A heartfelt letter to the new photographer by Lauren Rita Photography
There are a million ways I could open this letter. I could go on and on about how the world of photography is absolutely fascinating, how you can create art and bring your imagination to life, or explore every corner of the world and document it in a way that only you can see.
But I don’t have to. You already know these things, and that’s why you’ve decided to pursue an interest in photography. This is the first step to something truly amazing.
A little about me before I keep this going;
I have been photographing for 4 years, but I have only truly been able to call myself a photographer for 2.
Before I found my interest in photography, I was a model for a short while. I’m not going to name names, but the photographers that I would work with had no real knowledge of their craft. After every session I would get excited, thinking “wow I can’t wait to see what these photographers were able to create!” but when I received the images, my heart would sink. The girl in the photos looked nothing like me. I didn’t have skin that glowed like baby dolls, the bags under my eyes weren’t that dark, it was as if the photographer had no idea of what I looked like. Time and time again the same occurrence would happen, and I ended up quitting to maintain the small amount of self-esteem and confidence that I had.
I picked up a camera to start taking Myspace selfies, any way I could regain some kind of assurance in the way that I looked. Once I started doing this more frequently, my friends would start messaging me asking if I would photograph them. I agreed, charging only $30 and a meal from Friendly’s. To this day the very first paid client I had is still one of my very best friends.
When I started photographing other people, I made sure to remember that I never wanted to make anyone feel the way that I did when I was being photographed. I want to make people feel more beautiful than they ever have in their lives, to be able to create something only I can, to show people that they are amazing human beings.
This is my 'why', which is an important factor in determining what you want to do with your art.
Why do you want to pick up photography? Is it to photograph sports? To work with models? To make a lot of money super easily? (LOL)
The “why” can help determine exactly what is it that you want. How to get there is another thing. Within this letter, I will be sharing with you the things I wish I had known when I started 4 years ago.
1) Figure out what you want to shoot
What is it that attracted you to photography? Do you like landscapes and nature? Weddings and engagements? Family sessions and individual portraiture? Maybe sports and macro photography, maternity and birth sessions, the possibilities are endless. Look through these different genres and start with what you feel is the best fit for you.
2) Discover your style
Compile a collage of photographs by the people you look up to in the photography industry. The point is to find photos that you find interesting. Once you have this list, try and discover what each of these images have in common. Is it the lighting? The composition? The angles of the subject? Write down the things you find in common and use this to influence how you shoot. This is the best way to find out what you love in photos vs what you don’t.
3) Get a support group
The best people you can look to for support is your friends. This is your internal support group. If you do not yet feel comfortable charging for your sessions or advertising publicly, use your friends! They will be delighted that you asked and intrigued in your new venture. Ask for honest feedback about the session.
4) Get to know your gear
This is the reason I didn’t consider myself a photographer until 2 years in. When I started, I shot on jpeg, on auto, with a kit lens, and I edited on picmonkey. YEAH. THAT’S RIGHT.
I used to be one of those people that thought photography was just clicking a button. Then when my partner started shooting and he actually understood the technical aspects, his photos turned out better than mine. Only then did I understand what I was lacking.
It’s important to get to know how your camera works. The functions and aspects that each one has. Brush up on how iso, shutter speed, depth of field, aperture, and all other camera functions work. This is probably the #1 thing I wish I had learned when I started.
5) Your gear won’t be the reason you succeed
A lot of people think that having the latest and most expensive equipment will help them becoming a professional photographer, but that’s not true. Your gear can only get you so far if you are not putting in the proper amount of practice and skill advancement. Someone with the best camera on the market that does not know how to use their gear or hone their artistic eye will not create images better than someone who has an older camera that has dedicated themselves to their craft. If you don’t think that’s true? Look up Lara Jade and the experiment she did with a 0.3 megapixel camera.
6) Shoot and edit as much as you can
I cannot stress enough that this is one of the most important lessons in this letter.
In 2014 I started a 365 Project - a photo project where you take a photo every day for an entire year. I decided to try this with self portraiture, which is incredibly hard if you do not dedicate the time and patience that is required. I photographed myself every day, even if what I was shooting was the worst idea ever. It is experimenting and trying new things that truly helps you to advance as a photographer.
