Friday, February 26, 2010

12 (14) Mistakes New Photographers Make When Starting Their Business – Part 2

Good Morning Everybody,

Last week’s post entitled, “12 Mistakes New Photographers Make When Starting Their Business – Part 1” – here is the link - really caused some excitement. Thanks to everyone who participated in the conversation with your comments.  Maybe we’ll get a few more today.

Eating while on the job, hired for an event,  is always a sticking point for photogs covering a wedding. My next comments are sure to garner a comment or two.

No Eating Eating while working has NEVER been important to me.  My assistants learn that early on and started packing energy bars – that they can quickly enjoy is certainly fine with me.  If they offer me one too, I’m happy to oblige.

A few years ago, I was hired to photograph a wedding of a good friend.  She insisted we sit down and have dinner.  I begrudgingly obliged and we enjoyed, albeit a bit rushed. Here is the problem for me.  As I SIT there eating dinner, the adrenaline starts to leave the system.  My body (and mind) sort of settle into “rest mode.”

I don’t like the feeling – getting back into top gear means that I’ve lost the edge for a ever so short while – I don’t like that either.  I know I’m making too big of a deal about this so I don’t want to belabor the point.

So what do I do to keep the energy lever high – sugar;~)  My drink of choice – orange juice, coke, cranberry cocktail, anything that can provide a cheap sugar carbohydrate fix about six hours into the job.  That keeps us going the rest of the evening.  Hey, it’s worked for me all these years, I’m not changing now.

No Sitting Oh, one more rule we follow when shooting a wedding – we NEVER SIT DOWN on the job. I want to always be vigilant to the action, emotions, excitement of the moment and ready to grab that shot immediately!

Hey, you want to be an Olympic shooter or a state fair runner up when it comes to your wedding photography?

Time to get on with today’s post with 8 more mistakes new photographers make when starting their business.  Here we go.

Hit the “Read More…” link below for the next eight.

12 (14) Mistakes New Photographers Make When Starting Their Business – Part 2

Last week we covered the first reasons – let’s move on to six more this week – all of them important.

7. Not respecting the place of worship where the wedding is taking place.

Man, this one really gets me. You’ve got to know the rules and the protocol of the place of worship you are working in when shooting a wedding. If you don’t, and you over step the bounds, you give wedding photographers everywhere a bad name.

I am many times doing damage control because some “jerk” wedding photographer before me ticked off a priest, minister, or rabbi. I’ve heard too many horror stories about photographers’ behavior at weddings.  The sad news – it’s getting worse!

How about the one where the photographer was “Rambo” like – low angle, on the floor-  crawling up to the minister the bride and groom to get the shot during the service.  What an embarrassment to OUR profession!

How about the photographer that broke all rules of protocol at a local synagogue roaming freely through the sanctuary to get his shot . He is a PRO working in Cincy right now but has been banned from this particular synagogue.  That happened 24 years ago and the board members of the synagogue BANNED all photographers from taking ANY photographs while working in the temple again.

Thankfully, after a few very sincere meetings with that rabbi, we were allowed to start shooting in that synagogue again about a year later.  They have since relaxed their very stringent rules – thankfully. Certainly know the consequences of your behavior.

DAZNOTE: Even though the rules have been relaxed, there has been an occasion or two where Rabbi at a “Reform” temple I work at has asked me to really curtail my ceremony coverage because a co-celebrating rabbi from a “Conservative” temple is also on the “bimah” – the elevated front part of the synagogue. The Jewish “Conservatives” have stricter rules to follow and we ALWAYS abide by the “house” rules.

8. Shooting a friend or family member’s wedding for free to get experience.

That’s a solid way to maintain that friendship or stay on the family Christmas list, isn’t it – NOT! There was a very scary forum comment over at the Strobist’s site a few days ago [link] – scary in terms of the fact that this happens way to often in this profession.

Here is how the discussion started:

“My brother's wedding is coming up in about a month, and he has requested that I take wedding pictures…” “…….I’m not sure what would be the best setting to shoot a wedding?”

