a really good person to know! Every client is your most important client!
- Invest in your clients – support them just as they support you. Learn information about them before the shoot – what have they done recently, what are their achievements/goals – on set you can show them that you are interested in them and their product and support them. This goes a long way and makes them feel special and as if they are more than just a source of income. Build a relationship & support their business whether it is sharing their product online for others to see or physically buying their product over international brands when you are in need of it.
- Have a fast turn around time (as quick as possible without affecting your final product). In the digital space, people need images NOW, you can’t take 6 weeks to edit someones images anymore. People book me because I understand that social media is fast paced and people need to upload their experiences / products asap. Immediately after the shoot I am uploading their contact sheet for them to make their selections. People appreciate the professionalism & efficiency. Send the invoice NOW & answer that email! I know a lot of people who have tried to work with other photographers but they are too slow in responding to their inquiries – you have to keep up with the pace.
- Always be on time – in fact, be early! My regular clients know that I am always 10 minutes early. This allows me to look at the space I am shooting, the lighting, the areas I can shoot and also get my head in the game. It is also nice for a client to arrive and be greeted by their photographer instead of waiting for them and having them arrive late and flustered.
- Network! Attend instameets to meet and learn from fellow photographers. I have met so many wonderful photographers who send me work when they are unavailable and I return the favour. Have a handful of fellow photographers you can trust, who you can bounce ideas with and have their support. Having a community is so important!
- Market yourself! Be present on social media and only post your best photos! Marketing yourself is so important! I get a lot of bookings through instagram due to my presence, hashtags and my clients tagging me. Join every platform and post your best work daily.
- Have fun! I always make sure we have fun on my shoots. We are creatives and clients need to enjoy themselves. It shows in the images! If you’re shooting something you don’t like, FIND something you DO like about the shoot, maybe it’s a terrible dress but maybe it moves nicely – we only create our best work when we are enjoying ourselves and feeling inspired — when it doesn’t come naturally, FIND it!
- When times get busy – eat well, get some sleep ! I often have people saying “wow, you must be so tired, how do you handle being so busy” and I always answer “well no I’m not tired, I get proper sleep so that I CAN be busy and give 100% on every single one of my shoots.” Personally, editing into the early hours of the morning doesn’t do it for me. I need good sleep in order to give 100% on my shoots the next day.
- Work hard, have patience ! Success doesn’t happen overnight.”