I started a photography business with such little knowledge of the whole process and grew so much by reading blogs where other photographers shared the ins and out of it. I really appreciate people who are transparent, who aren't afraid to share information about their business because they believe that we can all grow and learn from each other. I need to give a huge thank you to one of my favorite photographers, Morgan Trinker, for inspiring me in this area. She is a continual source of knowledge, encouragement and honesty for me through her blog posts. I would reference back to her blog posts on starting a business over and over and it helped me so much. So in light of how much she and others have helped me, I thought it would be good to walk through some of the most helpful steps in starting a photography business. There is so so much to walk through in the process so I'm breaking it up into sections, the first being camera gear. I would stalk other photographers and search for what equipment they used, what lenses they loved, so this post is what I always wanted to read on other people's sites. Thanks ahead of time for reading:)
1. Camera Body + Lenses
There is so much more to a photography business than just the camera, but obviously it is the basic building block of the business. I started out with a Canon 50d and a 50mm 1.4 lens (and the kit lens, 18-135mm). I owned a Canon Rebel XT prior to this that began my love for photography, but the 50d was a great step up. I shot a few weddings with the Canon 50d as a second shooter, and would rent a full-frame Canon body (Canon 5d mkii) from Borrowlenses for weddings I shot by myself. I ended up purchasing a 5d mkii because it could produce better images in lower light, which weddings are notorious for. That was my main reason for upgrading, but since then I can appreciate the other full-frame features as well. I read over and over that it the lens you use that makes the biggest difference, not the camera body. The photographers I loved shot primarily with prime lenses (a fixed focal length lens), and I knew there was something magical about what those lenses were capable of. The 50mm 1.4 lens is incredibly affordable and was the best first lens purchase. If you love the blurry, creamy buttery sweet goodness background that makes the subject seem so sharp and real in the foreground, then you need a lens with a large aperture (so a lens that opens up to f/1.4 rather than a f/4). I purchased a Canon 24-70mm 2.8 lens, and it is a complete workhorse for weddings. But I knew that I wanted more background drop off, more bokeh, and I couldn't get that look at f/2.8. So I sold that lens to purchase a Canon 35mm 1.4. And I LOVE it. I knew other photographers who spoke highly of it, and I love that it is wide but not too wide, and let's me interact closely with my subjects which I also love. If I could pick one lens to shoot with a whole day, I'd take this one hands down. It can do large group shots and intimate couple shots. I also purchased a Tamron 70-200mm 2.8 lens to get up-close ceremony shots. I have since enjoyed using it for portraits at times, but honestly it's a really big lens so I don't use it very much. My most recent purchase was the Canon 50mm 1.2 lens, and it has become a close second to my 35mm. Actually when used well it beats it. The 1.2 is CRAZY- talk about some crazy bokeh. But I think of it as a really sharp knife that you need to practice using lots before you shoot wide open with it, because if your focus is off even a hair (literally a single hair) you could miss the shot. There are times when an out of focus shot is cool or interesting, but in general I would want to know how to get it tack-sharp, in focus first before I deviate. I also have a Canon 16-35mm 2.8 that I mainly use for receptions to show the whole story of a party, or to capture architecture or landscape in a photo. It is wide stuff. I do like how you can get pictures of nearly 3 corners of a room with this lens, and that it can tell a story in one shot. But I don't like how it distorts people (think fisheye). This is where a 20mm lens might be a better fit for me, but the budget doesn't allow so I'll rent:) If you are getting into photography and hope to grow a business, I would most definitely start with a 50mm 1.8 or 1.4 lens. Being a fixed lens means you will have to zoom in with your feet, but it's worth the creative control you get with a larger aperture. Next on my hit list for lens... the Canon 85mm 1.4. I've rented it and loved it. I just need to sell my right arm to buy it.
Many photographers brand themselves as natural light photographers, meaning they don't use flash to light their pictures but exclusively sunlight. On the other side of the spectrum are photographers who use flash indoors and outdoors, who love flash. I didn't know where I was on this spectrum when I started because I knew how frustrating it could be to photograph in a really dark room and get unintentionally blurry shots. So I started out with my brother's Canon 420 EX flash on my camera when needed for dark receptions. Then I upgraded to a more powerful Canon 580 EX flash. As I grew in my understanding of lighting, I ventured into off-camera lighting (setting up flashes around a room and wirelessly triggering them from my camera) and loved it so much more than on-camera lighting. I purchased MY FAVORITE flash, the LumoPro LP120, and it has been my most reliable off-camera flash. It is a manual flash, meaning it can't be used in TTL mode on camera, but it is as powerful as the Canon 580 EX and has never let me down. I used PocketWizards to trigger the flashes for awhile (I rented them), but then I bought RadioPopper JrX system to wirelessly trigger my flashes. They have been great, and super affordable. My only complaint with using this setup in a reception is the recycle time on flashes mean you can't just fire a bunch of shots, and they eat batteries up! For this reason I got an AlienBee 1600 strobe to use at receptions, but I am constantly trying to figure out my favorite setup. I also have 2 Sony video lights by recommendation of the amazing Jose Villa. His book on wedding photography changed my world. He doesn't like to use flash (but does on occasion) and instead uses these video lights. The great part about using continuous lighting like this is that what your eye sees is what you get. Also you don't miss some amazing moment because your flash didn't fire (which has happened to me and been SOO frustrating). But it isn't always powerful enough in dark situations if you really want to freeze motion. One more plug for video lights- I had one wedding where I was messing with off-camera lights so much that I couldn't be engaged in the moments that were actually going on. I was so irritated by the experience that I vowed to always have video lights on me so that I wouldn't miss anything in the middle of someone's big day. The video lights can be mounted to your camera's hotshoe or just held in your hand off camera. I know I must look crazy doing this, but it helps me out big time in dark situations. In terms of light modifiers (think how a lamp shade spreads out light, makes it less bright- i.e. a light modifier), I have used shoot-through umbrellas, Gary Fong Lightspheres, and small softboxes in different situations. I tend to use the Gary Fong domes on top of my flash the most because it really spreads the light out and softens it, making it less harsh. I do look like a complete nerd using it, but it makes shooting a more pleasant experience for me so it's worth feeling like nerd. It is great for places where there is no ceiling to bounce light off from, or the ceiling is too high. Again I am still learning so maybe I need to read and practice more with all this!
3. Bags + Accessories
I have a ShootSac and have worn that thing out. That's what I use to hold my lenses, camera cards, keys, phone, etc. when I'm actually shooting. It is a soft bag that doesn't weigh you down but keeps everything you need on you. If you get one I definitely recommend getting the shoulder pad strap with it. I've used a couple different camera bags, and my favorite for all my gear is the Pelican case that my brother surprised me with as a gift. What I use for just my cameras and lenses is a Tamrac Backpack. If only Jansport made camera bags:) I like that the Tamrac bag has an area to store your laptop so you can bring your camera and computer to back up your pictures all in one bag. My other brother recently bought me a ladybug that goes around my lens (which is significant because my family calls me bug) that squeaks to help get kids to smile. I don't typically shoot with a ladybug around my lens, but I am not above pulling it out to get a reaction from someone and a genuine smile:) If you photograph kids you have to pull out all the stops!
All this being said, I have seen some incredible iPhone pictures on Instagram and am tempted to believe the iPhone could put me out of a job! So ultimately it is the person's creative eye taking the picture that is needed, not fancy equipment. But equipment can open up a world of possibilities in terms of what you are able to do in different scenarios. My next post on this will be about different photography resources... but leave me a comment if there is another aspect to the business that interests you!!
Much internet love,