I want to begin this post by stating the obvious: If you are pursuing photography with big shiny dollar signs in your eyes, you are going to be disappointed!
Photography (to me at least) is a hybrid of an art and a trade. It requires natural talent and a lot of learned skill. You need to have an eye for detail, a genuine passion for photography from conception to completion, a lot of patience, and a whole lot more.
Photography is by no means a 'get rich quick' career. Honestly, you're going to be lucky if you can pay your bills with it at first. Nevertheless, it is a job and at the end of the day, we all deserve to be paid for doing our job. This is why I wanted to share how I got paying clients when I was just starting out in hopes of helping any struggling amateur photogs out there!
1. Work for Free First
Okay I know, the title says I'm going to get you paid and here I am telling you to work for free. Working for free lead me to multiple paying clients and a strong network of people. So hear me out!
You are not going to get paying clients without a portfolio. There's no way around that. If people can't see the type of work you produce, they are going to move on to another photographer her has something to show. Doing a few free sessions will help you get comfortable, gain experience, and build a network.
I'm not saying you should be working for free every time someone doesn't feel like paying for photos. If that were the case, you would never make a dime! What I'm saying is that you should find a couple of friends or family members to work with pro bono to build your portfolio. Think about the kind of photography you'd like to focus on. For me, I knew I wanted to focus mainly on portraits and boudoir so I took some portraits and boudoir photos of friends on a TFP (Trade for Portfolio) basis.
Once you have a portfolio started, you can start getting into the paid stuff!
*Tip Time: Once you've built a bit of a portfolio using friends and fam, try contacting bloggers/models/influencers in your area to see if they would like to do a TFP session with you. Yes, this is more free work. No, exposure doesn't pay the bills. However, if someone has 15,000 IG followers you will still gain at the very least some new followers from their posts and followers do have the chance of converting to clients. This will also help you step out of your comfort zone by getting you to work with strangers while still not working under the pressure of being paid.
2. Utilize Social Media
When I was ready to start charging (ps, you'll never feel ready, just go for it) I took advantage of local buy and sell groups and Facebook marketplace. I went onto a local FB buy and sell group and I posted that I was an amateur photographer looking to continue building my portfolio. I offered sessions for $60 (I honestly didn't know what my time was worth and I should have charged more so charge what you're worth!) and I posted a few sample photos along with the ad. I ended up getting a few clients this way! Yes, I definitely put in more work than I was charging for, but I was still starting and just happy that people were paying me to do what I loved. These low paying FB gigs did lead to higher paying sessions down the road.
Instagram is your friend. If you don't have an account for your work, make one. Do not blend it with your personal account. Curate it nicely and plan your feed to make sure it looks visually appealing. IG will act as a free portfolio, a free communication system, and it's a great way for potential clients to get to know you. Most of my clients come from Instagram. Yes, a lot of it was word of mouth, but usually it's word of mouth from someone else that I've worked with because of Instagram. it's 2019 and social media is an important business tool. Use it!
3. Know When to Say "No"!
Say it often, but not too often.
If someone wants to collab with you and they have an amazing concept in mind and the shoot will benefit you by taking your portfolio to the next level or reaching a large audience, then do it! It's okay to occasionally work for free no matter how long you've been doing photography as long as it benefits you some how!
I still find myself receiving messages and emails from people asking to do free work for them. This usually comes in the form of "I love your work and would love to collab with you!" (which is flattering btw, so thanks!). When you receive these messages, do not respond right away. I always make sure to take a look at their Instagram account first to see who this person is. 99% of the time it is someone with less followers than me (which is not a big deal if the concept is right!) and they're clearly just trying to get a few nice photos taken without having to pay. Do not feel obligated to say yes. I always politely inform people that I'm not currently accepting collabs but my rates are $xx. Often, I don't hear back but those people were never going to be paying clients anyways. Sometimes, however, those people do become paying clients because they would rather work with YOU than someone else, even if they do have to pay! Don't feel bad for rejecting unpaid work that will not benefit your business.
These 3 things alone will not ensure you are getting a steady flow of paying clients but they will absolutely help you to get started in the industry. The most important thing is to be kind to everyone you work with, do your best, and stay on top of self promotion/marketing. Photography is a highly saturated career and sometimes it will feel like you'll never get paid, but I promise if you stick with it and you put in the work, people will value you and your art!