In 2015, I was going through depression and having a horrible time in school. I found my sanctuary in creating self portraits, shooting as much as I could in my dorm room, and editing the same photo over and over in order to get the final look that I wanted. The amount of effort and time you put into your work is something that should not be taken lightly.
Say for example you’re in a band. Do you only pick up your guitar when you have to play a show? Or do you practice in your spare time to get better?
7) You have to crave it with everything you have
If you are in photography just for the money, then there’s nothing for me to say to you except you will find yourself disappointed.
The key to being a successful artist is wanting it more than anything. You spend sleepless nights staying up to work on photos, countless hours watching tutorials and looking at images, you will have periods where you don’t think you can do it. But you can.
It is not easy but with passion invoked, the true artist can succeed. You have to keep going.
8) Join a creative community
Other photographers and creatives can be your best friends. Just as you need an internal support group, this is the external support group, which is helpful in a different way. There are loads of online groups started by the people in your area that are filled with photographers, makeup artists, models, fashion designers, painters, sculptors, and more. Building these friendships can help you gain a new perspective on your work, create connections that can lead to referrals and collaborations, help you with pricing and much more. In a world where you work alone for the most part, these people can be looked at as your coworkers. It makes things far less lonely.
9) There is no one right way of doing things
If you’ve always been told that you shouldn’t shoot in a certain way, why should that be something that you follow? If you want to shoot outside during noon, go for it. If you want to shoot indoors with hardly any light, go for it. Photography is an artistic journey that allows you to create and do whatever you want. There is no right or wrong way to do anything.
10) Learn the business
This isn’t something I’m going to go into in depth, but it is important to figure out the costs of maintaining a business and figuring out what kind of income you want/need to make.
At the beginning, it’s absolutely okay to charge what you believe you are worth, depending on the length of the session, how long it takes you to edit the images, and how many images the client receives from the session. There is no right or wrong answer on this.
11) Ignore the bullies
A lot of photographers feel the need to bash and look down upon new photographers, feeling that they are taking away from the professionalism of photography by charging cheap rates and not putting enough into their work.
What a lot of these professionals forget is that they started off in the same place as you. We’re all new at the beginning, that’s why it’s important to keep pursuing it.
If a photographer feels threatened by you, even if you are new, consider it a compliment. If they were truly doing well with their business, they wouldn’t even bother comparing you to them.
12) Implant it in people’s minds
Social media and bookings go hand in hand when first starting, and it can be one of your absolutely greatest assets. You want people to look at your name on their feed and instantly think “photographer.” With the algorithms of social media fighting against business owners nowadays, the best way to do this is by posting on your personal page as well as your business page. Share your photos, talk about photography, hold model calls, anything that will relate you and your love for photography together. This makes it much easier for people to find you.
13) It’s okay to shoot for free
Oh my gosh, no way! But yes, you can. Some of my best shoots have come from free sessions or portfolio builders. If you see someone you would like to work with, ask them if they would be interested in shooting with you and show them a small amount of your portfolio to see if it’s something that would be interested in. Styled shoots are sessions where multiple vendors all donate their services and collaborate together on one giant shoot to showcase everyone’s talent.
14) Become your own best friend
Let’s say that you have made the decision to quit your 9-5 job and go full time with photography. YAAAAY! That’s awesome!
You wake up the next morning, excited to start your first day as a full timer. What do you do? There’s no one to tell you what to do, or to assign jobs and tasks. You will be your biggest motivator, your life coach, your greatest supporter. Stay focused.
15) Remember the why
Remember why you decided to pick up a camera. As the years go by, your business will grow, you will mature and get older, and things may change. Always remember why you started this, and what is important to you. The memories, the honour of someone wanting your art, the rush you get from shooting a session, the magic that happens when you deliver pictures to your your client.
Photography is more than just clicking a button.
It’s love. It’s passion. It’s art.
Lauren Laveria is a creative portrait and wedding photographer based in Central Florida where she also attends UCF for Creative Writing.