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• pictureperfect.co.za DIY photo newsletter

How to start a new career

One of the most important lessons I've learnt in a decade of being a freelancer, is that of diversification. In today's world, you need bucketloads of income sources to survive. A salary is not enough. I say this after noticing what has been happening to some of my clients and their employees since the world-wide recession started creeping up on our shores. It's bad, and it's time to take action to safeguard your own income - for the sake of your family. This newsletter is dedicated to helping you take that step.

Maybe you have been contemplating a second career in photography, but you're unsure about how to go about it. You have to consider capital costs, and equipment is expensive since our currency breached the R10-$1 mark. Maybe you are unsure of your own talent, your ability to make it in what you may consider to be an prohibitively exclusive world.

Some good news for you - the fact that you're subscribed to this newsletter means that you've long ago already made the decision to improve your knowledge of photography. So you're way ahead of the pack. Now you need to take the next step - actually start making money taking photographs. And it's not that difficult.

One of the best bits of advice from my photography courses, IMHO, is NOT to spend money on advertising. That sounds a bit radical, but in my experience it attracts the wrong people - the bargain hunters. There is an easier (and free method) to enter the world of professional photography:

  1. Offer your services for free
  2. Give the best service and product that you can
  3. Wait for your happy clients to come back - or refer others - to you.

Take a practical example:
Let's say you only have a small compact camera, one with a reasonable zoom on it. But no flash, no studio lights, no experience. However, you DO friends or family members with babies, or know someone who does.

  1. Phone them up and offer to take some pics of the little one, saying you want to work on your own portfolio, and offer them the images for free. No risk either way.
  2. Then visit them. Go outside onto the lawn, go lie flat on your stomach to shoot at the child's eye-height.
  3. Zoom in from slightly further away than what you would normally shoot, so that you defocus the background and make the child stand out more from the background.
  4. Try do this in shade, for even lighting on the child's face.
  5. Do not shoot towards a LIGHTER background, as the camera's lightmeter will cause the child to be underexposed.
  6. If you can, shoot with the child back-lit, and use a softened flash or big bounce board to pop light onto the little one's face.
  7. Soften your camera flash with a single layer of white tissue paper stuck over it - it makes the world of difference!
  8. Give the toddler some toys to play with, and shoot away while the parents make the kid pose, prattle and pout.

Chances are you'll come away with a couple of killer shots. Put some in your portfolio, and give the parents a CD with the best images. They'll show it to friends, who may or may not contact you. Do a few shoots for free like this, while you build up your portfolio (and more importantly, your confidence and experience levels), until you are happy to start charging a minimal fee.

Why babies? Why people? You have a captive audience. Every mother thinks her child is the most beautiful in the world. If you can prove her right with your pictures, you've got it made. Doing so, you'll be building up a small cash reserve to spend on better equipment, maybe a second-hand DSLR, a flash, a bounce board, a backdrop, and systematically, you'll build up your second business. By now, you should have a number of happy clients doing all your advertising for you through referrals. Print some business cards and distribute these. And slowly start putting up your prices in line with what you think you're worth.

As a general rule, I'd charge by the hour for shooting and post-production of the images. Set a rate for yourself, like R250 an hour, or more, or less, depending on what you think the market can pay. Remember, it's only time you're selling, not real costs other than your fuel for getting to the location. So you have the ability to ask more or less, depending on the clients' budget.

To recap - start small, be patient, and build up your business using your existing network of friends and relatives. Once you have built up a good portfolio, offer to shoot a wedding for friends. For free of course. No risk on either side, and make that clear to them. With the state of the economy as it is, many couples will only be too happy to pay a budget price for those all-important wedding pictures. You help them, they help you. A win-win situation.