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A sample taken from Chapter 2 of Photography Business Secrets.


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  • 2Training and ExperienceAnyone who has ever applied for a job has run across the experience catch-22. You need experience to get the job and you need the job to get experience. The same is true when starting your own photography business. For example, how do you get experience shooting weddings if no one will hire you to shoot their wedding because you have no experience? It is a little easier for portrait photographers since they can usually count on friends and family to act as willing models to help with practice. Ideally, the experience part comes before you go into business for yourself. This chapter provides some ideas to help you build a portfolio and get the experience you need to start your business.



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  • 2 Training and Experience


    Gaining ExperienceYou need two types of experience to run a successful photography business. The fi rst is photography experience, the second is business experience. Lets talk about photography experience fi rst and well cover business experience in later chapters.

    The fi rst thing is to master the basics of exposure and your camera gear. That means getting out there and taking photos with your camera. Read the camera manual and, if necessary, get a third-party book explaining all the features. There is no excuse to not knowing how to use every button, dial, and menu on your camera. Nothing looks as unprofessional as a photographer who is fumbling around with his camera because he cant quickly decide on the proper settings for the scene.

    One way to gain experience is to take on a personal photography project of something that you have wanted to photograph or explore. The key is to get out and take photos.

    One great resource for personal projects is the Digital Photography School (,

    which sends out a weekly email to subscribers that includes a personal project assignment, and readers are invited to submit their images. There are articles related to the assignment included in the email. This is a great way to try new things, grow as a photographer, and keep yourself creatively stimulated.

    On-the-Job TrainingThe traditional way to gain experience is to work for another photographer in the niche that you want to be in. Working for a photographer, or in a photography studio, in any capacity gives you valuable insight and experience. These jobs are few and far between, but there are opportunities out there.

    Now working for another photographer is not always glamorous workthe hours are long, the pay minimal, and most of the time youll fi nd yourself carrying things and doing basic grunt work.

    The upside is that you get on-the-job training in both photography and in how a photographer runs a business. In a studio setting, you may learn about lighting and gear. For on-location portraits, you might

    Need to Master Your Camera?I highly recommend Photography Concentrates Extremely Essential Camera Skills class. Its a multimedia 3-hour course that explains the camera basics you need to know without overwhelming you. It is particularly suited for nontechnical people. Visit to fi nd out how to sign up for it.

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  • Photography Business Secrets


    learn about how to interact with clients and how to help them relax in front of the camera. Even working at a Santa booth at the mall during the holidays can be benefi cial. It will teach you how to work with kids, manage an on-site payment and printing system, and order products for an on-location shoot. As an aspiring portrait photographer, these are invaluable ways to master how to run mini sessions or organize a marathon portrait day.

    Two web resources you can use to fi nd jobs are:

    The job board on the Digital Wedding Forum at

    As a working photographer you will need to charge for your services, but when you are starting out and looking for experience you should consider the benefi ts to gaining the experience and building your portfolio more than the pay.

    Another source of work could come from networking with other photographers in your area. Look for photo clubs or photography networking events. You never know when a photographer will need an assistant. Make sure you have business cards to give to everyone you meet.

    Here are some options to consider for gaining photography experience. While these positions may not be the most creative opportunities, what you will learn is the critical people skills needed to help people relax in front of the camera, how to use camera and lighting

    equipment, the sales process in different scenarios, networking, and building up your photography skills. Some of these are seasonal, so look out for them a month or so before the season begins.

    School yearbook portrait studio

    Portrait studio

    Santa booth at the mall

    Easter bunny booth at the mall

    Sports team portraits for kids

    Assistant/second shooter for wedding

    Wedding photo booth

    Hospital newborn photographer

    Local magazines and newspapers

    Real estate photographer

    Karate competitions

    Job SearchThe best way to fi nd jobs is through networking with other photographers. There are many networking groups for photographers, including local PPA chapters, SmugMug User Groups, and Pictage User Groups. Look on for upcoming networking opportunities in your area.

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  • 2 Training and Experience


    10 Tips for Being Second Shooter at a WeddingA great way to earn money while building your business is to take second shooting gigs with wedding photographers. Youll need four or fi ve weddings under your belt as a second shooter and a solid portfolio before you can expect to be paid for the task. On the upside, its easier to fi nd weddings you can tag along to without any particular expectations, other than to hone your skills. You can send an email to photographers in your area, inviting them to look at your portfolio and consider you for a second shooting position.

    Second shooters are usually paid anywhere from $200 to $600 for the day, depending on experience and skill. You need to bring your own equipment in most cases (or rent it). Once you build a reputation as a dependable second shooter, you may be able to book gigs as a second shooter almost every weekend.

    Here are 10 tips that will help you become the perfect second shooter:

    1. Act like a pro. Youd think it goes without saying, but its important to act like a professional at all times. This means planning ahead, familiarizing yourself with the job, arriving early, dressing professionally, and smiling.

    2. Never pass out your business card. This is not your gig. If you try to get business from vendors or appear to be taking advantage of the opportunity, you may fi nd yourself quickly blacklisted. Photographers talk, and they remember.

    3. Use a different approach than the primary photographer. Be aware of the angles and lenses the main shooter uses. Instead of trying to copy her shots, go get something else. Find a different perspective; use a different lens. This way, your images offer value to the primary photographer instead of being just inferior duplicate shots. By expanding the coverage to scenes the primary photographer wasnt able to capture, or shooting the basic scenes from a completely different perspective, you offer great value while at the same time build your creative skills.