And a few responses:

“I am sorry but I need to say that I would not recommend to you to shoot wedding when you don't know how to use your camera…”

“…If you have to ask questions, you are not ready to shoot a wedding…“

“Good luck dude!!”

But how do I get the experience” See # 9 below.

9. Now taking the steps necessary to achieve a level of expertise to do a good job for their prospective customers. See #8 above.

Over 9,900,000 DSLRs were sold in 2009!!! [link]. A lot of purchasers see the opportunity to make a little “beer money” on the side shooting weddings.

Can you imagine yourself jumping one of the Olympic ski jumps without a little practice? A ski jump is a BIG thing – you’ve really got to know what you’re doing to tackle this challenge.

Ask yourself the question, “Isn’t shooting a once in a lifetime event, for example a wedding, a lot like a “ski jump?” I mean, don’t you want to get it right the FIRST time? The consequences are pretty serious if you don’t. Consider this – if you blow it – the wedding photography that is,  you too could be the wedding version of the ABC Sports “Agony of Defeat” [video link].

Learn how to do it right.  A real wedding in NOT your “Training Camp” to learn wedding photography!

10. Thinking their low price will book them more business. 

As a photographer told me 32 years ago, “Cheap clients recommend their cheap friends. Wealthy clients recommend their wealthy friends.” Actually, pretty darn good advice.

Corollaries to that same rule:

“Grouchy customer recommend their grouch friends.”

“Complaining customers recommend their complaining friends.”

Or a few more I’ve learned over the years:

“Cheap customers are the BIGGEST complainers.”

“Be careful about making a deal with a customer.  It’s only the first deal you’ll be asked for. More deal making will follow down the road and before long you wonder why you booked the job.”

“If you are going to shoot for family – make it FREE. Sometimes they will be the most demanding. It’s part of your overall career cost overhead of doing business.”

11. Not knowing how to “bend over backward” for a client.

I never want to pick a fight with a client – NEVER!  We have a rule around my studio, “Never get yourself in an adversarial situation with a client.”  Mr. Gordon Selfridge got it right years ago, “The customer is ALWAYS right.” [link] – Even if it costs you a little profit to service that client.  Please refer to #8 above.

Please refer to my past article entitled, “Customer Service Or Customer Appreciation - 20 Ways To Appreciate Your Customer” for more discussion on the subject. [link]

12. Not ever following up with a satisfied client and asking for more business like family portrait sessions, baby sessions, etc.

Why is it businesses are always chasing new business instead of the servicing their client base they already have in their own back yard. Your current customers know you, love you, and would gladly come back and give you more business if you only asked.

DAZNOTE: Think about it:

Ask 10 brand new “cold called” potential customers to do business with you and what is the percentage that will?

Do you think that you could “up the odds” by asking 10 current/past customers the same question? What do you think the response would be this time around?

The answer is way too obvious. Don’t just focus on obtaining NEW customers 100% of the time.  Spend a little time on “friends” of your business – your past customers.

13. Spends little or no time on self promotion.

This is another BIGGIE and sort of goes with #12.  If you want to chase the new customer, then “hang out” with the people they are hanging out with.  You’ve got to create “BUZZ” for your business if you want the clients to find you.

How do you get that to happen? It’s all spelled out in my first rule of business, “Get to know the people doing business with the people you want to do business with.” Yep, it’s that simple to get started.

I did a post entitled, “15 Ways To Create "Vendor Referral Buzz" for Your Business” months ago right here. Give a re-read, it will point you in the right direction.

14. Not knowing how to run the business part of their business.  Some people think booking $50,000 worth of business is to put $50,000 in the bank – NOT!!! After business overhead; no matter how lean you run your business, taxes – local, state, and federal, it’s more realistically about 1/2 that number!

That’s a “shocker” isn’t it! But it’s true.  Loving photography does not a good businessman make.  You’ve also got to learn the business of business if you want to be more than a “soccer mom/dad” shooter.

Don’t get me wrong - “soccer moms and dads” are good people too, but in reality, they are really doing it for the fun of it.  If you want to be able to make your house payment, your car payment, put shoes on your kids feet, then you better get serious about the business side of this profession.

