What Professional Photographers Wish They Knew When Starting Out

Chris Gampat The Phoblographer Zeiss Batis 25mm f2 first impressions (14 of 24)ISO 4001-25 sec at f - 2.0

When photographers first start out in the career path, many of them don’t know a lot about the business side. Indeed, not many now about creating an LLC, billing, licensing, time management, marketing, etc. It’s tough, but the best of the best learn it as they go and adapt to the changing climate as it happens.

We talked to 14 different photographers and asked them what they wish they knew about the industry when they first started. The answers may surprise you.

“I was fortunate to have a strong business background when I started in photography, but you can’t know and do everything. So hire experts, ask questions and seek a mentor. Make sure you’re legal, pay taxes and have insurance.”

Moshe Zusman – Wedding Photographer

“The value of your work is not determined by how long it takes you to do the task. Rather, it is determined by what it can produce for your client—which is far more difficult to measure. Study the licensing info available on AMSP.org.  Learn how to calmly explain usage rights to your prospective clients.”

– Syl Arena – Editorial Photographer

“I wish I’d gotten into some sort of entrepreneurial business class right off the bat. I had zero game in that department and luckily some sixth sense kicked in and got me by. I would’ve tucked away more pennies too, studio overhead doesn’t get cheaper as you grow, PEOPLE!”

Peter Hurley – Headshot photographer

“I wish I knew how much I’d have to teach my clients what good photography is worth and why it costs what it does. There’s a lot of ignorance and variation out there. For each time I bid $1000 for a job, there will be one person who says “Ok sounds fair”, another that says, “Great, I thought it was going to cost $5000”, the last who says, “I only have a budget of $100.” I just want to take pictures.”

Bill Wadman – Editorial Photographer

“I wish I’d known how much of being a photographer was not taking photos. Networking is the biggest part of getting work, and emailing and editing take up the majority of my time. It’s not all glamorous, but if you can handle the business side that’s most of the battle!”

Kyle Dean Reinford – Concert and Music Photographer

“I wish I’d wasted less time sharing my photos on social media and spent more time building a branded web site where people can buy my work. I have millions of followers on social media and I’ve shared thousands of photos. All my photos are all out there in the ether instead of living in a home base where people can view them and buy them. While I still believe in the value of posting photos online, I believe the race to gain followers is pointless as most followers aren’t your target market for actually making money in the industry. You have to go into the real world and meet real people to build a business.”

Lisa Bettany – Travel and Landscape Photographer

“I wish I had known more about pricing my work and how to negotiate photo contracts. This is something I learned quickly as a freelancer because I surrounded myself with great mentors, but it’s very important to know how to spot and address heinous language in contracts, value your intellectual property, price it properly, and to understand that sometimes the best move is to respectfully decline.”

Robert Caplin – Photojournalist

“For me, the biggest hurdle in business was realizing how to land jobs with fashion and advertising clients. Fashion photography doesn’t have a formula in marketing and what I didn’t realize is that talent can’t stand alone. It’s about networking, putting your name out there and not being afraid to reach out to clients on your own. You can’t sit back and wait for someone to discover you, you’ve got to give clients a reason to want to get to know you.”

Lara Jade – Fashion Photographer

“I wish that I had gotten more written estimates signed by clients, requested deposits for half the job up front, and asked for purchase order numbers before starting the job. One of my clients that I never expected to go under filed for bankruptcy and I was out thousands of dollars. That was a painful lesson to learn.”

Lou Manna – Food photographer

“I wish (and I still wish) I knew: Pricing my services. I’ve found that if I price high, the client will probably hire their cousin who’s “lookin’ to get into the business”. But then there’s that sinking feeling when a client immediately jumps on the ask, because you just know they were ready with more. Aarrgghh!”

Timothy Hiatt – Music and Concert Photographer

“I wish I understood the importance of relationships in business. When I’m marketing and networking, I’m not trying to catch the attention of businesses. I’m trying to catch the attention of individuals that work at these businesses. It is all about the networks you build and how you utilize them.”


“Rejection is all part of being an artist. Not everyone will like your work. Not everyone will want to work with you. But that doesn’t mean that you are lacking. You have to find the right people, the right team, the right target audience. This is where you will thrive.”

Lindsay Adler- Fashion photographer

“When I started out, I think it would’ve been useful for me to understand the importance of relationships with Editors. They want good photos, but they really want to work with people they trust and can rely on. That they are comfortable with. This should not be underestimated.”

Michael Kamber – Photojournalist

“I wish I knew that in business, the more you give, the more you receive in return. Generosity, building value, and showing love is a fail-proof way to succeed.”

Eric Kim – Street Photographer

“I would say I wish I knew how to bill for my time. Not just for the shoot, but for all my time prior and after”

Mike Lerner – Music photographer and Lifestyle photographer

Chris Gampat

Chris Gampat is the Editor in Chief, Founder, and Publisher of the Phoblographer. He also likes pizza.