August 29, 2013

Pancake Session: How to Get Started as a Young Photographer

Good morning & Happy Pancake Day!

Today we are taking a break from our power week of photo posts :) to bring you a Pancake Session all about getting started as a young photographer. When it came to Justin & myself, we really didn’t start the business until after we had both finished school and we were already into our twenties. For him, it was right after he finished at RIT and he had the benefit of a top notch photography education behind him. And for me, I joined full time after I finished law school with an emphasis in business….and had eight years of time behind me since high school to figure out what I wanted to do with my life. :)

So while there were MANY (many, many) things that we had to struggle with & learn while we were trying to get our business off the ground….two of the things that we’ve just never had to deal with the way that I know a LOT of you out there are, were 1) somehow finding a way to teach ourselves photography (RIT taught Justin & then he taught me) and 2) being taken seriously as a super young photographer & business owner.

But I’m a big believer in the idea that “if you don’t really know about it, don’t talk about it”….and instead, bring in someone who does! So we are SOO super excited to have our good friend & wonderful photographer Natalie Franke on to guest blog for us today! Natalie started her business while she was just a teenager (!!!) and was just about to start college. And over the past six years, she has built up one of the most respected photography businesses in Baltimore as well as starting the wildly popular Bayside Bride blog. All while she was finishing out an Ivy League education & getting married herself! In other words, this girl is a powerhouse!

You should definitely listen to her….she’s one smart cookie!

How did you get started?

I was seventeen when I first held a DSLR in my hands. A simple little camera, with a kit lens attached, that opened my eyes to the beauty of photography. It was my senior year of high school, almost six years ago, when I realized that I wanted needed to be a photographer. From that very moment, I felt this excitement and hunger to learn everything that I could about the camera. Not just how to properly expose images – but how light traveled through three-dimensional space, how we see the outside world, how the visual system works, and how images have the power to change lives.

The following year, in college, I began to second shoot for local photographers in the Chesapeake Area and applied my love of photography to the world of weddings. I then transferred from my state school in Towson to the University of Pennsylvania where I studied Visual Neuroscience and the Psychology of Seeing while finishing my Bachelors Degree. I like to say that I’m half self-taught and half formally educated.

How did you teach yourself photography?

I am a firm believer that education is one of the most important aspects to building a strong foundation in any professional field. Whether this education is in the form of a university, technical photography school, or in learning hands on by practice and reading – different methods work best for different types of people. I personally learn best by reading and then replicating what I’ve read with a hands-on approach.

I knew the way I wanted my photographs to look and I worked meticulously until I learned how to manually achieve those images in camera. I started by learning exposure and lighting, then composition, and then digital processing using Photoshop and Lightroom.

What are the three most important things for a young photographer (or anyone really!) to have in place to present themselves as a legitimate business?

1) A Strong Photographic Portfolio + Style: I believe that the craft always comes first. And if you are young and trying to start your own business, you already have to prove yourself in an industry where many photographers have decades of more experience than you do. So you start with the basics – learning everything you can and developing a strong portfolio that truly sets you apart. I remember meeting with couples that had no idea from my website that I was still a teenager… Judging by the quality of my work, they assumed that I was at least in my mid-twenties and I believe that it was my photographic quality that allowed me to succeed at a very young age.

2) Utilize Social Media Professionally: How much you share and what you say online plays a significant role in a client’s first impression of whether you are trustworthy and professional – never forget that. When most of my friends were posting images of themselves partying in college or speaking openly about divisive topics like politics, I was very careful about maintaining a professional identity online. We work in an industry where your personal page is just as important as your professional one. Be authentic, be professional, and remember that the Internet lives forever!

3) Network, Network, Network: Be positive and supportive of your fellow industry professionals. If you turn competitors into colleagues and work to build genuine friendships – it will do more for your business than divisiveness ever will! The most successful businesses make ties with the communities that they serve! Who you surround yourself with and what you do to support others will say more about you than any tweet or Facebook post ever will!

My Best Advice to New Photographers

Treat others as you want to be treated. It’s the ‘Golden Rule’ after all. Apply this to business, to client relationships, to life, and to the art of making images. Also — Be hungry for knowledge and accept that in the world of photography, you will never stop learning. Even the most experienced and inspirational photographers will admit that they are in a continual process of artistic evolution and refinement. Hold on to your love of the craft and work like crazy to learn everything that you can… not only on the first day as a professional photographer – but all the way through to your last.

Everyone please help me in giving Natalie a very warm welcome & a HUGE thank you for being here! And in addition, we have a contest going. Just leave us a note & tell us when you started your business- was it right out of high school, right out of college, after a second career?- and we’re going to pick one lucky winner to get a $25 Starbucks card. For purchase of future pumpkin spiced lattes. Obviously! And…GO!!

