Hi, I'm Michael. I'm a professional boudoir photographer who gets to work with women from all over New Jersey and the NYC area. Have you been thinking about starting a boudoir photography business? Looks fun, right? Well, it is! There's more to the story, though. This "more" part is the most important, but "not-so-fun" part that people starting off don't want to hear about. Even worse, they think they can skip over steps because it doesn't apply to them. Why wouldn't it apply? Well, we'll get into that, but let's just say people starting a photography business can lack a bit of self awareness, which can really hurt them in the long run. Curious? Take a few minutes and read, it may change your fortunes...
Great! You woke up one morning with your new found passion of becoming a womens portrait photographer. It seemed like it was only a few days ago when your friend Ashley told you that one of the photos you posted on Facebook was "so great, and you should be photographer." "Well, why shouldn't I be?" you thought. You weren't going to just be any old photographer, though, after some quick searches on YouTube you settled on becoming a womans portrait photographer... a.k.a. a boudoir photographer. What a wonderful aspiration and a tremendously fun business. It seems in boudoir photography you're not only taking photos, but you also get to change women's lives! --Or at least that's what the "experts" on YouTube said. Your sudden inspiration has you ready to go... so what's next?
Next stop: Amazon.com You break out your trusty credit card, and pick up a "Pro" camera (because now you're a Pro... you need that kind of stuff.) The only other thing left is your new web site. That's easy. **BOOM** You're now officially a "Pro" and YOU'RE OPEN FOR BUSINESS! Wow, getting all that stuff done was super easy. Barely an inconvenience.
All that's really left to do is talking your old friend Ashley into doing some sample photos for you, and then the world is your oyster. After that task, it's time to crank up that new Instagram account and start posting "empowerment" posts until your fingers are sore. Let the fun begin!
The fact that you know nothing about photography shouldn't be much of an issue, nor should the fact that you don't know how to photograph women-- why should it? The real goal of boudoir photography is to help women feel "empowered" and to "change their lives," -- YOU'VE GOT THIS!
...And that's the point where you're pretty much committing to failure. You just don't realize it, yet. This story (or a version very similar to this) is, remarkably, how most people believe the start to a successful and fulfilling career in photography begins. Nothing could be further from the truth. Want to avoid that crash and burn trajectory and give yourself a fighting chance? The sad news is everything written below is pretty much stuff you don't want to hear... and (according to you) doesn't really apply to you, because you have a "calling." --Well, that "calling" and $4 will get you a cup of coffee in any local Starbucks.
Below are some real world tips on giving yourself a chance.
1. You're Not A Pro...
Great! You're inspired to change lives with your new found passion. You've found your calling! Let's play a game and swap out your desire for being a "pro photographer" and substitute "professional rock guitarist." So you race down to your local Guitar Center, walk in, and exclaim to the nearest sales person, "I'm going to be the best guitar player ever! I want the same guitar Eddie Van Halen uses..." You take your guitar, race home, sit down at your desk, hop on Wix and make your brand new website imaproguitarplayer.com and the offers from major bands should come rolling right in, right?! YOU'RE GOING TO BE RICH... AND FAMOUS!! After all-- you've just declared yourself a Pro!
That just makes sense, right? Err. Well, maybe not. That would seem a bit of an odd expectation, huh? Especially, since you don't even know how to play the guitar. If you had a friend who you told you about such a story you'd probably scratch your head.
This is exactly what "new" photographers do though, right? Wake up with their new found passion, hop on Amazon and buy a fancy Canon 5D Mark IV, buy a new website, and *BOOM* -- I'm a Pro Photographer!
What's the difference between the two? Nothing. They are both just as odd, and neither makes senses. So, there's your first tip. You are not a Pro.
Tip: Buying a camera and having a Wix website does not make you a pro.
2. ABC... 123
When you know nothing about playing the guitar what do you do? Take lessons? Or do sit around with the expectation that Maroon 5 will be calling you to go on tour this summer? (Again- knowing that you have no idea of even how to play a guitar?) Well, the first order of business is probably taking lessons. How can you play in a band-- let alone play anything-- before you even know anything about a guitar? You seek out a local guitar teacher and sign up for some lessons, or if you've really a self-starter purchase some guitar lesson books or online courses about learning the basics of guitar. Then you start to grind it out.
So, you know nothing about taking photos, but yet you're a "Pro" now, right? You, too, need to take lessons. Lessons?? OMG How boring. You're right, Mike, I don't need that. SKKIPP. Well, becoming a photographer isn't any different than becoming a guitar player-- it takes practice. The first obstacle to overcome is your lack of self awareness, that, well, you don't know anything about photography, or the photography business. Keep on thinking about that poor guitarist I mentioned above. Find a community college that has a basics class or local professional photographer who offers mentoring or workshop classes... and become their best friend. At this point there is still a long road ahead. Your "real world" chance of success at this point-- 1%. Remember-- you're the "pro rock guitar player" who doesn't even know how to play.
