Jessica Vallia Photography | Letter to new photographers...

Letter to new photographers...

January 10, 2017  •  38 Comments

Dear New Photographer, 

You know who you are, you have a new DSLR and you love taking pictures with it, those moments they just speak to you! I know exactly how you feel, although I am old enough that my first camera was a Pentax K1000 and I learned how to take pictures with film, no preview, and even less control in the darkroom. I think honestly that is why I have stuck with it.  I had to get it right in the camera, if I didn't there was no photoshop to fix it. I used my light meter.  Yes, you have one too ha! I urge you to learn how to use it too, it's invaluable.  But let's get to why we are here, I have tips and knowledge and maybe criticism for you just starting out. I'm sorry right off the bat if any of this makes any of you angry, I wish someone would have stuck it to me straight from the get go. Then maybe I wouldn't have hung up my camera strap for 7 years. And I did, I didn't take any portraits or creative pictures other than pictures of my son for SEVEN years. My confidence was rocked and my heart was broken after a wedding went out of control. So read on new photographer... take it all in. 

Tip #1. Shoot everything! I mean everything! Bugs, weddings, babies, seniors, everything! But here is where the catch is, don't ruin someone's memories. If you still shoot on automatic, for the love of someone's big day DO NOT SHOOT A WEDDING ALONE. Hell... I don't care if you don't even charge them, if you haven't shot weddings with someone else first (or at least know that you are spot-freakin-on with focus and timing) don't shoot a wedding alone. You shouldn't be responsible for someone's memories until you know full control of your camera and the issues that can come up with a wedding. Do everyone a favor and ask a wedding photographer if you can second shoot with them. It'll save you so many headaches and it'll save someone's memories. 

Also, don't work with newborns unless you have been trained to do so. Come on now, these are people's brand new babies. You've all seen the pinterest fail pictures, don't be that photographer. Just find someone to shadow (and I've taken some terrible newborn photos, this isn't judgment but experience).  All those cute images of babies posed are not done in camera and you could actually hurt the baby trying. Just don't do it until you are trained to do it. 

Tip #2. Don't work without a contract! Wow. This is what rocked my confidence. I shot a wedding for a friend of a friend, hell they might read this, who knows. And I was young and stupid and didn't have a contract of any kind. The mother of the bride was a bitch straight up. She didn't keep track of family members during the posed pictures and forgot one of her young daughters during the large family grouping. She then demanded I photoshop her in, I did that. Then after that wasn't good enough (and I had it checked by a seasoned professional on quality), she demanded I do free shoots, I agreed. That wasn't good enough weeks later. She criticized the proofs because of dust. They were proofs. They were only for choosing final images (remember this was before digital galleries).  Then one fine day (my first wedding anniversary none the less) she showed up at my door with her daughter and demanded that I hand over all of the negatives (AKA your original files) that very moment. I had no contract, I was 20 years old and so frustrated with this 6 months of just utter harassment that even though I didn't want to, I eventually handed over the negatives. I will have you know, that because we were friends of friends, she had those beasts blown the fuck up (no apologies for language in this blog) and hung on hers and her daughter's walls. I was livid. I was crushed. And I didn't shoot anything for seven years. I didn't even own a camera for six of those years.  Get a contract. A solid contract. And then do not be bullied! Even if you are shooting for free. CONTRACT. 

Tip #3. Don't fall into trends. So spot color seemed awesome for a while, now we all know (or I hope to hell you do) that spot color is horrific. Don't do it. Have a style, but don't be too trendy. Crazy overly matte is muddy and it won't last. Sometimes you shouldn't shoot with a blurred background. Know what your style is, but don't overdo the trends. Some portraits are amazing with a blurred background, others need to be in focus. If you hiked two miles to see the epic mountain view, at least make sure that some of your wide views are all in focus or you have wasted yours and your client's time. That is all on this, try it all, find a style and then don't get lost in the trends. 

Tip #4. Don't charge people until you can shoot your camera in manual and produce consistent work. If every single damn session looks different and you don't know why yet... you are not ready to charge.  If your client tips you... High five! That is awesome! But if you don't know how to shoot in manual and work with lighting (indoors or natural sunlight) don't charge people even $5. Use them to learn, watch videos on YouTube, mentor, pay for workshops, do whatever you have to do to learn your trade before you decide you are a professional. Because... you aren't. I'm sorry if that hurts your feelings, but you just are not a photographer... you are learning. Just because you have a DSLR does not make you a photographer.  Everyone does start somewhere but your starting should not include doing $50 sessions. I wish I had waited even 2 more years before charging after starting back up. Because then, I could have started charging what my time was worth.  

Tip #5 (last tip for today). Don't give up! There will be people who hate your work. They will judge you and make you feel like you should quit... don't! I can only imagine where I would be today if I hadn't quit. And now I find myself, 35 years old still building on what I could have done ten years ago. Continue to learn, and do it with confidence. If you don't love what you are doing, then you aren't a photographer or you haven't found your calling. I tried it all... and finally I have found what I want to do forever. I love shooting LOVE and that for me is families and weddings. I love spazzy kids that can't calm down. I love frazzled mom's that got dressed up just for their session just as much as I die over brides that are brimming with excitement to marry the love of their life. And I want to follow them from engagement to having their own families. I don't mind having a huge network of other photographers that I trust to capture their newborn moments because I don't want to. And those ladies are my friends! Yes, we don't compete we share and grow together.  

All of this is what I wish someone else would have told me along the way.  I want to grow and help other photographers grow. It's not a cheap hobby and it shouldn't be a cheap profession. Don't be cheap, don't be unprofessional, and just don't be scared to network with ladies you admire. They aren't scary, they are you years from now if you stick with it. And for your amusement... I've added some pictures I took with my freakin amazing Pentax K1000 back when I was a student and some now. This starts my 2017 #transformationtuesday blog. It won't be every single week but it will be often! I hope it inspires even one person. Maybe 10 people will read it and I'm ok with that! 

Ignore the 2008... I took this picture in 2000... 16 amazing years ago! I knew I wanted to be a wedding photographer and I wan't paid for this session. I was all of 18 years old and was shooting film. I still have the negatives! 

And this as taken in 2002, also with my trusty Pentax! I now shoot Nikon and would never give it up for the world. But this image I love because it shows to get it right in the camera. I dropped my flash in a pond prior to taking these and had to use open lighting in a field... I'll always be proud of how this wedding turned out! 

And this is today! I know how to manipulate all lighting conditions and how to do it right in camera! If there is anything I'm proud of it is that I have learned why my camera does what it does. 

The sun doesn't scare me anymore than very low light does. And that is how I knew I was ready to charge what I feel like my time was worth. I'm not inexpensive and I am confident that my knowledge and time is worth what my clients are paying. Get there. Do that. And you won't regret it! 


Amber Gossett(non-registered)
I tweeted this with the caption "I freaking love this". because I DO!! So honest and so spot on. You are amazing!
Great tips for new photographers! I'm still trying to get a handle on my Nikon, but I won't be quitting my day job! haha
Olivia Locascio(non-registered)
Love this article and your work! Seriously so stunning!
Eris + Dot(non-registered)
My first DSLR, which is the camera I'm still using, is a Pentax! I'm no photographer, but I'm still trying to learn how to use it properly. I'm not afraid to admit that I get a little intimidated by the settings. Sometimes I get lucky, though, and I've captured some amazing moments! I especially love the next-to-last photo you featured here. Stunning!
Nicole Pettit(non-registered)
Adore these tips! #communityovercompetition
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