“What I Wish I Knew”: Advice from working photographers on starting out

Featured image by Kelly Box

Imagine you could go back in time and give yourself one solid piece of advice – perhaps something like “Crocs really aren’t that cool” or “Dating that guy is a mistake” or “Buy Apple stock.” We asked a group of accredited members to give us one piece of advice they wish they’d been given when they were starting out. Here’s 8 great tips that may help you take the first steps into your photography career.

Don’t hustle; align!

‘Hustling implies hard work work trying to win people over to your business. It’s pitching, selling, “schmoozing.”‘

‘Aligning in business is connecting. When you find others who are aligned with your business philosophy, you will find it’s almost effortless. Try to recognise the strengths and weaknesses in your skillset and align yourself or invest in others with complementary skills early on (be it web design, marketing, client management etc). It can be a bit overwhelming to try and do it all yourself and you will learn a bunch by watching, avoid some likely pitfalls and accelerate your position in the marketplace towards getting on with what you are best at and what motivated you to start a business in the first place – taking beautiful imagery.’

Be true to yourself

‘Be your genuine self, take the time to KNOW what you are saying and projecting and the customers that will attract.’

‘Don’t chase trends or other photographer’s styles; work out what you offer that is authentic to you and your business and be consistent.’

Photography is first and foremost a ‘people’ business

‘It’s important to recognise that photography is in fact, first and foremost a ‘people’ business. It is not about being the best photographer. It is about understanding the needs, wants, dreams and desires of the client and subsequently recognising and catering to those needs inside your marketplace.’

‘Ask your clients a lot of questions about themselves when you meet. I used to think the goal of a meeting was for the client to learn about me and my business. Very quickly I discovered that what really matters is who they are and how I can help them.’

‘The more time and effort you put into working with people, the more success you will have.’

Be Patient

‘No one becomes an amazing photographer over night, and building a business also takes time. It takes time to find your voice, improve your technical skills, and it also takes time to learn how to market, develop your customer service skills and organise your business.

Don’t beat yourself up if things aren’t developing as fast as you expected; set yourself manageable goals and do your best to meet them.’

Value yourself, your time and your work

‘The one thing I’d tell myself before launching into business is to learn to truly value yourself and your work, because if you don’t, it is certain that no one else will. It can so easily become something that can shroud someone in a downwards spiral of self doubt ultimately affecting their confidence and overall business management.’

‘Valuing your time is also crucial. It’s the one thing that you can never get back, so it’s vital that you value it and that you understand how to communicate that value to others, most especially your clients.’

Keep Learning

‘I realised early on that there’s no end point to the journey of being a photographer. There’s always something new to learn, a new skill to develop. I still spend a lot of time on forums with other photographers. I read magazines, and watch Youtube videos. AIPP events provide a great opportunity to network and continue on this path of discovery. But I also look for inspiration outside of the industry, by going to galleries, watching TV shows and films, and reading.

While you can definitely learn a ton from the people who share the same passion as you, it’s also important to look for inspiration outside of that realm, so that you don’t find yourself unconsciously doing the same as all the rest.’

Know your market

‘When I am starting a business or brand and trying to work out who ‘my people (target market)’ are, I put myself in their shoes and go to the shops (or online shopping if you’re remote). What stores are they walking into? What signage is outside of those stores? Are there any catalogues or brochures I can take a copy of? Chances are if you are walking into the places your target market would – you are seeing the end product of hundreds of thousands of dollars in marketing research designed to target the market you’re after. Don’t copy it but certainly take heed of what is appealing and what could contribute to how your business looks and feels.’

Find some balance

‘When you’re starting out, it’s easy to throw yourself headfirst into a million hours of work each week, especially if it’s the first time you’ve run your own business. But it’s really important to find a work/life balance, and to keep perspective on the world outside of the business, whether it be family, non-photography pursuits, or just plain having some fun.’

‘A work-life balance will ensure you don’t completely burn out your love for photography and will help you retain the spark of joy that is vital to taking great images.’

Thanks to our contributors: Emily Black, Paul Hoelen, Joshua Holko, Ben Kopilow, Matt Palmer and Naomi Reiter.


  1. Graham Gall on May 29, 2021 at 2:04 pm

    Thanks guys really great inspirational advice and experience you have shared

  2. Chris Shain on June 2, 2021 at 3:28 pm

    Really worthwhile ideas for anybody starting out !
    great work !