You want a reality check – just look at the yearly “ CHURN” of photographers in this profession – it’s phenomenally high.  The “beer money” shooters can’t make it, or don’t want to make it because it’s hard work to make a living at it.

In reality it’s easier than they think, if they would spend some time learning the business side of things, setting realistic goals for business growth, and working a “success plan” once you have one in place.

This exchange between Alice (of Alice In Wonderland fame) and the Cheshire Cat says it all:

  • As the Cheshire Cat said to Alice as she approached the fork in the road on the way to the tea party and asked, “Which way shall I go?'”
  • To which the Cheshire Cat answered, “Well, where are you heading?” 
  • To which Alice replied,”I really don’t know.”
  • To which the Cheshire Cat replied, “How can I tell you which path to take if you don’t even know where you are going?

I heard these words from Charles Lewis over 25 years ago and it changed my business.

Next week I’ll begin a series of articles on protocols for shooting weddings in different places of worship for various faith communities. I think you will find it interesting.  Be sure to check back.


Hey gang, that’s it for me today.  Hope you enjoyed the read today.  Please join into the conversation by adding your comments below.

Everybody have a great weekend wherever you are and I’ll plan to see you next week, same time, same station.

Adios, -David


  1. So grabbing a Heineken on my own dime inst good? I dont think I can adjust!!

  2. You are a very good and a very naive photographer and businessman. You have established yourself working with the 1% of the population the rest of us will never know. Your business is not being impacted by the economy for the same reason Wall Street bonuses worth billions of are still being paid to that 1%. I don’t know of anyone who has and certainly have never attended a wedding that costs what your clients spend on your photography. I read your blog about what you used to spend on film which exceeds the overall cost of most of the weddings I attend. I shoot weddings for friends and acquaintances for “beer money” (but I don’t drink) or whatever they can pay. Most of these people have gone without a formal tux and certainly would go without wedding photos if it wasn’t for what I do. The photo I have of my parents on their wedding was taken on Box Brownie because that is all they had. It is 4 inch x 4 inch print. It is not a 24 x 36 print in a $2k frame. If you want to show your prowess as a businessman, show me a business model for the 50% of the US population that spends less on the entire wedding than what your clients spend just for the photography. None of these (well maybe a few of yours) clients are art critics. What you don’t like is that in many cases (but I will agree some) the client cannot tell the difference between our work. Take your photography out of the cathedrals and mosques and move them into a Grange Hall, a VFW Hall, or into someone’s garage and out of the $10K gown or $3K tux, then I would like to go head to head with you. But regardless, at the end of the day, I know that I made a lasting mark for the people whose jobs were sent to India and China but your clients. Thank you for letting me speak my piece, now you can delete my comment.

  3. A small but important point, given the context: It's "Reform," not "Reformed" Judaism.

  4. Ziser,

    I agree with most of what your saying however, the eating one I disagree with. If I have no fuel in the tank than my productivity goes down. So what I do is wait until everybody has been served then I get my plate and go off away from the crowd, wolf it down and go back to shooting. Besides people don't want to be photographed while there eating food....

    I think photographer's who drink on the job are asking for trouble, in the event something does go wrong they will hold that against you. So no drinking on the job PERIOD.

    Also I could not agree more about etiquette in churches and temples' etc. I was a guest at a wedding last year and saw this photographer on the ground shooting behind the priest as the couple was saying there vows. BIG TIME ROOKIE MISTAKE....

  5. I have been following your blog for quite a while now and have attended a couple of your seminars. I just found out I have my FIRST wedding scheduled Sept 3rd!! Keep doing what you're doing!! HELP :-) Thanks!

  6. Dear anonymous #1,
    The advice I reference in #10 was given to me in 1979. Up to that point I was charging $129 for a wedding coverage, wasn't making any money, and running my business out of an apt. where I was paying $139/mo. I was the "beer money" photographer of my time.

    From in those early and mid 1980's I sure spent my share of time in church basements, VFW halls, and firehouses shooting weddings.

    Thankfully I took that early advice, set some goals for myself - I wanted to shoot 50 wedding at $2000/wedding by 1986. I decided I wanted to be successful in my new business - my day job was that of an Industrial engineer.

