Professionalism Starts with Your Equipment.
A Written and Signed Contract.
Earn Your First Money as an Assistant.
Ask for a Professional Fee.
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You think you have the skills and experience to look for your first paying photography assignment. Other people (preferably professional photographers) have objectively critiqued your work as having quality and value, thus supporting your goal of going pro, or at least semi-pro.
You may be truly ready, but not yet ready for many of the assignments that require specialized skills and experience you don’t have. Be realistic and very conservative about the kind of jobs you are qualified to accomplish. Few other mistakes will so easily brand you as an amateur and not a professional, and ruin your career before it starts. You want a simple and easy first job that gives you an almost 100% probability of succeeding.
Although your digital photography skills and experience are important measures of your professionalism, your equipment is your most important and most easily recognized professional quality. Don’t even think about seeking a paying gig unless you have professional-grade equipment. You may not yet be an “official” photography business, but you must start to act the part of a business owner, which means you can’t expect to be competitive without investing in the proper equipment.
Avoid entry-level DSLRs; buy a mid-level or higher model. Acquire a number of lenses: for example, a 50mm fixed focal length, short zoom from wide angle to 150mm and a longer telephoto zoom from 70mm to 200mm or 300mm. Be sure you have at least one fast lens, so you’re able to shoot good photos in low-light conditions without using a flash or a high ISO setting that could produce grain. To a great extent, your lens’ choices will be dictated by what kind of photography assignments you expect to do.
You’ll also need at least one independent flash unit, and maybe a tripod. If you’re just testing the waters of paying photo jobs and not yet prepared to invest a sizeable amount of money in professional equipment, then consider renting such equipment. Remember, the rental fee is a hard cost of doing business, so include it in your budget for the assignment.
The other excellent investment prior to your first photography assignment is paying an attorney to create a contract you can use with all clients. It’s absolutely critical that the details of the assignment, total fee, payment schedule and other legalese are all contained in a documented contract, and signed by you and your client.
A good alternative to ease your way into professional photography is to be an assistant to a well-established professional for a few of his or her assignments. Not only will you be paid, but also you’ll acquire a tremendous amount of knowledge working with a seasoned professional.
Another mistake first-time pros make is to ask for a lower fee than is typical for the particular kind of job. The backward thinking is that clients will be easy to acquire by charging less than the experienced professionals. Actually the opposite is true. In most cases, your first client will have estimates from other photographers asking for the market price. By coming in considerably lower, a client will suspect that you are not as professional as you claim and do not understand what will be required to finish the job.
Photo copyright PhotographyTalk member Topaz Labs
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