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7 lessons learned by a new photographer {guest post}

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)

not so good

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….

  • http://twitter.com/oscar_and_rose Oscar and Rose

    Actually … my white background shot doesn’t look so bad on here! :o)
    I hope other people enjoy my post.

  • http://www.facebook.com/kelly.tonks Kelly Tonks

    great article,   I needed it:-))

  • Kari

    Thank you so much for this post!!!  Perfect timing..

  • Rebecca York

    I needed it as well. Especially the part about “self preservation”. I have been scouring other photographer’s pages & blogs for endless hours and then found myself feeling really down about my work (and myself/talent). I just recently decided to quit doing that & I’m glad I found validation! Awesome post; thanks for so much for sharing.

  • Natalie

    Dear Elizabeth,
      Thank you for those words of wisdom. I am just starting out after a long hiatus and I haven’t been so passionate about something in a long time. I took a photography course in college with a Nikon 35 mm, the professor stunk and I hated the darkroom processing. So, I went to a point and shoot.  Recently, I purchased a Canon rebel T1i and have the kit lens 18-55, 55-250 and the nifty fifty(my fav).  My confidence is shaky at best and have been doing lots of photos for family/ friends and work  friends for free to get that practice. I am in the process of looking to add another lens but not sure which one to go with. Any suggestions?  Are there any books/websites that you would suggest for beginners? I have been scouring the web and amazon. 
      Thank you for being so forthcoming with your tips and techniques. It is greatly appreciated!! Sincerely, Natalie

  • Anonymous

    Thank you so much, Natalie! This post was written by a reader named Emma, btw :) As for the lens, what do you enjoy photographing most?

  • Lea Hartman

    What a wonderful post! Thanks so much for sharing. I wish I’d read something like this about two years ago and I could’ve spared myself much of the same struggles. :)

  • Lea Hartman

    I know this question was directed to Elizabeth, but I just thought I’d let you know that http://www.digital-photography-school.com is an awesome website with active forums. I learned practically everything I now know about photography from that website, which Elizabeth also happens to write for. Hope you find that helpful. 

  • Selinaduncan

    So glad I found this as it was the right thing i needed to hear or read rather. I feel all those things and Im always comparing my work to others thinking mine isnt good enough. Not any more thanks to both you and Elizabeth.

  • http://twitter.com/patsimmons64 Pat Simmons

    Great article!  It sounded like you knew what was going on in my head when I try to “act like I know what I’m doing”  I really needed this today!  So many hours I have spent looking at other photographers websites to see how they do it, I should have been out snapping shots like I used to do.

  • Noelle Bakken

    This was so timely! I just shot an engagement session yesterday, the first full one I’ve done in a little while, and was getting down about my challenges with posing. Of course, the first place I went after taking all the photos was to Flickr to compare my work to others…such a bad idea.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=584402787 Samary Casanova

    Wonderful advise!!  Thank you soo much, BTW I admire your work and you are a great inspiration for me!!!
    Thanks again ;>

  • pegs pix

    thank you so much for sharing your wisdom.  so many can be so critical of beginners.  they all started somewhere. 

  • Robyn

    This is just what I needed.  Thank you!

  • Robyn Farmer

    This is just what I needed.  Thank you! 

  • Elizabeth J

    Great article.    Thank you Emma, it was you who inspired me to take photography seriously and have a go and making it my business.  We live on opposite sides of this planet, and you have made a big difference in the way I see things.  :o)

  • http://www.kbishome.blogspot.com Karina Bravo

    This was such a timely post for me, thank you to Emma and Elizabeth for posting it. I’m always trying to “learn” instead of sometimes just doing. So with that said, I’m going to go work on my website for a bit. Thank you again!!

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=547463261 Gina Parry

    What a lovely read, thank you so much for writing this article. A lot of what you say rings true with me. There must be a point where all those who are really passionate about photography question their ability to create images like the ‘pro’s but like you say, if people are coming to you via word of mouth asking how much you charge, you’ve pretty much cracked it whether you have all the latest kit or not, you have reached the point where the only place you can go is forward. Have faith in your vision and ability guys. I never thought I would be where I am now a few short years ago and each session I do I learn something.  Thanks again for writing this Oscar and Rose.

  • Sandi Marie

    Oh Gee, I can relate to all of  this!! Awesome to read.. thank you!

  • Anonymous

    just lovely. thank you for the raw honesty and exposed thoughts into your photography world! xo -jeni

  • bri (Holtman) wachsman

    wonderful post. Thank you so much for writing this, Emma!

  • Michelle Corbo

    Thank you so very much for this post!  It’s exactly what I needed to read today… time to get out of my own way, jump in and get a move on!

  • http://sweetronit.com/blog Sweet Ronit

    Great tips! I’ve been shooting for over 20 years, but I’ve only made the move to freelance during this past year. I especially like tip #4 – whether it’s a style of shooting or which lenses to use, you ultimately have to go with what you’re comfortable with and where your strengths lie. Also, regular mentoring and critiques are invaluable – getting out there and shooting is only half the battle!

  • Melissa Burns

    Thank you soooo much for sharing this your story today!  It is just what I needed to hear both as a mom and fellow photographer!  Sometimes we get caught up in what other people think should be done, before we even realize it.  It was nice to be reminded to do what is best for each of us as individuals.  Thanks again!

  • http://danigirl.ca/blog Danigirl

    I’ve just discovered  your blog and am very much enjoying your tips and guest posts Elizabeth.  Thank you!  I think I’ve read articles by you on DPS, too? Anyway, had to comment about point 7 on this post as it’s something I struggle with.  Thanks for the reminder to not get caught up in the competition game, and to just do what you love.

  • Christineyasgar

    Thank you, thank you, THANK YOU!!!  It’s so reassuring to hear that other photographers have felt the way I feel right now…questioning if I could be as good as the others…when I shouldn’t be worrying about that at all…I just needed the reminder that I should focus on doing the best that I can do.  Thanks again!!

  • Nilla

    Oh my, I needed that. Thank you.

  • http://www.NashvilleTNHomeSecurity.com Nashville TN Home Security

    What all you have expressed and written in this blog shows your experience not only in the profession but in your real life as well. Really appreciate what all you have written.

  • http://www.facebook.com/fiona.jamieson3 Fiona Jamieson

    thank you thank you thank you , I am at the end of ‘portfolio building’  this post & this site is my daily inspiration xxxxxx

  • http://www.elenbaasphotography.com/ Elenbaasphotography

    Thank you for posting this, being new these tips are much appreciated!

  • Katie

    I know this is an old post. But just reading this over again makes me feel so much better, that my thoughts are the same and I am not alone,