    I shot 76 $2600 weddings in 1985. But, I had a plan, worked the plan, and thankfully for the sake of my family, had things work out just fine.

    I still sometimes shoot a "pro bono" job or give substantial discouts when I think the situation warrents it. But, you know what - my dauighter is in college now and soneone's got to pay the bills.


  7. David please don't mind him... sounds like he's hating due to envy. Of course everyone begins their career doing small events. Those who graduate to the top events like yourself is due to hard work and determination.

  8. Dear Anonymous #1

    This is anonymous #2 speaking.. I would argue it's people like you that are hurting are industry by shooting wedding's for next to nothing. I realize we all have to start somewhere but essentially what your saying is you would rather shoot a wedding for beer money instead of making 3-5k shooting a wedding.. Its a called free market for a reason! If you think your intrinsic value is a 150.00 for a wedding you will continue to be mad at everybody that I can promise.

    Blasphemy , I tell you ..

  9. (Anonymous #3 at the control)

    Anonymous 1 If you think you can't make $3k shooting a wedding... You are absolutely right.

    Nevermind those of us who think we can and do.

  10. Great advice! Thanks for the blog and the business perspective that you bring to the photography community on the web! I've been shooting with dslr for 4 years and am shooting my first wedding in May and I can't tell you how valuable your blog and your Kelby training videos have been. I referred your blog and the videos to a friend of mine who's been doing weddings for the last 3 years and he was really blown away. Anyways just wanted to say keep up the good work!

  11. After over 30 years I still look at each wwedding like it was a sporting event. I get pumped up and get in the flow sitting down is not part of the day. We pack energy bars and now a new drink called spark to keep us going and sometimes a small snack or sandwich in a cooler that we hit before the reception. Never drink on the job!
    Before you can set prices for your work you must know the market you are working in and understand the competition. How many big budget weddings are there and how many photographers are bidding on them?
    Keeping your price inline with your local market will keep you working but may not make you rich!

  12. Another very informative post David and one that brought in a lot of interesting comments! I LOVE IT! I have to say that I agree with you 100% but I'm personally struggling with bringing in clients, mainly because I can't market myself as much as I want to due to my lack of knowledge of the "business" side of photography. I find that I'm learning the hard way as I'm a self-taught photographer with no hands-on mentor! My mentor is the World Wide Web, it's the only resource I can afford at this time because it's FREE...every nickle and dime that I can spare for my photography is mainly going towards gear and some learning material (i.e.: books)...It's extremely frustrating for me since I'm so eager to learn and I want that hands-on experience so badly! Also being a mommy of two little girls of the ages of 3 and 6 which aren't going to school full-time yet, makes it hard to schedule sessions and make money. However, it is fun to practice on them! They are great little mommy models! I'm not complaining but stating and admitting that I'm having my struggles! I'm truly just starting out and so many things can go wrong or right at this point :) I'm thankful for what the Lord has given me and I continually praise him for his blessings.

    Also, for those that want experience as a Wedding Photographer...second shooting is a AWESOME way to learn (if you can find someone that is willing to give you the opportunity to do so)...just remember same rules applies to you when it comes to following the church's policies, etc. You may not get very many of those formal/traditional shots and you will be shooting at a different perspective but it's invaluable priceless experience!

    I'll admit I'm doing one wedding in May for FREE but it's not because I want to learn from it (although you do learn from each event/session no matter if it's free or not!). It's for family, a second marriage, outdoors, in the woods in TN..not your typical wedding and I've shot a wedding in that location before for my mother-in-law (2003/film). Also, the bride-to-be has been a blessing to our family as she has been passing on a tremendous amount of clothes for my youngest little girl, way more then I can ever give in return!

    However, like David said about marketing yourself for those HIGH paying weddings, and it seems like half of you disagree with him which boggles my mind!?!? If you want to have those high paying clients, YOU MUST market yourself for those! I can honestly tell you that if I made loads of money (which I clearly don't! lol), I wouldn't be looking for a low-budget wedding photographer! NO WAY!! You surround yourself with like-minded individuals and you LEARN from them! Aren't you here to learn from David?? If so, I urge you to take his word VERY seriously and don't just brush off his words of wisdom by finding excuses for what you do and bash him for offering his expertise and knowledge which he does for FREE here...

