So it's been a little over a year since I've moved to Portland and since I became an official full-time photographer. I can remember how confused I was this time last year about getting into the industry, and how I couldn't seem to find the answers to any of the questions I had. I'm writing this post to help others that are in the same position and to offer some tips for an aspiring photographer in a new city. I wish I had someone tell me that, yes, it was possible. And yes, most of the photographers don't know what they're doing either. Obviously I don't have all of the answers, but I still feel like I've learned so much since I've been here. In my experience, it comes down to a few key questions you need to ask yourself:
1. Is there something specific about your work that you could use to stand out amongst the other photographers?
Let's be honest here. There are WAYYY too many photographers. Most of them are mediocre. If you can establish yourself as a talented, motivated, hard working photographer with a vision, you will be fine. The others will fall to the wayside.
2. Do you know what your key character traits are that will help you make a name for yourself in the industry?
Are you trustworthy? Social? Timely? Mention these traits to your clients. It's so important to establish a level of trust with your clients. If something feels fishy, forget about it. It works both ways too. I got an email a few months ago about photographing an engagement party. I sent him my price list and we emailed back and forth for a few weeks. He tried to get me to transfer over $1500 between my account, his account, and the "florist's" account. I felt uneasy about using my account for such a large transfer and when I called the venue to confirm the engagement party, they had no record of it. When I emailed him and told him I didn't feel comfortable doing the transfer, I never heard from him again. Use your intuition! It's there for a reason.
3. Tell everyone you meet about your business. Offer discounts on your website and don't give up. Keep posting.
The more people see your name, the harder it is for them to forget it.
4. Meet up with other photographers, especially if you like their work.
I've met so many incredible photographers this year. Instead of being intimidated by them or seeing them as competition, I try to be supportive of them and their work and 99% of the time it's reciprocated. It's soo important to network with other photographers. Not only could they refer you for a job in the future, but they have their own set of connections and the more people you know, the better. It's also extremely motivating to see your fellow photographers creating work, because it makes you want to prove to them that you are busy creating too.
5. You may have to start off charging way less than you normally would, or even do shoots for free.
When I first moved to Portland, nearly everything I did was either free/low budget. There's nothing wrong with this. It's a great way to get started and make connections, and soon enough you'll be right where you want to be.
6. Don't forget that you're doing this because you love photography.
It's been an emotional roller coaster trying to convince myself that I chose to do this. I used to take photos because I loved it, and it's been tough making that transition from hobby to business. There are lots of stresses involved. You just have to make sure to take little trips and vacations during which you can take photos without any pressure. Also, keep challenging yourself to become better. Don't get stuck doing just head shots or weddings, pushing your personal work to the side. Your personal work is what makes you a true photographer.
7. You can do it! Ignore the negative comments.
It definitely wasn't easy and I spent a lot of days wondering if I would even make it at all. I had set a goal for myself at the beginning of this year; to book 10 weddings. When I ended up booking 20, I could hardly believe it and I would even say that I wasn't prepared for that many. Especially in a new city that I wasn't familiar with, and not to mention, a city that was crawling with photographers. I even came across a few people that told me not to even try. One wedding photographer even told me, "You won't make it here. You need to choose something else." Mind you, he hadn't even seen my work. Now, call me crazy but isn't it sort of an unspoken rule to support fellow artists and encourage them to keep trying? For a second there, I thought maybe he was right. But now I'm convinced that he just didn't want any more competition and that he was just a jerk. As a young, female photographer in the wedding industry, I've learned that I have the upper hand. Brides like photographers that they can relate to. I also received an extremely negative comment on my blog about my work. It really bothered me at first, and I kept reading it over and over, trying to understand how someone could be so mean. And that was just it, they were mean. The simple fact that they posted anonymously means that they don't have the balls to stand up for what they truly think. I don't consider their comment a "critique" by any means because I went to college and I know how a real critique works. Constructive criticism is useful, but it doesn't involve bashing the other person's work. It's about encouraging them to continue to create work while making changes along the way to become a stronger artist.
Anyway, it's also helped that I've had amazing clients so far. I think a photographer's work kind of speaks for itself, and if you are true to your own photographic vision and stick to it, you'll get clients that appreciate you for that reason. You'll get clients that are similar to you in some way or that respect your vision because it's unique.
I couldn't even explain to you how much I've learned this year. I'm so excited (nervous!) to see what next year brings. And to all the people who said I couldn't do it, I can promise you that I'm not going anywhere.