  1. Jenn

    I was a middle school teacher for 9 years when I finally walked away from my teaching career to go full time with my photography. It hasn’t always been easy, but it was a good decision. :)

  2. Megan Vaughan

    I started my business in 2009, right after I graduated from college. Completely self-taught in all things photography. I learn something new everyday and am so grateful to the photography giants who share their little secrets with us! :) xoxo

  3. Mel

    I’m just starting my photography business now and I’m completely overwhelmed, so posts like this are so helpful and so inspiring! Thank you!

  4. Rebekah Hoyt

    Yay Natalie! I LOVE this! I had NO idea she was so young until recently – such a wonderful example!

    I started my business about 1 year after college, around the same time I went BACK to school for 8 months full-time for a photography program in DC! I’ve never looked back since!

  5. Ashley L

    I started last year, in the very middle of my college career. I’m a hobbyist and can’t convince myself to become ‘professional’ in a world of photographers that are so much better than me. It’s taken many years for me to be able to share my photos as is. I juggled a long distance relationship, college classes, an internship, and now my growing photography business. Granted, my clients are word of mouth and friends, but that’s work for me!

  6. Kate

    Beautiful images and post. Loved what Natalie said about treat others as you want to be treated. I think that applies to life in general and is such an important quality to have as a person.

    I started my business in my mid 20’s after I was freshly divorced.

  7. Katie

    Ive always found a way to weave photography into my life, but I wasn’t sure how I could make it my livelihood. After 8 years in the Army, then after another several years as a consultant for the federal govt, I yearned for my photographic outlet to no longer be an outlet. It was 18 months ago when it became a reality! I adore Natalie and her incredible energy! This was such a lovely post J&M!

  8. Catie Ronquillo Wood

    Happy Belated Birthday, Natalie! :) I started my business after my first job out of college – I plotted my business while toiling away in my first cubicle.

  9. Melinda Humphries

    Great read! :) Thank you so much for the information. I started my business in high school and was off and on though high school and college. Now, after college my business is in full swing. I’ve narrowed my reach to wedding photography. It’s been a joy doing what I’m truly passionate about.

  10. Nichole Joslin

    Thank you Natalie for your wonderful advise, your work is beautiful! I appreciate you sharing your experience. I’ve been in love with photography for what seems like forever! Although I was taking photographs through out my senior year in High School (which was 15 years ago) I really started working on my business in just the last 3 years.

  11. Vanessa Chupp

    Yay! So happy to see Natalie posting here! : ) We photographed our first wedding during college. I was studying Nursing, and Kyle had already completed a BA in Business and was in the middle of becoming a Pilot. Photography stole our hearts and we’ve been actively attempting to grow our business since we completed our programs! Oh and yay for PSL!! : )

  12. Tina Wiebe

    I can so relate to Natalie! Although I wasn’t a teenager I was just barley 21 when I picked up my first DSLR Camera. I taught myself everything I know and two years later and I am one of the biggest wedding photographers in my town. I also get that weird look at bridal consults because they assume I am much older then they think I am!

  13. Lindsay Anne Dransfield

    Natalie is awesome! I’ve been following her for a few years now :) I started my business in my senior year of high school, and I’m going into my senior year of college now. Lots of respect for her awesome business.

  14. Amy Cherry

    I started shooting out of high school when I started shooting for my college newspaper. I shot sports, portraits you name it! Throughout college I started shooting families and friends and a few weddings. Right out of college, I moved to Nashville and started my business officially about a year later. It’s been a tough and beautiful journey!

  15. Amy Cherry

    I started shooting out of high school when I started shooting for my college newspaper. I shot sports, portraits you name it! Throughout college I started shooting families and friends and a few weddings. Right out of college, I moved to Nashville and started my business officially about a year later. It’s been a tough and beautiful journey!

  16. Kelsey DeWitt

    I started my business when I was a 20 years old and senior in college (not studying photography), but then decided that this was the career path I was really passionate about, so I decided to further my education at Hallmark Institute of Photography, where I heard you two speak last fall!

  17. Heather Holleger

    I LOVE Natalie! She’s is going to be my wedding photographer next year!! :) I started my business after graduating from Hallmark in 2011! While things are still moving slow, I am determined to make it in this business!!

  18. Brea

    Aww I love this guest post from Natalie! So cute.

    I started my business almost by accident. I went to school and have had a career in video production for about a decade. I got a camera and started doing still photography as a hobby and as I started learning more and more friends started asking me to photograph their kids and it kind of evolved from there. This year I have 26 weddings, another 20 already booked for next year, and I was able to quit my job and go full time in May! It moved pretty quickly (3 years of business, but only one where I was REALLY trying to make it anything more than side income) and it’s been an exciting ride!