    Only when I'm equally as successful as David will I ever approach him to say that "I disagree" with him on anything!! LOL ...and that's if the Lord blesses me with such success. :)

    Again, thank you David for your generous and willingness of sharing your knowledge with us, I personally greatly appreciate it!

    God Bless! Merci Beaucoup!

  13. Anonymous #5

    This is anonymous # 2 hear. I love your attitude and analogy about getting fired up about shooting wedding's. I feel the same way. It's a rush:)) My goal is to out do my self every wedding! Raise that bar higher and higher.

    The one thing that keeps me coming back to Ziser's blog is his work ethic. I want what he is taking::))

    See ya in Vegas everybody!

    Ziser call me

  14. Hi David,

    Once again, great insight. I also loved your ski jump comparison. I'm assuming it would be tough go to navigate around those church pews in skis.


  15. i am an avid reader of your blog and attendee of one of your workshops. i had to make a comment on this post. i love this series of blog posts that you're making for the beginning pro photog. very good advice. i agree with all of it. it's so true about the eating at the reception (even though we do when the couple asks us). i do like the break (i'm diabetic, so i need the break, and can't just down sugar all day). so we've packed cut sandwiches and water with us, so we can just eat it on the run. it's true that you lose the adrenaline once you sit down. and by the time the reception hits, you've lost momentum. thanks for the refresher tips!!

  16. To anonymous #1, Your annoying and your disrespect to a man who blesses us with his wisdom says quite a bit about you, none of it good. Let me know when your book comes out, I can't wait to get my hands on yours David. To think you put all of this amazingly helpful knowledge on your blog without charging us for it makes you a giant among elves my friend. God bless you for your knowledge, wisdom, insight, but most importantly, your willingness to share and teach.

  17. Anonymous #1:
    I am also a "beer money" photographer whose venues are exclusively VFW halls and church basements. I, too, see how the richest have rigged things to concentrate wealth in the hands of fewer and fewer people. I accept no-pay assignments because the couples could never afford a professional photographer, they know I'll do a better job than their Uncle Ernie, and it is an opportunity to create photographs that will be treasured for generations to come.

    But photography is not how I support my family. If it were, I would be forced to charge real money for my work, and there would be no time for "beer money" weddings until I was sure my family was provided for. David's article was about being a professional photographer, and it wasn't really intended for us.

    I think your bitterness is misdirected. If you're anything like me, the fact that you don't do $20,000 weddings doesn't mean you're not motivated to do the best job you can for the couple. If that's so, this is one of the best places you will find to pick the mind of a master. Look though this blog. Can you find anyone else anywhere who is so generous about sharing his accumulated knowledge? For free!?! I haven't.

    David worked hard over many years to build his business and improve his skills. He was successful in doing both, and he is willing to share his insights with us about that. We can take them or leave them, but insulting him just doesn't seem like the right response. And if there's any more proof you need that he's a class act, just consider that your post is still there, and that he responded to it personally.

    Finally, let me defend you. You and I both know that the weddings we photograph for "beer money" are not taking a dime out of the hands of even the $500 photographers. People who think so just didn't read your post carefully enough.

    Best wishes.

  18. wow, how photography has changed over the years, 20 years ago we were all friends, now its pety squablles and hoo to you

  19. The list is backwards. #13 and #14 deserve to be on the top of the list. If you're not taking care of the business, you're going to be spending many Saturdays at home, waiting for the phone to ring. And waiting, and waiting and waiting. 50% of all small businesses (including weeding photographers) fail in the first year. 80-90% fail in the first 5 years, and of those that do survive, 80-90% percent fail in the next 5 years. The statistics speak for themselves. Few will survive. Even fewer will prosper.

    How will you differentiate yourself from the other 50% that will fail this year, and 80-90% that will fail in the next 5 years?

