Solopreneurs and small business owners will tell you it takes more than passion and talent to make a living owning your own business – no matter if it’s simply a side hustle or a full-time gig. Photography is no different. We asked metro Detroit-based, generalist photographer Michael Shuster to provide how-to-get-started advice based on his 15 years as full-time, solo photographer.
1. Grow your business skills.
Photographers are artists. Most new photographers have little experience in business. But understanding business fundamentals is critical to developing a strong foundation for success. A business plan that details how you’ll develop the business and sets realistic benchmarks will aid in keeping you focused.
The second most important component of this, Mike said, is experience.
“I learned a lot about customer relationship building, marketing and organization as an apprentice to editorial and commercial photographers while I was in college and for the first few years after graduation,” Mike said. “This kind of firsthand look at what works well and what doesn’t work from a business perspective is very valuable. Business courses at your local community college may be helpful with accounting and marketing. But the reality is that photography is still about relationships and referrals. The more experience you have in the art that is client relations, the better positioned you’ll be for success.”
“If you’re aiming for a full-time business in photography, you have to be up for long hours and the challenge of every kind of shoot,” Mike said. “In most markets, you’ll find the most opportunity to build your client list by being good at every type of photography.”
Mike is as much of a generalist photographer as one could be with an extremely eclectic mix of editorial and commercial projects. From portraits, fashion, sports, corporate and product shoots to weddings, architecture and real estate, Mike has an impressive portfolio and a constant flow of new assignments.
“Just because you have a camera with manual controls and a moderate wide angle to telephoto lens, that doesn’t mean you’re ready for all assignments,” Mike said. “While prime lenses can provide fast apertures and crisp images for creative assignments, a constant aperture zoom is more practical for assignments where time is limited. Make sure you have the basic lenses necessary for most assignments. Dancing around to find the correct composition on a 50mm lens may create a beautiful picture but it will not impress corporate executives while they are waiting for you to take their portraits.
“Be strategic about your equipment investments,” Mike said. “For example, a basic lighting kit will serve you well. Don’t let a sales person convince you that you need to invest a ton of money into state-of-the-art lighting. If you begin earning new assignments with greater lighting needs, then you can make the decision to purchase at that time.”
“These are important items that don’t get the focus they should,” Mike said. “A solid tripod and camera bag you trust is critical to every shoot. A flimsy tripod or inadequate bag will keep you constantly worried about your equipment getting damaged. It’s distracting. When you have complete confidence in the security of your stuff, your mind is free to concentrate on the task at hand.”
Mike has called Vanguard tripods, heads, cases and bags his favorite gear since his early photography days.
“With Vanguard products, I am always 100% confident in the safety of my equipment,” he said. “People always ask me about the brands I recommend. When it comes to tripods and cases, I always recommend Vanguard. It’s a great American brand.”
It’s also important to pack a few essentials in your camera bag, Mike said.
“Never head out to a shoot without a sensor cleaner and lens cleaning paper, a shutter release cable, a hot shoe bubble level, and a notepad for writing down ideas for to-dos or brainstorming ideas.”
Mike picked up his first camera at age six and made the decision to pursue photography as a career while in high school. Check out Mike’s photos at ShuPictures.com and ShuPortraits.com. Follow him on Facebook and Instagram.