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How I Started A Photography Business

Wow! It has been a crazy, but amazing ride so far since starting my business 4 years ago. I honestly cannot believe it has already been 4 years! It seems like yesterday that I was graduating from Old Dominion University with my photography degree, wondering where to go from there. In the first year of officially being a business, I went from working at a portrait studio to interning as an editorial photographer at Charleston Magazine to joining ASMP. There, I met so many helpful photographers who really pointed my in the right direction. I’m the kind of person, where if I put my mind to something, I will do what ever it takes to accomplish the goal.

When I decided to start my own business, I had no idea where to even begin! Through talking to a lot of people about what my dream job was, I found out about ASMP and immediately called up the president, at the time, of the central Virginia chapter, Christopher, Winton-Stahl. I remember meeting up with him at Panera and talking to him about my goals as a photographer. He told me that one of the most helpful things you can do when first starting out is to assist another photographer. Through assisting you’d learn the “real world” of photography, which, he said, is not as romantic as you may have thought. It’s hard work to get to the level of being experienced enough to take on your own clients, especially in the commercial world. You have to have grit, patients and a lot of times, thick skin.

Everything he told me that day, was honestly intimidating at first, and I thought, “is this really what I want to do?”.

After contemplating everything for a little while, I thought, YES, of course! Being a photographer has always been my dream, since the time that I was little.

Dreams don’t come true without hard work, a lot of frustration, some failed attempts and a lot of encouraging people!

I then started calling every photographer I could think of, whom I admired, and asking them if they’d be willing to grab coffee with me and tell me their story, how they got started and what it took to get there. Doing that was one of the best decisions I ever made in my career. They were all brutally honest, but also very encouraging. They told me that things were going to get really hard, that there would be problems that would come up that I wouldn’t know what to do about, but that I could always give them a call and they’d be happy to help. Not only did I learn a ton about starting a photography business, but I also formed some great friendships with many of the photographers. I have come to really love the community of photographers that we have here in Richmond. I love bumping into them around the city and catching up on what’s happening with their current projects!

So, for me, being bold in my pursuits and unafraid of failure has gotten me to where I am right now. I used to show up to ASMP events by myself for years, ready to learn from whoever was willing to teach me. I wanted to assist a commercial photographer so badly, and for a while it seemed that it was never going to happen for me. I knew that it was what I needed to do to take the next step towards my goal. I needed some hands-on, real world experience. I assisted a few photographers, here and there, when they needed help, but I was looking for a full-time assisting opportunity that would give me experience in all aspects of photography business, like working with art directors, big clients, and a full production team.

That’s when Mark found me. One day, about 2 years ago, I got an e-mail from Mark Mitchell. He told me he was looking for a production assistant to help him full-time and he wanted to meet with me and talk about it! Of course, I was interested. That was the opportunity I had been searching for! He later told me that the reason he reached out to me was because he admired my boldness. About 6 months prior to him contacting me, I had attended an ASMP meeting at CanCan in Carytown. That was one of the many meetings I had been to, on my own – the youngest of the group in an organization made up of more men, than women. Mark was there with his assistant, at the time. He said, it took guts to put myself in a situation like that and that I must really be serious about being a photographer! If I was willing to learn, he was willing to teach me everything he knew.

Shortly after meeting with him about being his assistant, we had our first shoot together. It was a portrait shoot of WWII Veterans, which has been an on-going project of Mark’s for a number of years. We continued that project together during the Summer and by Fall, had landed a project with a skilled nursing company based in the Midwest. We traveled all over the country photographing at different hospitals and nursing homes, producing a photo library for their marketing. Mark and I worked together for a year, traveling a good portion of that time. The experience I had as his assistant was more valuable than I ever could have imagined. He pushed me to be a better photographer, not being afraid to be honest with me and tell me what I needed to work on. He could be harsh a lot of the times, but I was thankful for that. I wanted to grow as a photographer and business owner and be ready to take on my own clients with confidence.

We worked directly with the marketing and creative departments of all of the clients we had. I quickly learned that commercial shoots take a lot of planning, patience and attention to detail, even before the actual shoot day happens. When the day comes, you want to be fully prepared to be as efficient as possible, because many times, your clients are on a time crunch and need you to get things done quickly and correctly the first time. Working these projects was very hard, with long hours and a lot of quick thinking involved. I was so exhausted by the end of every production day but I knew that I was learning so much. After months of projects, I really started to feel comfortable and a lot more confident in my skills and knowledge. I wasn’t afraid to take charge of a project and direct the team in what needed to be done. I knew what needed to happen to produce the best product for the client and was going to do whatever it took to make that happen.

Working with Mark gave me the “thicker skin” that I needed to deal with criticism and difficult clients but also the confidence and encouragement to take the next steps in my business and be the best for my clients. I felt like I had been exposed to a lot of amazing, but also difficult situations that may arise in the world of commercial photography and working with clients. I had learned how to be a problem solver and that no problem was unsolvable.

Today, I step into every creative opportunity with a lot more confidence and an immense amount of knowledge that I could not have learned without the mentors I’ve had in my life. My photography has improved greatly, from the quality of my images to the experience that I offer my clients.

Going into the 5th year of my business this year, I am really looking forward to some new and exciting things! One being, the start of my new blog, which I hope will be helpful and informative for both my clients and fellow photographers. I want to be able to share my experiences with you, as well as help fellow photographers and creatives in their pursuits. I’ll share with you soon, some more exciting things to expect from Caroline Martin Photography!



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  • Ken

    June 13, 2016 at 12:50 pm

    Great opening Blog! I too am contemplating doing some professional photog work. Question: did you form an LLC? Any tips or thoughts on how to “form” the business? Thank you and best wishes for great success!

    1. Caroline

      June 17, 2016 at 1:33 pm

      Thanks, Ken! That’s really exciting! What are you hoping to do? What kind of subject matter? I think the approach depends on what part of the photo industry you are interested in entering into and who your ideal clients are.

      I am actually licensed as a sole proprietor. People have different opinions on whether to go for the LLC or become a sole proprietor but for me, SP made more sense and was an overall easier set up. I would talk to a CPA and see which one sounds more appealing, based on what you want to do. Most of the photographers I know, went for SP, though!

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