  19. Susan Stewart

    My business partner and I started up our business right after we graduated college. We are both business school graduates and self taught photographers. Right after graduation seemed to be an ideal time because this is the same time when some of our friends and acquaintances started getting engaged!

  20. christy

    Such great advice!! I started my photography career at age 30 after TWO other careers (and degrees) – can we say ‘commitment issues?!’ I taught myself everything i know…read every book i could find, followed other amazing inspiring photographers, asked so many questions and took every (good) workshop i could afford (which of course included Justin & Mary’s lighting workshop! I definitely still feel like a ‘newbie’ and arrive to learn something new every day, and even though i don’t have any business right now (thanks to a recent cross-country move), i try to keep shooting because i love it, and it allows me to hone my craft.

  21. Holly

    I’m still in that process, but I really started to kick things into gear at the beginning of this year. I’ve had a LOT more practice, been investing more in education, equipment, etc. I’m hoping to have my blog/website finished up here in the next few weeks, and by the end of the year/early next year have some paying clients!

  22. Katie Yuen

    My freshman year of college I found Katelyn James’s blog and fell in love. My sophomore year of college I dove into photography, learning everything I could digitally and in the darkroom. That summer, I met Natalie and shadowed her at a friends wedding and we became fast friends! The next spring (2011) I started taking myself seriously and doing sessions and assisting where I could and still learning constantly! Now I’m across the country "starting" again but not really at the same time. Its been an incredible ride so far! Missing all you fantastic people back east!!! XOXO

  23. Hope

    I have been shooting ever since high school, but it wasn’t until recently that I have marketed myself as professional. I too am a grad of RIT, class of 2012! I’ve moved since, to SW Virginia, for new experiences and new networking opportunities! I love what I do!

  24. Karen Bonar

    Excellent advice! :)

  25. Kami Shaw

    I started shooting in High School, but didn’t start my business until after my 2nd baby was born.

  26. Catherine

    I started the summer after I graduated from college and am in my second year of photographing weddings! It’s been a whirlwind and a lot of learning!

  27. Sarah W

    I started my business during my junior year of high school! It’s been crazy and fun, I’m learning so much, and loving it every day :)

  28. Jessi

    As far as a business goes, I am still in that process! Since elementary school, I’ve always had some type of camera with me- from disposable to a simple point-and-shoot. However, I recently started second shooting with an amazing photographer after a move to the West Coast from the East Coast. I have learned SO much from her, and have continuously seen a difference in my photography from the beginning of this year to now. Natalie has a lot of great points, thank you for sharing!

  29. Emily Rogers

    I started shooting when I was 18. I fell in love. When I was 20 I started shooting more and trying to be like a business but it wasn’t until after I studied abroad and came back home that I started officially (at 21).

  30. Laura Benitz

    As a child, I was the ‘photographer’ in my group of friends and family, you know, the one with the camera at all times. I continued to photograph through high school and college by participating in yearbook and newspaper. I went on for my Masters of Library Science in grad school, during which I was a school librarian and taking pictures for family and myself. Soon others started offering to pay me for my work so I made it a legtitimate business in 2008. I am now a full-time photographer as I resigned from teaching in 2011. This journey has been amazing and i am truly blessed.

  31. Shalese

    I was 17 when I held my first DSLR, too! I was hooked. I officially started my business during my senior year of college & I’ve been focused on growing ever since. :)

  32. Lauren

    I loved reading this post from Natalie! She is so sweet and honestly one of the reasons I decided to start my business was because of a workshop I took from her in 2009! I had already finished grad school and was on my way to becoming a licensed architect when I decided to open up shop as a photographer. :)

  33. Katelyn McKay

    I adore Natalie’s work, and find her story really inspiring. I officially started my business 3 years ago when I was 12, and I shot my first wedding when I was 13. I’ve shot 12 weddings since then, and I’ve discovered that the world of photography is my place in life. Thank you for sharing, Natalie! :)

  34. Carissa Koehn

    I was 18 when I touched a camera for the first time so it was right after graduating high school. At that time, I knew nothing about cameras or photography. 3 years later and I am still learning about photography and growing my business. This post was exactly what I needed! Thanks!

  35. Victoria Greener

    I started right after my own wedding. My photographers were my age and it made me feel like I could do it. I thought you had to be older, too. :) I second shot my first wedding two months later and was hooked!

