10 things I’ve learned after 10 years of Photography

10 YEARS. WOW. 

I’ve been letting this sinc in for a little bit now, and at first, I let 10 years sound like a lot of pressure.  But after allowing myself to reflect and take it all in, I’m seeing this accomplishment in a whole new light.

I remember having to write out a business plan in photography school on where I saw myself 5 years into my business.  It was hard to think about 5 years from that time, let alone 10.  I didn’t know where this business would take me, if it would even BE a business 5 years in, and I’ve realized that what I envisioned back then was so different from how I look at my business today.

It’s funny though, because when I think back to those ideas (including owning a studio), a lot of them were what I ‘thought‘ was expected of a wedding photographer or what I ‘should‘ work towards.  They weren’t necessarily what was meant for ME.

Now, I have the luxury of looking back at a LOT of years of experience and using that to create new and better goals that actually relate to what ME as a wedding photographer looks like.  No one else. It’s a pretty cool feeling.

So with that, I came up with 10perfect number right?!things I’ve learned after 10 years of photography.  Before you read through it all (and I hope you do), I want you to understand that whether you are a photographer who has been in this business for as long, longer, OR literally just started yesterday, these are MY experiences.  Yes, you might be able to relate to some, or all, however, I now know that we all are allowed to create and share in our own space and all of us – ALL OF US – have different and unique perspectives.  So here we go :

1. I’m ALWAYS learning. When I started (EGP) I was finishing my photography degree (my 2nd college degree overall), I was working as an executive assistant full time downtown, and saying yes to anyone and everyone that asked about photos.  Simply put, I was an extreme multi-tasker.  I’ve since learned that in order to really show your full potential in something you love, you have to be willing to take it on full time.

Additionally, you have to be willing to believe that you will ALWAYS be a student in a job where you are the boss.  Weird thought right?  Think about it.

In order to get better at anything, you have to be willing to believe that there is always something more you can learn.  Every shoot and wedding I photograph is a learning experience for the next.  They are like live photography classes that constantly teach me how to manipulate light, use it to my advantage, compose subjects correctly, and direct.  But I also learn from the people around me.  My clients give me feedback and criticism with how they react to my direction, and with how they refer me to other people.  I learn what works for them and what to keep doing just as much as I learn what NOT to do.

Believe you me, there are many ‘angles’ and ‘filters’ I tried out when I first started that I’ll never use again.  You see, I learned and adapted over the years. 😉

2.  I’m not the best, BUT, I’m also not like anyone else. It took me a while to understand that one. Let me explain.

We luckily now live in a time where we encourage and uplift each other so that we may reach our fullest potential in all endeavors. While it’s a time I’m so glad to be in, I realize that we can also get lost in the idea of opportunity.  Just because something is available to us, (or we see lots of others doing it), doesn’t necessarily mean we are automatically good at it.  Yes, I whole-heartily believe that if there is something you have interest in and you want to try it, then you should.  Honestly, YOU are the only person standing in your way of trying anything new anytime.  However, drive and awareness need to go hand in hand.

The number of available photographers to clients has skyrocketed since I first started.  Seriously, there are a TON OF US!  You might be shocked with how many people have come up to me at weddings boasting about someone they know who ‘just bought a nice camera‘ or ‘just started weddings’, OR ‘is really interested in starting photography‘.  Honestly, I get it! It’s so much fun!!! But what I realized is that because there are so many of us, striving to be the BEST is kind of unrealistic.  Yes, there are competitions and awards and amazing reviews and conventions where the experienced speak and teach and share.

BUT, what everyone needs to remember is those same people started out at the beginning too.  They had that ‘first camera they had to learn how to use‘.  They took classes.  They took on any and all shoots they could to build a portfolio…yes, even for free sometimes!  They too had people they admired and aspired to be like one day.  What makes YOU the best photographer is your relationship with your client and the impact your photos have on their life, not your comparison to what other photographers are already doing.

The coolest realization about this is that WE ALL START IN THE SAME PLACE.  However, we ALL END UP SOMEWHERE DIFFERENT.  Not one photographer is like the other.  Many mimic styles or directions, but no two photographers are alike.  When we remember that, it’s very easy to set yourself up for success.  Because just as there are no two photographers alike, there are no two clients alike.  To me, the ‘BEST‘ is defined by how happy I’ve made my client.  If they are pleased, they will keep coming back, and even better, refer me over and over and over again. That right there makes me the best for quite a few people. 😉

3.  Photography is always changing and it’s ok if we do too. Photos from 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, AND yes 10 years ago are not the same from photos today or next year.  I mean, let’s face it, camera gear and technology has come quite a long way in the last few decades.  At the risk of sounding ancient, I actually  did a last semester project on film photography before I went to school for digital.  Film has also come a long way, though.   Today, I know a lot of photographers are reinventing how film is used in weddings, and couples are once again requesting it’s unique look.

