The following is a guest post written by Emma of Oscar & Rose Photography
When my son was born, I had no clue what I was supposed to do.
Not. One. Single. Clue.
Sure, I’d read all the pregnancy manuals … but now he was here, in the flesh, it was all so real and scary so I sought advice from everybody I came into contact with. Pregnancy books had said not to sleep with your baby. The first night we were in hospital, the midwife put my crying baby to sleep in bed with me. What the heck?!? (We both slept like logs!)
When he was a few weeks old, he started to cry. A well meaning friend asked what was the matter with him? I told her I had no idea. “But he’s your baby” she replied. I agonised and stressed … for days … over not knowing what all his different cries meant and what a failure that made me.
He made funny gurgling noises. Should he be doing that? He flicked his arm out in a funny manner. Is he supposed to do that? He never went to sleep when I put him down. What am I doing wrong? I became overwhelmed with all the advice people and books were telling me.
And then one day, after 3 months of stress-induced paranoia, it suddenly dawned on me, that, as long as I nurtured, loved and cherished my baby, and no harm came his way, it didn’t matter what I did and how I did it. He was MY baby and my instincts would be right.
I stopped reading books. I stopped taking everyone’s words of wisdom to heart. When I needed it, I sought out guidance, but I only paid attention to words of advice that meant something to me and my family.
So what has all my tribulations of becoming a mum for the first time got to do with a blog about photography? I realised the other day that what took me 3 months to work out as a mother, has taken me over a year to figure out for my photography business….
There is no right and wrong.
There is no “should be doing this” or “you ought to do it this way”
There is however, “you could do it this way” or “this might make life easier”.
When I first “got into” photography professionally (to coin clients’ most often asked question; “how long have you been doing photography?”), it was because I enjoyed seeing the world through a camera lens and enough people had told me over the years that I had a talent for it. 18 months ago, probably like many of you reading this, I invested in a “proper” camera, got some decent lenses and decided to enter the photography market. To use a cliché, it’s been a MASSIVE learning curve, and now I want to share what I have learnt in my first year of “doing photography” as a business. And also what I’ve forgotten.
Get to know your kit…by whatever means necessary
I have number-dyslexia. It’s true. I see lots of numbers and they become a jumble in front of my eyes. So when I see lots of f.11 and 1.8 bandied about, my brain slips into panic mode. The lenses in my camera bag are known to me as:
- “wide” (my 17-50mm)
- “short” (my EF 50mm)
- “macro” (my 90mm)
- “long” (my 55-200mm)
I dread when a client (usually the dad) asks what kind of lens I’m using. I mean, it’s not very professional to reply “erm, my short one” is it?! BUT. I do know what they do, and I do know when to use them. Get to know your lenses and camera inside out, by whatever means is appropriate to you.
1.} Go with your strengths (and it’s okay to say no)
I am appallingly bad at shooting against a white background. There. I’ve said it. I can never light it properly and I struggle with how to pose people. The last session I did against a white background was a disaster. I hated the photos I got. To me they looked flat. So I stopped offering it. I no longer do white background sessions.
It’s even clearly written on my website:
”If you’re looking for photographs that are purely shot against a white background with your children jumping in the air, then I’m possibly not the right photographer for you.”
BUT. I am very good at shooting outdoors. Especially children. I make it fun, I bring lots of props, I get them relaxed and running around. I love sun-flare and use it in my style of photography (weather permitting!) and it’s not just the kids that have fun, I have a riot! So that’s my main business now…go with what you excel at, and leave your weaknesses to another photographer who can do it.
(By the way, I did offer the client another session for free, but not against a white background!)
2.} Back to black
I love colours. I love wearing bright colours and bold patterns. My rain-coat is bright pink. But now I always shoot in head-to-toe black. (I like to think of myself as a Ninja photographer.)
I stopped wearing bright colours to shoot in when I came back from a session with the photos looking like this –> (You don’t want to know how long I spent photo-shopping that pink out of his eyes!)
I could just as easily wear white and get lovely reflected catch-lights, but with the amount of crawling round on the floor and kneeling on grass that I do, it’s probably not the best idea for me!
3.} You’re always portfolio building – just get on with it
It took me a long time to work out that every session is a portfolio building session. So get out of that “I’ll be ready to launch myself when I have a few more pictures in my portfolio” stage …. you’re ready now!
4.} Do what feels right for you
I recently got myself tied up in knots about what every other photographer out there was charging and shooting. I booked a mentoring session with Elizabeth and she helped me to realise that it doesn’t matter what other people are doing, do what works for you. If something doesn’t feel right to you, it probably isn’t right…FOR YOU.
5.} Most clients don’t care
Let me clarify that statement. They don’t care how you get the shots. They don’t care if you use a Nikon or a Canon. They don’t care that you just spent x amount of money on your latest gizmo. They don’t care what lens you’re using (all of those statements are true unless they’re an interested dad or uncle at a wedding). They just care that you get the shot. That’s all they want. That’s why they booked you. They’ve seen your work, they love what you do, and they want you to do the same for them.
I initially spent a lot of time in photography forums reading about which is the “best” lens to have, or which is the best lighting to use. The best lens to use, and the best camera to have, is the lens and camera you have at the time. Did you nail the shot? Did the client love it? Your work is done.
6.} Clients never leave testimonials
I’ve given up trying to encourage clients to write testimonials. At first I used to worry that people weren’t saying anything because they didn’t like their photos. But if I spoke to them about it, they’d reassure me that they loved their images, and they must have because I would get their friends booking a shoot with me. Now I tell myself that people speak testimonials…they rarely write them.
7.} Don’t forget who you are
Before I started charging people to shoot them, when I was “just” an “amateur” (I still don’t consider myself a “proper” photographer by the way) I used to love websites like flickr. I would look at other people’s work and then get really deflated, deciding that I was no good as them and I could never be as good as everyone else out there. So now I don’t go on flickr. Call it self-preservation if you like, but I’d rather spend my (precious) time looking at a select few photographer’s work that I admire, than beating myself up because I can’t possibly master every style of photography. I try to remember what it was like when I’d never even heard of flickr, and only had my point and shoot camera.
When I didn’t know (or care) whether what I was doing, or how I was doing it, was right or wrong, I just knew that I loved doing it, and I got some amazing shots. Sure, it’s important to keep learning, and it’s nice to have the latest gear, but now I try to remember why I decided to do what I do … for the sheer love of it.
And now I’m trying to remember what I learnt when I became a new mum and to apply it to my photography business:
- Do the best you can
- You will make mistakes along the way – learn from those mistakes
- There are people out there who claim to have all the answers – listen to them when you want to and learn from them, but remember, they can only tell you about their experiences
- There is no right and wrong
Who knows? In another 12 months I might read this article and think to myself boy, I knew NOTHING, but I hope those 12 months will have been filled with plenty of exciting opportunities….