Common Mistakes When You Start Shooting For A Living

selective focus photography of woman holding dslr camera

These are one of the few “battle scars” articles I get to write. This industry has taught me much, and am still continuing this learning journey. For those who are starting their professional photography, and if you are serious about the business, here are some stuff I’ve learned the hard way.

Mind Your EQ

I know how we are all excited in showing off our work to the world, but remember never to get ahead of your client’s release of work. They have their own timings and plans with their business. It’s not about us… it’s never about us, but about helping our clients achieve their imaging needs.

A Pyrrhic Victory

This guide is no means a way to follow a price. We are all entitled to price our way and in accordance with the clients we keep. The only guiding principle I hope we adhere to is NOT to price at a loss. Other people who have touched this topic all appeal to our self-worth as a freelancer – to give value to the craft. While that is all ideal and good, in reality it doesn’t really resonate to drive any change in our pricing habits. Because self-worth is subjective. Money on the other hand is not.

photo studio with white wooden framed wall mirror
Photo by Alexander Dummer on

Being a freelancer is more than just hawking your services. You are a one-person army of account management / operations / human resources and accounting all rolled into one. All those factors account for costs. I’ve been an advocate of the “ground up” method in costing.

Know your value, and keep that value in the industry. Of course, better said than done. Most of us in the gig economy, we fall victim to underpricing ourselves. It’s not so much from our lack of knowledge, but also how our mind plays tricks on us when it comes to putting a price on our heads. An article in Vox got me interested in this sort of thinking.

You Are The Brand

And that comes in the form of your name and by extension your reputation. The projects you accept, how you price and the network you build are little stepping stones that build this brand. Important to be mindful of every business decision you make may it be as simple as sending over a costing, to managing an entire production. No success comes overnight, and the same goes for work legacy. Those two things are built over the little everyday decisions you make for your career.

Set Early Ground Rules

Most of us are always reluctant to talk about price (that’s one of them ground rules). That non-confrontational shyness is something ingrained within our culture whether we like it or not. But business deals are always black and white, despite all the gray area of small talk. Don’t be afraid in bringing up rates in the conversation simply because this is a business transaction. You are supposed to be compensated for your craft.

Also, your reluctance may bite you in the ass down the line in the project.

Before you send a formal cost estimate, make sure you have the following covered:

  • Rates
  • Delivery and Timetables
  • Revisions (if applicable)
  • Work Conditions (prevailing COVID-19 protocols). Since the pandemic, this has been an important element. Gone are the days of long shooting hours. Safety is still priority at the end of the day, which leads to the final point:
  • Testing Fees and Pandemic Protocols. Given this virus is here to stay, this has been a staple in most industry-level practices. So make sure you client abides by this.

How to insert those points into the conversation though, is left to the gray area. IMHO, the rapport you build with your client naturally comes later when you have delivered a great job.

Create a “Paper” Trail

Always have something to refer back (and protect yourself with) when things come into question. More often than not in the course of a project, things change. Be diligent enough to catch those changes and run it against the original agreement you had with your client. Is this still part of my original deliverables? Is this an addendum? How much should I charge extra based on the original agreement?

The last thing you want to happen is get into screen cap arguments over who said what. More formal electronic documentation such as email can give a proper timeline of correspondence.

Always get some form of approval signed off before you actually do any work.


Always inform clients on your progress on a regular basis. This way, ball is on their court to respond and you have done your part.

Reply to your client within reasonable time. When I say reasonable, they can’t expect a call or text in the middle of the night or wee hours the morning. The pandemic blurred the lines between work and home since a good number have shifted to a work from home setup.

Keep it professional. Your personal issues, should remain personal. If you are triggered with anything your client has said or written, take a step back and collect your thoughts. That previous link addresses how to answer challenging questions, but the same can be applied to reactions. It’s all about catching yourself before you reply anything stupid.

A ton of talent would always be trumped by an ounce of professionalism.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.