    4. Review the timeline. One of the best ways to prepare yourself for a wedding in advance is to review the timeline. Learn the clients names, how long the ceremony will last, when portraits will take place, and how you will get from location to location, if needed.

    5. Discuss the photographers expectations. Every photographer works differently, and so its important to understand what his needs are before the big day. Some photographers need a lot of help carrying gear and watching equipment, while others operate autonomously and need as much additional shooting coverage as

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  • Photography Business Secrets


    you can provide. Does he want you to assist with formals or capture the cocktail hour and reception details? By understanding his needs in advance and going above and beyond to exceed his expectations, you are more likely to be called for the next job.

    6. Ask about pay and use of images beforehand. If you expect to be paid for the day, be sure to discuss it with the photographer upfrontincluding if youll be paid hourly or a day rate, and when you can expect payment. You also want to bring up the issue of using the images in your portfolio. Every professional has a different approach to this; go into the shoot with the understanding of her policy on use of the images captured on the day.

    7. Stay out of the way. With two shooters, sometimes youll fi nd yourself blocking the primarys shot. Be cognizant of where the primary shooter is and make every effort to stay out of her way. If you cant get out of the way, do your best to duck down or minimize yourself until shes gotten the shot. The photographer will appreciate your effort, and it lets her know you are a team player.

    8. Provide a second perspective during the ceremony. The ceremony is usually the key part of the day requiring a second shooter. Figure out the key positions and angles to use during the ceremony, as well as alternatives. Be aware of the coverage the primary photographer is capturing so that you can shoot from a completely different vantage point. Often the primary photographer shoots ceremonies from the middle aisle, getting the safe shots. As second shooter, you have more fl exibility and can capture some amazing emotional moments from the sides, which typically offers more expression from the couple during the ceremony.

    9. Help with formals and group portraits. Formal shots are typically one of the most stressful parts of the day for the clients as well as the photographer. Everyone wants to get them done quickly, and the lighting and location may not be ideal. Offer to assist by gathering people up; arranging them for the shots; and looking for hats, sunglasses, and purses that should be removed for the photo. If the photographer prefers, you might instead capture the cocktail hour or reception details, but always check with the photographer to see what his preference is.

    10. Explore your creativity. Once youve gotten the shots your primary needs, take time to explore new compositions, angles, and settings. Some of my favorite images from second shooters are the ones that are the most creative. When you are a primary shooter, the pressure is on you to cover all the standard moments, whereas a second shooter has more time to play and be creative. Take advantage of the opportunity to develop your unique talent and vision.

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  • 2 Training and Experience


    Building a PortfolioYour portfolio is a sample of your best work. You will use it to show prospective clients what you can do for them. It is important to have one and to make sure it represents you and your work accurately, meaning that you are able to create similar images, using the same lighting and composition style.

    You need a physical portfolio to take with you to client meetings and an electronic portfolio that clients can check out online. Here are some ideas to get you on the right track to creating a great portfolio:

    Shoot for free. The fastest way to get opportunities to shoot is to do it for free. However, once you are ready to start a business you can no longer shoot for free. Learn how to use your camera and work with lighting, build your portfolio, and then you should be ready to charge for your time and act like a real business.

    Act as a second shooter. If you want to be a wedding photographer, your best bet is to be a second (or third) shooter at a wedding. This means that you are the backup and might not be paid for your time (depending on your experience level), but the tradeoff is that you may be able to use the images for your portfolio. Note, though, that there are times when working as a second shooter is a work-for-hire situation where you are paid for

    your time and you are not allowed to use the images in your portfolio. Make sure you work this out with the main photographer beforehand.

    Hire a model. One of the best ways to create great wedding portfolio images is to hire a model or two. You might not have access to shoot a high-end wedding, but you can hire a couple of models and rent a dress and tuxedo and create the images for yourself.

    Use your friends and family. They are a great source for everything from maternity, baby, family, engagement sessions, headshots, sportsjust about everything you can think of. Be sure to let people know that you are simply practicing and building your portfolio, but soon you will be charging for your work.

    Some things to keep in mind when putting your portfolio together:

    Only show your best. This is the most important thing you can do for yourself. As photographers we are emotionally attached to every one of our images, but that does not serve us well in a business capacity. Be ruthless in culling your images down to only the very best. Each image needs to stand by itself without you needing to say anything about it. Remember, your portfolio will be judged by its weakest images.

    Only show your very best photographs in your portfolio.

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  • Photography Business Secrets


    Get a second opinion. Once you have put together a portfolio, have someone you trust look it overpreferably someone who will give you constructive criticism and not just tell you everything looks great. One of the best ways to do this is by talking with other photographers. Check out your local photography associationschances are they have members that are willing to look over your images.

    Make sure that the images represent your business. Focus your portfolio on images that feature your niche. Each image needs to show your style and be representative of what you

    can offer the client. You might have a fantastic image of a Hawaiian sunset but there is no place for it in portrait photographers portfolio. If you want to be a pet photographer, your portfolio needs images of pets. You want to shoot sports? Then your portfolio needs to show sports images. I know this sounds obvious, but you would be surprised ho...