Questions, Questions…and More Questions

I get emails from new photographer a lot. I do not mind helping new photographers out one little bit. I still remember what it’s like to be new to photography and be so full of questions and being sooooo happy when I found someone willing to help me answer them.

I decided to put together some of the most common questions that I get asked and put some answers here so that anyone who stumbles on to this page would be able to see them as well.

I am just starting out. Should I be charging for my work?
If you are still in the portfolio building stage, I think it is perfectly fine to charge for your time. But not a full session fee that they would be paying to someone who has been doing their job for years. Charge enough to cover your sitter, gas to and from the session, and any other expenses related to the shoot, like parking.

One thing you should make sure that you are doing is building a portfolio of the type of work that you want to do. If you have zero interest in shooting portraits of newborns, but just do them to build a portfolio you are doing a disservice to yourself. Shoot what you want to shoot!

And make sure you are getting signed releases from everyone you shoot. Without those releases you can not use them in your portfolio. (I even made my sisters sign releases so that there was no question that those images could be used at my discretion!)

You should also remember that the difference between it being a hobby and being a professional means that you will need to register your business with the state, get a Tax ID number, pay sales tax, etc. If you aren’t doing those things, you are breaking the law.

When you get to the point where your work is consistent (and not just the “spray and pray” kind of shooting) and you have learned your camera, then you can begin to charge more.

I can’t afford a lot of equipment. What should I do?
As you make money invest it right back into your business. If you can’t afford to invest it all back into your business, make it a goal to invest a portion of it. Yes, they are paying for your talent and eye, but having professional gear helps you to produce professional portraits! There is nothing wrong with starting out with an entry level camera, but know that clients who hire you may want to know that you are using professional equipment the longer you stat in business.

What software should I use to edit images?
If you are doing this as a hobby, you can use whatever you want. If you are starting out and using Picnik, then your clients will expect you to upgrade to Lightroom or Photoshop. (I use Photoshop CS5 and Lightroom.) Photographers can tell when someone has used Picnik over PS or LR. Trust me. And I can not think of one professional photographer who used Picnik. (And Picnik just announced that they will be shutting down on April 19, 2012, so it will be going away!)

If you can’t afford Photoshop CS5 or Lightroom, I can tell you that Photoshop Elements is also a great program. It does a lot of the same things that CS5 does at a fraction of the price.

Shooting in “manual” and Raw confuses me. Can you explain it?
Are you shooting with your camera dial set on P? That is auto mode. Shooting in manual means you are controlling everything your camera does and not letting it make your decisions for you. Here is a place where you can find tips for shooting in manual and here is RAW vs. JPG explained.

RAW files are huge and will take up a lot of space on your memory cards, FYI. (And I shoot RAW files.)

Just an FYI, when I am shooting a session my LENS is set to auto focus. I only change it to manual when I am doing extreme close ups or if I am wanting it to focus somewhere it won’t register.

Can I just show proofs on my Facebook page or do I need a website?
Facebook photo resolution is very distorted. What you see on that page is not necessarily what you will see when images are printed. I have a website that has private galleries so that my clients can view their photos without having all of them splashed on the internet. I don’t think using FB as your client gallery shows that you are a legitimate and professional business. It comes across as a hobby that people are paying you to do. There are lots of places you can use for your websites, Portfoliositez and SmugMug just to name a few. Yes, you will have to pay for them, but that is what businesses do! (I use Portfoliositez. FYI.)

What lab should I use? Should I give CDs with sessions?
To use a professional lab, you will need a Tax ID number. Some labs will even want to review your portfolio via your website. I use White House Custom Color as my lab and I love them. Other labs you can look at are Bay Photo, Millers, and Nations.

I do sell CDs as an a la carte item. I charge $300 for 10 images on the CD. They have a limited print release with them. (Meaning they can not print them at Wal-Mart or Walgreens and they can only print up to an 8×10.) Images on CDs are not to be edited , they can only be cropped as needed for printing. I actually put the print release as a file on the CD with the images.

I have been asked before by new photographers about giving out unedited images. I would NEVER give out unedited images. My clients come to me for custom photography. I would not suggest any photographer give out unedited images.

If you are providing prints, CDs or anything tangible, you will also need to file to pay sales taxes. It is actually a Federal crime to not pay sales tax!

I am just starting out, but I want to open a studio. Any advice?
Well, make sure you have a good portfolio and that you have invested in the equipment you will need for your studio, including props, backdrops, lighting, etc.  A lot of photographers wait years to open a studio and I know photographers who had studios who closed because they found they were doing more on-location shoots and that the studio was just taking up to much income for the little time they were using it.