Style and posing has also changed immensely.  When I first started looking back at some of my archives of my first weddings and shoots, I almost didn’t want to share them in comparison to recent photos.  I had improved and my style had changed.  It was definitely noticeable to me, and I started to worry that if I showed early work, people would ridicule.

But what’s cool about having so many years of work in one portfolio IS the fact that I can show my progression.  I can show potential clients how far I’ve come and how I keep improving.  For this fact, I’ll forever be grateful to all of my first clients.  Those people helped kick start my company, trusted me, and gave me the chance to prove how far I could go.

You all know who you are, and I’m sending you the biggest hugs right now and always.  Thank you! <3

4.  Just as photography is changing every year, so are clients. I’ve talked to past couples from some of my earlier years and we all have similar thoughts about going back and changing details.  A lot of the brides would want completely different dresses or decor, and I wish I had the technology that is available to me now back then for better quality photos.

While we can’t go back and change it all, we can schedule new shoots and design new parties that reflect who we are today.  It has been one of the most humbling experiences to keep seeing past clients year after year. 

Sometimes it’s just a shoot for the two of them celebrating an anniversary.  Other times, it’s celebrating the birth of their first kid, or kid #2, or even kid #5!  The point is that we ALL change.  The one constant is that we have photography available to us to document it all along the way.

5. I call this the mid-point / grow a backbone lesson : The client is NOT always right. Hard to believe right?! Being true to yourself, your style, and what you know as far as lighting and composition is ALWAYS the answer. Learning to listen to ‘suggestions’ from clients (and yes vendors too), and knowing when to stand up for what actually works better is one of the biggest lessons a photographer can learn.

This may not always make you BFF’s with every person you meet, BUT it will mean the difference between a just ‘OK’ picture and an amazing one. You can smile and nod and politely listen to any and all suggestions on how this one spot (or the light over there, or this pose, etc.) is better for pictures. But it is always, and I’ll write that again, ALWAYS, on YOU as the photographer to actually act on those suggestions. What you deliver in your gallery is a reflection on you, NOT the suggestions from others.

Side note to new photographers out there : With that being said, I will always take pictures of most requests from clients (unless it’s something completely inappropriate – and that we’ll save for another conversation).  After all, it is THEIR wedding and I want them to have the memories they ask for.  However (and that’s a BIG however), I won’t deliver any crazy and inappropriate occurrences (and that’s the nicest way to put that).  What you deliver is a reflection of your company.  Think about that ALWAYS before final gallery delivery.

Trust your instincts and stay strong my friend.  😉

6.  It’s ok and sometimes necessary to say NO to potential clients.   Learning who your ideal client is and how to spot them is just as important as spotting the ones who really aren’t a good fit. (This serves you both in the end.)

Just an FYI – ALL the couples in the photos are couples I LOVED working with.  It was truly an honor to be a part of their days and so glad I said YES!

Yes, it’s extremely hard when you first start out to not automatically say yes to every single inquiry that comes your way.  But, just as what you deliver in the final gallery is a reflection on you and your company, so is who you work with.

Let me explain.  If you meet with a couple and soon after notice red flags with how YOU have been treated, how they have treated others, or just how you don’t exactly ‘mesh well together‘, it is absolutely, 100% ok to say no to that booking.  In the end, the relationship a couple has with their photographer is the most important.  You ALL need to feel comfortable with one another in order to create genuine moments and pictures.  You could be a wonderful technical photographer and deliver quality photos across the  board.  But, if you and your clients do not get along, that won’t matter.  They will remember an awkward experience, and so will you.

***Please keep in mind that this in NO WAY means discriminating against someone because of their religion, beliefs, sexual orientation, etc.  

LOVE ALL PEEPS! <3

7.  Social media has completely changed the game and you can either accept it and LEARN to grow with it or get lost in the shuffle. Sometimes I envy the people just starting out that have full access to every available site and advertising tool via social media. They never had to work without it. However, my advantage is that I did. At the risk of sounding like I’m from the Stone Age, I actually remember a life BEFORE Facebook and Instagram. (Pause for shock). Crazy right?! “But how did you book new clients then Liz?”

Well, because I didn’t have the immediacy of posting on social media, I had to work harder to get pictures to my clients faster.  They essentially were my ‘social media‘.  The first few years of my business depended on positive feedback and referrals.  Luckily, I had great relationships and experiences with past couples and for quite a while (and still today), they continue to spread the word about EGP.

Today, a majority of couples search and find photographers via Instagram or Facebook.  Learning to grow with technology this way has been quite a challenge.  I wont lie.  Like I said before, there are a TON of photographers out there today.  Learning not to compare yourself can be the difference between finding your ideal couples and getting lost in trying what everyone else is doing.

