Friday, February 19, 2010

12 Mistakes New Photographers Make When Starting Their Business – Part 1

Good Morning Everybody,

Early last evening I had the pleasure of hanging out with 4 photographers, Barry Howe, Douglas Lee Coon, Dennis Zerwas, and Gavin on Gavin Seim's Pro Photography Show.  Gavin does these podcasts on a weekly basis - I don't know where he finds the time - but, needless to say, it's always a good time and lively discussion. 

Pro Photography Show His current post, 11 Killer Marketing Books & Resources For Photographers [link] is a great read.  BTW, I don't just say that because he included DPT on his list.  His list does include one of my favorite sales books - How to Sell Anything to Anybody.  Like I said, you can give it a read right here - Enjoy.

Getting back to the podcast - we talked all things photography, new news items, new products, marketing ideas, and more.  Gav tells me it may be up later today.  Just hit the podcast link on the home page of his site.  Anyway, lots of good stuff.

Lens Flare35 And speaking of podcasts, I'm doing a "LIVE" web-cast over at LensFlare35 [link] next Tuesday.  Dave Warner puts these together and has been doing a great job with his new adventure.  The topic: Fusion, Convergence, HD DSLR’s – the video capability in these new cameras. I'm honored to join Zacuto’s Steve Weiss and Kevin Shahinian

Want info on the same subject, check out LensFlare35’s January 27, 2010 on a similar topic right here.

If you follow this blog on a regular basis, you guys and gals know how fired-up I am about the DSLR/Video possibilities so plan to stop by. Dave has really got the format of the show locked down with live tweeting, call in questions and more.  Heck, it's just like we are in your living room. See ya' there.

OK, time to get on with today's post.  I'm always keeping an eye on the Skribit widget in the right column of DPT.  Once again, a question popped earlier this week which I thought needed some discussion, "Mistakes New Photographers Make When Starting Their Business."  The more I thought about it, the more excited I became about how I wanted to answer the question.  Today's post does just that so let's get right to it.

12 Mistakes New Photographers Make When Starting Their Business – Part 1

OK, here we go.  My list is based on my own actual experiences and my experiences with photographers in the process of or having just started their businesses.  It’s mostly a matter of naiveté – “green around the ears”, so to speak, about all things required for a success oriented business.

Hey, I’m not pointing any fingers – I was in the same boat when I started my business – “green as grass”  I loved shooting and creating photographs, so why not start a photography business? 

DAZNOTE: In my new book, “Captured By The Light” [link], I actually tell my story in the first few pages of the book.  I hope you’ll give it a read.  It was quite interesting to reminisce about those early years.

It get’s pretty scary when you’re getting calls from the revenue agents looking for back taxes. 

Telling them you spent the money, has never cut it with those tax guys and gals. Then figuring out how you are going to come up with the money is not a pleasant situation.

If you are serious about your future in this profession, here are 12 mistakes – and this is not a complete list - new photographers make when starting their business.

Hit the “Read More…” link below for the rest of the story.

Here’s my list of 12 mistakes photographers make when starting their businesses.

1. Lack of knowledge about how their gear works.

People attend my workshops and in the early part of the week I ask the class to time–sync their cameras with mine.  That way their overall shots sync-up with my class shots. It’s a great learning tool. I’m always surprised that about 1/3 of the class has no idea how to set the time on their cameras.  As “screaming comic”, Sam Kinison would have said – READ THE MANUAL!!!

photographer 2. Lack of knowledge of what and how to shoot a wedding.

With all the free stuff on line – DigitalProTalk, Strobist, and nearly free information available at – Kelby Training, there simply is no reason why a new photographer should not be prepared to shoot a wedding.  There are a gazillion wedding books on the market too that can point you in the right direction for doing a great job photographing the celebration. Heck, I’ve got 288 pages walking you through the entire process from start to finish.

3. Shooting with no “Back up” equipment.

This one floors me.  “What camera should I buy to shoot a wedding if I only have enough money for one camera?”  My advice; DON”T shoot a wedding till you have money for two cameras and two flashes. This isn’t a “do-over” event. You must be prepared.

4. Not dressing the part.

This is simply a real “pet peeve” of mine. It is the total lack of professionalism when some photographers present themselves at a FORMAL event – let me say it again, FORMAL event, for example a wedding! Black T-shirts, no tie, etc.  My advice – get real, get professional – get REALLY PROFESSIONAL!!! Dress the way the guests dress. You certainly don’t want a tux for an small afternoon beach ceremony. But you also don’t want to show up in pants and tee shirt at an evening formal, sit down dinner event at the top country club in the area.