Tip: Start with some camera instruction and learn the basics.
3. Practice Makes Perfect
So, you've had your guitar a whole month! You've even learned a chord or two! So, are you a guitar Pro NOW? Well, that's still a long way away. Taking Spanish lessons for a month doesn't make you a professional translator, and practicing guitar for a month doesn't make you a pro. Keep yourself locked in the bedroom every day after work. You just have to practice, practice, practice.
This is the step where many people will start to fall by the wayside. --And, that's OK. After all, what does actually learning how to do boudoir photography have anything to do with being a professional boudoir photographer?? --Or learning the photography business!!?? After all, you're on a mission to change lives! You're destiny is to make women feel great about themselves! -What does any of this practice HAVE TO DO WITH ANYTHING! This is all crap, Mike, I'm not going through that... Seriously, I don't need this. My camera takes GREAT photos... its the technology.
Well, keep in mind the story of the guitar player. You think you're ready to try out for pro guitar auditions after a month of handling a guitar? At this point your shitty photography isn't going to empower anybody. I know you think you're ready to change lives... but you're not. Gee, Mike, you're not making this sound very fun, or easy... Sorry, its not easy.
Tip: Self awareness is your life preserver.
4. OMG This Is Really Work...
Callused fingers. Hours and hours hidden away strumming in a bedroom. This is where even more people fall by the wayside. Learning music is a hard, slow process. Learning songs is a long, slow process. The fun has long faded away, and this is the point where for many what seemed to be a sudden passion, starts to change. For those who keep up the work, its not about just learning a song, its about learning the song right. The proper technique, the proper fingering, and playing the song correctly.
So, you're starting to get a handle on some camera basics. You see how shutter speed works, you see how the aperture can affect your photos-- but there is more. When I first started I had a drive to make beautiful photographs. I knew I couldn't do it at that point, but I studied other photographers like crazy. I knew in my mind what I wanted to create... but I wasn't able to do it at that point yet.
I wasn't thinking about customers, or being a "pro," or "changing lives," I simply had this inner drive to make great beauty photos. I sat for hours analyzing photos, and trying to recreate them in my spare bedroom with a mannequin. You would think I was a crazy person by what I did. At this point there was no notion of even starting a business, I just had a passion to learn to be the best at this type of work...and not only that, I was having a great time doing it.
Tip: If you're sitting up at your computer at 11PM regularly analyzing your photos and thinking about how to get better, there may be hope.
5. Who Can Say How Long That Will Take...
If you're still plugging along at this point, there's a chance you may have what it takes. There is no set time period to competency. It may take you two years or longer of doing photos on weekends, or after work. It may take you 10,000 beauty frames before things start to click. Your long term motivation is not money or customers, but, purely becoming the best artist you can be. Don't focus on the finish line-- Focus on the starting line. If you can build those skills, other things will seem to just fall into place.
Do you think you can become a successful beauty photographer without great skills? You are fooling yourself. You'll just be one of hundreds of bad boudoir photographers posting shitty photos on Instagram. When I see that, I love it. I see it a mile away, and I use your weaknesses to destroy you in a potential clients eye. After all, your posting your weak work right online. You're the low hanging fruit. You're giving someone like me ammunition to put you out of business. --And someone like me... that's exactly what I'll do. 😀. Sorry, not sorry.
You live in an age where there are millions of photographers. Everyone walks around with a smart phone in their pocket that has a great camera. What makes you so special?
There is no outside reward in this part of the pursuit. You will come to a point as you start to look at some older photos and think, Geez, that was pretty bad. This is a good thing! You'll start to see a bit of a change in the quality of work you produce.
Oh, no, Mike. Gotcha here! See I found a $249 online course that is going to teach me EVERYTHING about running a boudoir business. THE WEB PAGE SAID SO.... IT HAS BOUDOIR "SECRETS!" Really? What a surprise. You're telling me you found someone else who realizes how difficult this is, and is taking advantage of people's natural inclinations for "shortcuts" for a cash grab. (And probably a fairly lucrative cash grab. Hmmm... maybe I should do that too. I'd be happy to take that money.) I suppose you're the kind of person who would love to be a body builder... but skip all that weight lifting and training "stuff."
Tip: People who think beauty photography is easy, are those who don't understand beauty photography. There are no "shortcuts."
6. OK. So You Had Your First Paying Gig...
It finally happened. Your coworker Debbie happened to mention to her friend Kiersten, who is getting married, that you do boudoir photography. One thing lead to another, and now Kiersten is popping up in your email inbox seeing if you can put together a bridal boudoir session for her. Great! Now what?
How do I charge her? Where the heck do I get photo books from? WHERE AM I GOING TO PHOTOGRAPH THIS SESSION!! This opportunity suddenly brings up an entire new series of things to work on.