What should I post?  What shouldn’t I post?  What should I share about myself?  What shouldn’t I share about myself? What hashtags are the best ones to use?  Who should I tag or not tag?  The questions go on and on, and unfortunately, a lot of the time it’s an experimental game.  However, as I’ve read over and over, and more recently again via Rachel Hollis’s book Girl, Stop Apologizing, “DON’T WORRY ABOUT IT!” Instead of getting caught up in what I should or shouldn’t do, I’ve learned to embrace what is given to me.  An online platform visited by hundreds of thousands every day, all searching for something that will inspire or motivate them to double click, comment, or share.  So, over time, I’ve created timelines and schedules and yes, even hashtags, that pertain to me, my business, my style, and the overall mood I want EGP to embody.  I want to share happy candid/moments, laughter, personal stories that people can easily relate to, and most of all, love.  In the end, YOU DO YOU!

Because doing YOU could even get your work published! 😉

8.   Is what I know even worth sharing? YES! Last year when EGP turned 9, I struggled A LOT with the idea that anyone would even be interested in learning from me.  Why me?

There are so many types of workshops and mentor opportunities available today for new photographers.  Why would anyone choose to listen to me over them?  Well, as I wrote in #2, I’M NOT LIKE ANYONE ELSE.  (Neither are you! Remember that!) I started to remember back when I depended on past client referrals for bookings.  Why did those couples choose me over another photographer?  Because I offered a different experience. 

I’ve realized it’s a beautiful thing that there are so many photographers at so many different levels offering help.  We are all different, and because of it, all have something unique we can share.  I happen to now have 10 years of knowledge that I’ve learned is worth listening to, or in this case, reading about. 😉

9.  Sharing thoughts and ideas, techniques and lessons isn’t giving away something for free, it’s serving others who will never have the same start as you. So many, including myself, have rejected the notion of mentoring and sharing lessons learned with photographers just starting out. “Why would I take years of hard work just to turn around and say HERE”? to someone who started yesterday?

Because someone DID say “HERE” to me.  It was just in other ways.

For me it was the amazing art professors at my first university who encouraged me to think outside the box and open up the film room, after being closed for decades. It was that encouragement that drove me to research photography schools and find a smaller one with professional photographers AS THE TEACHERS who would share lessons from every field.

It was that last semester wedding photography class that sparked my interest in weddings and made me believe this could be my future career. It was my family and friends fully supporting me with every new school and new idea, and crazy photo shoot for practice. And finally, it was the first year of clients who heard I was ‘into photography’ and asked if they could schedule a session, and yes eventually, even a wedding.

(Picture taken in my school’s studio practicing for my wedding elective class. Model = my sister. <3)

So yes I made the choices myself that got me here 10 years later, still photographing away full time and loving every second of it. BUT, all those people played vital roles in handing out their own forms of “HERE” for my start.  They chose to help me along the way, and I get the opportunity to take what I’ve learned and experienced and offer my very own form of HERE to anyone willing to listen.  My start was mine.  No one else can have that experience.  But I can share it and help others create their own.

10.  Stop expecting the NEXT to just happen.  Like I said in the beginning, the idea of 10 years under my belt was a tad intimidating.  I kept pushing myself to come up with a BIG way to celebrate.  I thought because so many other people were doing milestone announcements and/or changes, and offering new opportunities, etc., that I had to as well.  I even secretly hoped something big would just happen, that it would just come to life in my head and come 10 years I would post all about it all over social media, have all these portraits taken of me, the champagne (let’s be honest, it would be wine, duh) would flow, and the fireworks would go off.  HA! I’m laughing as I’m writing this now.

But with all I’ve already written above, the general idea through it all is that I need to STOP WORRYING ABOUT IT.  So #10 is probably the most important lesson I’ve learned in 10 years.  I’ve learned not to put expectations on myself or my company just because I think I have to. I’ve learned to stop worrying and start enjoying more.  I’ve photographed countless couples, weddings, and families.  I’ve been a part of so many memories and I’ve learned that they were also mine.  I have 10 years of beautiful memories, made behind the camera and in front with the most AMAZING CLIENTS EVER.  That is quite an accomplishment, and so for today, I am content with saying that this post brings no new anniversary announcement or big change to EGP.  It’s simply a reflection of where I’ve been and all I’ve learned, and that right there is enough to celebrate.

I won’t be writing out an essay like I did in school of where I think I’ll be in another 5 or 10 years, because I want to focus on right now.  So bring on season 10.  I’m 100% IN.

“If you find yourself worried about the idea that someone else has already done it, you need to flip the script on whether that’s a bad thing.  If someone else has done it, you can research and model behavior and test out your own theories using their road map as some kind of guidance.  You can combine their how with your why to create something epic.” – Rachel Hollis, Girl, Stop Apologizing.

PREACH RACHEL!

HUGS

David Rahn - Liz is the best there is!
Hopefully she is good at dirtyboard as well!

egrevep - Thank you! Haha, I’m working on it!

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