Here is a link to a post I did a while back entitled, “Dressing The Part At A Wedding” on the same subject right here.

drunk business man 35. Thinking they are one of the guests – eating, drinking, talking, more than necessary, and relaxing.

This goes under the same heading as the above point.  It speaks to profession decorum and conduct at a wedding.  We ARE NOT guests, per se.  We are the “hired help”. Just hear me out.  Whether you’re shooting a $1000 job or a $10,000 job, you are there FOR YOUR CLIENT FIRST!!! Keep your attention on the job at hand.  Never waiver from your attention to detail and creativity when you are on the job.  If you do not have the “eye of the tiger” when shooting your job, you do your client a disservice!

My team and I NEVER sit at a wedding – it is Verboten!! We take our first 60 second soft drink break usually about 6 hours into the job.  Sounding too tough for you….look for another job.

6. Thinking it’s their gig and they will get the shot at any cost.

Another BIG “pet peeve” of mine. Too many photographers see themselves as the “premiere artieest” at the event and will get the shot at any cost, including disrespecting the house of worship and trespassing where the know they should not go.  That’s one main reason so many priests, ministers , and rabbis are “fed up” with  wedding photographers.  Read my post, “Is Wedding Photography Deadright here and you’ll get my drift on the subject.

Hey gang, get me up on my “soap box” and I get pretty fired up.  I feel very strongly about all the points I made  in today’s post and as a result, it getting quite long.

I’ll have the next six more MISTAKES for you next week and I’ll plan on wrapping the piece next Friday.


On that note gang, I’m out of here. Everybody have a great weekend and I’ll see you on Monday. And remember; in these cold, wintery  days of the season, if you really want to “turn-on and warm-up” your digital pixels, shoot snow scenes;~)

Adios Everybody,  -David


  1. I agree with 1, 2, 3, 4, and 6

  2. Good points David, I'm looking forward to the next 6.

  3. I agree with them all, it's just common sense - it's just, common sense is not common anymore.

  4. lol on 5. Is that the guy you fired?

  5. About those 288 pages you just wrote. Just a few minutes ago, UPS handed me my copy of Captured by the Light and I've been leafing through it. I'm blown away by how great this book looks and I'm not even a wedding photographer.

    Thanks so much for writing it all down. It must have been a huge effort.

  6. Hi David, that was great advice for people like me who are starting to talk photography more seriously. Thank you for all the knowledge you share with us.

  7. The number #1 mistake to avoid?

    Back your data....

    Winner, Winner , Chicken Dinner.

  8. Totally agree about decorum and dress. It always amazes me to see a photographer with 20K in equipment dressed in jeans and a black T shirt.
    LOVE THE NEW BOOK by the way. Sending you a sep. email about it. Well done!

  9. Hi David,

    Just found your blog today, been following Strobist, McNally & NAPP for years. My wife & I are into our 6th full season, shooting on average 30 weddings a year, but of course are always continuing to learn and excel in our craft.

    Like the 1st poster, I agree with all six of your points except for never sitting down or eating during the day. We normally shoot a 10 hour day and do not feel it is "verboten" to be fed and regain our energy so we can provide even better work for the last few hours of the night.

    We ask to be sat as close to the head table as possible without plunking us down in the middle of mom & dad. That way we are never far from the action. I do not ignore anything when eating and realize I may have to put down my fork or even let my prime rib become a bit cold for the perfect shot.

    This is a very debatable topic, but even when offered beer or liquor by the groom or bridal party during the day or evening I always decline. However, my wife and I may have a single glass of wine during the meal when the bottles are placed on the table and we seated with other guests. The odd time when we are sat alone we never accept a bottle for ourselves.

    I certainly respect your opinion on the topic, but feel you may be overly harsh on new photographers who may take your writing as gospel. At least in Canada with the 150 some odd weddings I've been blessed to shoot, it is accepted standard practice, and not taboo, to expect a meal during a full day of shooting.

    Looking forward to digging deeper into your blog and taking a look at your new book.

    Have a great season,


  10. I agree with all your feedback. I would add the following:

    1. Not practicing enough. Every new photographer should commit to doing photo projects directly and indirectly related to their profession. A photo per day project is a good one to do.