You should also make sure you have plenty of marketing ready to go. This includes have your logo and materials for packing orders. You need to have a clear and concise business plan too. Know what to expect and know your market. Building a client base can take a long time! If your portfolio is only photos of your children, you can not expect to build an entire business around that!

A client took their images off Facebook and cropped out my logo. Should I email them?
You shouldn’t post on FB what has not been purchased. That’s how I do it. If I do put up sneak peeks, I only put up about 2 images. I prefer putting the sneak peeks in their private gallery and sending them their login info so they have it and can check back to see the new images as they are added. My website has the right click (save) disabled. If you are using Facebook as your gallery then chances are that your clients are just saving the images from there. They won’t care if they have the logo on them if they are not concerned with printing.

Do all professional photographers have degrees in photography?
No. A lot of photographers are people who have either apprenticed with another photographer or are self-taught. I know some self-taught photographers who could be teaching classes because they know so much about photography!

I started my business and I am having a hard time getting clients. What can I do to get people in the door?
Your first thought might be SALE, but that doesn’t usually work long term. Once you start discounting everything that is what people expect all the time. Work on your marketing strategies. See what is working and what isn’t. Have another photographer review your portfolio and get a professional opinion about your work. Did you jump in too soon and weren’t quite ready? Are you prices too high for your services? Or are they so low that people think that you are not a serious and professional photographer?

Actions. There are so many to choose from. What ones should I buy?
I am going to be honest…. I love actions. But I don’t use them on every image. I hand edit images in CS5 and depending on the look I am going for I might add some actions to them. Some of my favorites come from Wish PhotographyMCP Actions and My Four Hens Photography. Actions are not there to salvage a bad photo, they are for enhancing a good image!

My favorite actions are Matchstick from My Four Hens and Makeup Counter 2 from Wish Photography. Those are two action sets I just can’t live without!

I don’t like doing selective color. Should I do it anyway?
It’s your business, and if you don’t want to offer a particular service you do not have to. There are people who think that their work looks more professional if they add selective color to it, which is not really the case. The majority of professional photographers I know don’t have any selective color shots in their portfolios. If you want to use selective color, just remember NOT to use it on eyes. It makes the photo look scary, not arty.

Now for another take on the selective color issue. I read about a photographer who decided to make selective color work better and not look so cheesy. I decided to rise up to that challenge too. So, here is my own take on selective color. It doesn’t look like the traditional selective color, does it? Don’t be afraid to say  “No”, but don’t be afraid to try anything new.

I don’t want to shoot boudoir (or insert any other type of photography here). Any suggestions?
If you don’t want to shoot it, don’t put it in your portfolio. Don’t shoot a boudoir image, put it in your portfolio, and not expect people to ask about it. Same goes for weddings, children, whatever. Only put in your portfolio what you are willing to go out and shoot.

Do I need a backup camera or lens?   
That depends. If you are shooting weddings you will need more than one camera and one lens. If you are shooting portrait sessions you can probably get by with one camera and 2 lenses. It all depends on what you are doing. Personally, I always have an extra camera, battery, memory cards and several lenses with me. I think it just makes good business sense because if one camera stops working or your lens locks up then you can still finish your session.

I asked another photographer for her opinion on my photos and I don’t like what she said. Now I am not sure if I want to be a photographer.
Photography is art and it is very subjective. What one photographer may think is amazing, another may hate. Find photographers who style are like what you want to shoot. (example: If you are wanting to shoot fashion, find a fashion photographer willing to critique a few images.). And listen to what they said, was it real things you need to work on? Are you overloading each photo with a heavy vignette? Selective color in every session? Instead of looking at it as the photographer was just being mean, maybe, just maybe they are giving you the benefit of their wisdom and what they have learned in the industry. Take a step back and look at your work and ask yourself if you see those things too. Sometimes it is hard to take criticism, but photographers and other artists must learn to to take that constructive criticism and work at making their art better. Do you have to take every bit of advice given? Absolutely not. But sometimes taking that step back and looking at your work is a good thing. And if you are not prepared for your work to be criticized then do not ask another photographer for their honest opinion!

I don’t know any photographers in my area and don’t feel comfortable approaching them for advice. Where can I find other photographers to interact with?

The internet is a great way to find other photographers to interact with. You can find forums to join and groups on Facebook and start getting advice and info from other photographers.

Well, I think I have addressed most of it here. I am sure I probably missed a few email questions, but that will just give me more info for a later blog posting!  I hope this may have helped to answer some of your questions that you may have had as well. These are by no means, the final word on the subject, just pieces from what I have learned along the way!

 If you have any questions, comments, etc. just let me know. If you don’t want to leave the comment on here, you can always email me at

Enjoy your weekend and Happy Shooting!


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