    This is the 19th comment in this half of the article. That means, all but 2 of us will still be photographing weddings 5 years from now.

    Forget "Survivor" and all the other pseudo reality shows. This is reality.

  20. David-I'm about your age, from civil engineering work environment, your book is perfect, The new photographers charge less, know less, respect less. The arrogance in their disagreement is simple inexperience. Like the disrespect for church rules. They just can't add, math is not a consideration much like reality. They are not doing a complete job. Sincerely, no disrespect.

    I truly THINK however we have returned to the need of a mom and pop business. It's just too difficult to do all that is necessary to compete in all the ways necessary in marketing and shooting, photoshop, email, archiving, post production, and maintaining human contact with the important people that refer the just one individual. The cost of weddings has gone up, the value of our euro/peso dollar, horrible. You are again on the mark for overhead. 50%! Take the remainder and give on third to Uncle Sam who gives it to the rest of the world and after $1000 fee, the photographer keeps $333 to support a family or themselves.

    Overhead? I had an external hard drive, an internal hard drive and a lens fail while doing a ten minute head shot last year. I have three external hard drives for archiving now, not two, and I burn three DVD's per shoot. These are weddings. We basically have to upgrade two desktops, one laptop and major camera systems every three to four years. Not to mention the cost of software and the time to keep up with the new and best info. New guys only know the latest software and equipment. Nothing remains the same in the tech field. New guys have not experience this yet. Time and cost.

    In the past the joke was if you were going to eat cake/food, make sure it was as far away from the mother of the bride as possible. Eating is a reality, we eat on the way to the reception in the car, no matter what time. When we arrive the bride is waiting on us. First dance, lots of meet and greet for B&G. Setups, food stations, coctail candids, get them before the plates are on the table, more detail photos, B&G seated, chase more candids and family, coctail groups, change batteries, regroup, wait by cake, cake opportunities, cake cutting, feeding, B&G clicking combos, action reaction, dancing, candids, batteries, grab a slice of cake, hide and eat, grab another, take a four minute people watching break, someone asks for a photo, college groups, sorority, frat, church groups, follow brides vip list or pointer, throughout all staying connected with B&G, her mom, hand some cards to the banquet mngr. And it doesn't end until after you say thanks and the bride is gone, and after you grab something cute of the most dedicated fun bridesmaids sitting on the steps together pouting cheek to cheek, and then throwing up hands full of pedals and falling over giggling. Then pack up, put it in the car, drive home, unload, put gear away. Now, boot the computer? I always have. Three to four hours later, all downloaded, on three external drives, three DVD backups each. Now if I was a shoot and burn guy, how much would I charge to support just this time and work? 24 years of experience. Mom and Pop? What another two to three hours to edit, repair and ready to upload for viewing? One and half hours to watch over and verify the upload? Do I provide a set of proofs, too?



  21. I feel David is a great photographer and although some of us are shooting weddings that are not at the caliber in terms of price as the ones David shoots, I can learn techniques and aspiring to his level I will not stagnate at mine. If I can just climb one or two notches by learning from a pro I will become a better photographer. Thanks David.

  22. Let's get back to the article.

    I started my career providing technical services to my customers whom ever they may be. I believe in this. It shows in my photography customer comments. It showed in my technical sales.

    You never argue with a customer except about being paid. The customer may be wrong but he is always the customer.

    The axiom: Let us agree to disagree is a best course of action.

    Your points are 100% on the money. I just moved to a new city where we must do our own SEO to show up on Google's first or second pages to be seen. I visit everyone of my competitor's sites to see what is going on. One site mentions shooting over 100 weddings. I say, you should have learnt to shoot one correctly (no fill flash, sun on faces exc.) then followed that plan. Others are very good photographers. I would add to your comments. Learn from your competitors. What one man can do, another can also do.

    We follow your advice and improved our photography to the point that I am proud of what we do for the customer. I would feel terrible if I didn't do the very best that I could for any of our customers.

    Photography is like your web site. It is a work in progress. You never complete you learning in life. Keep striving to do better and better and to keep learning.

  23. Hi David
    Thanks for the post - great advice as ever - I am going to take a fresh look at my business!