    2. When not shooting jobs, photographers should be practicing skills and strategies from what they learn in books, workshops, and videos. Like you wrote, once, David, it’s a good idea to get with a few other photographers and practice. You don’t always need to pay hundreds of dollars for a workshop. Just get out and shoot and try new techniques.

    3. Lastly, I would had that each time you shoot a job, return home and make a list of notes of what worked and what didn’t. Include in your notes of sample shots that worked and didn’t. And when preparing to go on your next shoot, review your list of what you will work to improve on in your next shoot. Your work for a job should always be as good or better than the portfolio of photos on your website.

  11. Absolutely except for the 6 hour wait to get something to drink all you need to do is make sure you are paying attention... ALL the time!

    Are your guys allowed to go to the bathroom or do they need to fully empty out before the event?

    Sorry I could not resist taking a bit of a stab LOL!

  12. #6 has got to the point that I have encountered churches that don't permit the photographers past the 5th row of pews during the ceremony

  13. Hi David,

    Great post! I'm not a pro (i have another day job), but I am interested in starting small photography business on the side at some point.

    You make some great points; for me these all fall under common sense and just generally good business/client service practices.

    I think that when people start a "photography business", they love the "photography", but forget about the "business" part and underestimate how difficult this part is. Client service, revenue, taxes, contracts, legal issues scheduling, commitments, the list goes on.

    Thanks for your insight!

  14. David,
    I received your book a few days ago. Spot on. But the churches don't allow us anywhere up or near the alter during the ceremony.

    I have photographed just under five hundred weddings in my career. We pack a cooler and have sandwiches and drinks on the way to every reception. There is too much to do to break for grub. Even a seated dinner requires the table shots and seated couples as part of the service.

    I do have a bad habit of lingering at the cake for an extra slice. Sweet tooth.

    My biggest tip is to change your shoes between the ceremony and reception. Huge tip!

    I always dress in a tux, but with regular tie.

    Your book may at some point be a history of past times. The wedding magazines have lowered the expectations of our brides. Back up equipment? I haven't heard of a wedding article discuss quality or backup gear since digital emerged. Canon and Nikon love the expanded sales and I'm sure don't want to discourage expanding their business exponentially with new inexperienced wedding photographers. The magazines love getting their editorial shots disregarding the bride's loss of quality and competent coverage.

    Bridal consultants, wedding photographers giving advise after two to four years in "the business".

    Your blog is the stuff! All photography to me is high energy. The clients will not tolerate a waste of their time. Meaning minutes. Digital exposure is so critical. Love your multi-light set up at the reception! I know it's a stretch but you've got to get the word out to the brides! Get more than one article in the bridal magazines, and channel your blog to both brides and photographers. The brides deserve better.


  15. Not eating at a wedding goes back to my journalism training. You are there to document the story; you are not a PART of the story. The philosophy goes a little farther in journalism, but I'll leave it at that.

    As for #6 I know other people are trying to take their own pictures with their point-and-shoots. So even though I need to get the shot, I try to be aware and not block other people's view.

  16. Excellent points of observation Dave. Too many experienced photographers are getting a bad rap for the small amount of newbies who believe in nothing more than their own glory. On an almost weekly basis I hear stoires of disappointed brides who often say "If I only knew". This is the boomerang effect of people getting into the wedding photography business because they bought a $500.00 SLR at Best Buy. They now see themselves as "professional" and think they have no learning curve. When we look at the greatest of all artists, whether painters, architects or photographers - they were always students of the art, seeking to learn and grow more. I have been in the business for several years and I read you blog because I know everyone needs to constantly review the fundamentals of photography to the complex. Thanks for your insight and wisdom as well as your heart to share!

    Have a great day!


  17. Great points! I will study up on them. Please lay off the overuse of exclamations though. Detracts from what you're saying and your writing skills. :-)

  18. I can agree with some of these but when you look back it's not about what you wear it's about getting great photos, I never wear a suit when I am shooting outside, it's already 103 outside here in fl, I don't need to pass out. Most brides let you wear what you want if you ask them. I know a lot of Priest that are mad at wedding photographers but who are the bride and groom going to remember when they look back the priest or the photographer? I move around a little but I never go where I am not allowed but sometimes they won't let you shoot any of the ceremony, what then? These people only get married once and I don't want to stage it after. Can we stage a news event? You did make some good points, and I will follow your blog. I wish I could have found your blog early on. Yes backup your photos is a biggie I keep 3 backups of everything

  19. Great tips. #1 is being pretty generous from the class I took at Photoshop world from David. It seemed like more than half the people couldn't sync their clocks.