One of the things that just makes my day is when I get an email from a reader. I so appreciate all of you that take a few minutes out of your day to send me a note that you appreciate the blog. So THANK YOU to everyone that has ever left a comment, note, or email.
I’m also happy to receive questions from you and really try to get back to every single person. Although sometimes, ie. October, it’s just not possible to reply right away as I need to make sure that I stay current on all of my client work.
This is a question that I received from a reader that I felt many of you may be interested in as well. “As a newbie pet photographer starting out in business, what would you say are a few key ‘musts’? I’m wondering more in terms of camera gear, but if there are any other applicables I would love to hear! I believe it’s more in the quality of the work despite the equipment, would I be wrong?”
You are absolutely right in your assumption that the camera does not make the photographer, however there are some basic gear needs without which you will be hard pressed to produce consistent images in all situations. I am a big believer in avoiding business debt, you just don’t need that hanging over your head as an added business pressure.
Before we dive into gear, let’s talk about some basic technical knowledge that is essential before you start requesting money for your services. These are technical basics that can be mastered on ANY camera.
- Good exposure. Is there detail in your blacks? Are your highlights blown out? Is there good dynamic range in your images?
- White Balance. How is your color management? Do your images look blue, yellow, or magenta? Are there green colors casts from the grass on the white dog? This is a skill that takes time to develop and asking for critique of your images is the best way to improve this skill.
- Composition. Do you know the different composition elements? Can you incorporate them into your images?
Once you have gained a solid foundation in your technical skills you can start to consider charging for your business. Not so fast though, are you legally set up to run a business? You should NOT be charging for your services if you are not legally set up to be in business. Simply google “starting a business in your state” and “starting a business in your county”. You will definitely need to:
- Sales Tax license
- Federal ID number (EIN) – you can use your SS# but and EIN is free why put your SS# out there more then you need to.
- Insurance – Liability and Equipment
- Separate business bank account
- Accounting software or accountant
Ok, so we are getting close to being able to hang out your shingle. Although we need to have a plan on how we are going to manage all of those images first!
- A good computer with lots of RAM and memory.
- Editing software such as Lightroom and Photoshop
- A color calibration device.
- Cloud storage for archived and active files, and possibly on-site mirrored back up drives. Don’t rely on a single external hard drive. Hard drives WILL DIE.
Finally, we are ready to talk gear! I am a big believer in getting everything out of your gear that you can. That means that if it’s serving you well then by all means keep using it! I don’t like to spend my money upgrading every time something new and shiny is released. I will however upgrade when I find that my current gear is not able to handle the task at hand as well as I would like. For instance, I was completely happy with my Canon 7D for the first two years of my business. However, I found that the cropped sensor and more limited ISO abilities were getting in the way for the images I wanted to create. I knew that it was time to upgrade to full frame.
If you are just starting out there are a variety of great bodies that are a step above the entry level consumer cameras but not quite as pricey as the professional level bodies. Check out the 6D or 7D for Canon. I’m not as familiar with Nikon’s different bodies but I know that they have similar options.
Good quality glass is a critical investment. As with most things in life, you get what you pay for. There is a difference between the 50 1.8 and 50 1.2. The higher quality lenses are built more durably, which in my opinion is critical for professional working gear. If you would like a great site to research which lens investment is best for you, check out Digital Photography Review. It is a comprehensive review site that has oodles of information. Remember if you are going to be shooting inside you probably want a fast piece of glass with a large aperture (small number).
As for the gear that I recommend it really depends on your shooting style. Renting lenses from Borrow Lenses or LensPro2Go is a great way to make sure it works for you before purchasing. I started my business with the 24-70 2.8 and the 70-200 2.8. As I developed my style I found that I really enjoyed shooting with primes so the 24-70 was replaced with the 24 1.4, 50 1.2, and 85 1.2. Remember, you don’t need to have every piece of glass available on the market in your camera bag. Try to refrain from buying gear unless you need it and make sure you are investing in the other critical aspects of your business too.
Finally, what I consider to be the MOST important part of starting a successful studio: a strong business and sales plan. In order to be successful in this business it is imperative that you have a solid marketing, pricing, workflow and sales strategy. Without clients you have no business, without good workflow you have no time, without good pricing and sales you have no income. These are incredibly important and it is one area that I see many photographers kind of skim over.
If you are looking to create a profitable business I invite you to join me at our small group workshop, the Hair of the Dog Retreat, in the Ft. Lauderdale, FL area in February of 2014. We are going to leave no stone unturned in all of these important areas. I promise that it will change your business. Learn more here.