  36. Hannah

    I started while I was in college around the age of 19! I became serious this year at the age of 24 when I realized that I was not representing myself as I would want to be seen by the world. I’m now working harder than ever on staying true to my style and getting in lots of the content I want to be associated with! :)

  37. ashley barnett

    Yay Natalie! What an awesome post! I started my business officially literally the weekend before I graduated college! Got asked to shoot a wedding for the daughter of a lady I worked with at the JMU grad office, and seeing as I graduated in 2009 in the middle of the worst economic time basically ever and COULD NOT find a job…I jumped at the offer of $600 for the wedding! Shot three more weddings that year and here we are four years later! :)

  38. Rachel

    At my high school, we have "senior projects" where you have to put 60 hours into a project and present it professionally to a panel board.

    My photography teacher in high school liked what I was doing with portraits and suggested I do senior portraits for my project..

    I did that and soon after, friends and friends of friends were asking me to take their senior pictures. I probably did about 25 sessions before my dad suggested I should start charging!

    That was 6 years ago, and I haven’t stopped. Except for now I do a lot more weddings in addition to senior pics! :)

    Thanks for the advice Natalie! And for the contest Justin & Mary :)

  39. Megan

    Thanks for your insight and great info, Natalie! You do beautiful work! I started my business after 2 teaching degrees, 4 years of teaching and my first daughter was born.

  40. Jenni Chung

    Thanks for the post!

    It is TOUGH to start a business. I started when I was 18, and am now 20. I’m a full-time college student and a part-time photographer, but both feel like full-time jobs. And I work two other jobs that share 25+ hours a week of my time. But it is WORTH IT to be able to do what I love. And I am so responsive to hearing Natalie’s story! She did school and photo at the same time, and I know I can, too! :)

  41. Elena Kaloupek

    I started shooting for friends in college about 5 years ago and then my brother and I dove into photography and videography together to make Dust Studios about 2 years ago. We still work full-time jobs but we love to create. Its been a wild ride!

  42. Liz and Ryan

    Ohh YAY! This is so much fun! Love love love seeing Natalie on your blog!… with such an AMAZING perspective as well ;) Ryan and I started our business in January 2009 while we were sitting in a coffee shop dreaming about how we could do more meaningful work! ;) We were both working full time corporate jobs out of college… Ryan as an engineer and Liz as an event planner/fundraiser! So crazy and so fun to think that was almost 5 years ago! Love it! and Love you! And YAY for Pumpkin Spice Lattes! That is HAPPY! ;)

  43. Amanda (J+A Photo)

    Totally a 2nd career! About 5 years into marriage with a baby on the way. And totally a God appointment. Now it allows me to work from home and have that awesome family breakfast every morning that I missed out on while working my previous job. Best blessing/decision of my life!

  44. Alli McWhinney

    Wow! Natalie sure is a powerhouse…awesome post! And I saw today that pumpkin spiced lattes are out! Yay!

  45. Stephanie Meyer

    I (officially) started my business a year ago! I’d had four years of photography classes behind me, I was recently married, I had a brand new Nikon, and felt empowered! I thrive behind a camera and I am constantly learning new styles and techniques while growing my business!

  46. Carissa

    This is such a great guest post!! I started my photography career half way through college. I was originally studying Graphic Design, but after taking a required Intro to Photography course for that major, my love for photography was rekindled (I used to take COUNTLESS photos when I was middle school), and I switched majors. Then my junior year, another photo major got asked by a friend back home to shoot her wedding, and she asked me to come along. Together we stumbled through our very first wedding, and even though we made a ton of mistakes, I was shooting in P mode, and I had nothing but my kit lens… I fell in love with weddings. And now here I am :)

  47. Katie Mayfield

    Natalie – thanks so much for sharing your experiences and advice on how to run a business. I especially liked the part about making ties and partnerships with other photographers. It’s so easy to get caught up in who is shooting whom that we forget what’s important, which is sharing with others your skills and tips so that you yourself might become a better professional in your field. I started my business a few years ago while finishing up my photojournalism degree at WKU. It has been slow going as I got married during college and my husband and I have moved twice in the past six months most recently to Charlotte, NC for his job. Moving and losing connections in a town you grew up in took a hard hit on the business, as I feel like I am starting from scratch in Charlotte. More importantly what I’ve learned is connections and how you conduct yourself as a professional are most important. Showing people you are confident in your work and learning how to talk to people about your business are important as well!

  48. Brittani Croft

    Love this post Natalie! You are such a go-getter and I love your zest for learning and encouraging others :) I started my business during my junior year of college and wouldn’t have had it any other way!

  49. Carolyn Woods

    This was a very encouraging post! I really appreciate the approach of learning the craft and the golden rule. I try to implement both as I continue to grow. While I am not always perfect at it, it is encouraging to hear other people’s journey. Thanks for sharing.

  50. Sarajane Case

    Natalie, your work is lovely! I started my career during college. I studied photojournalism and began taking professional work my senior year! :)

  51. Jessica Hancock

    In 2010 I picked up my first dslr and began shooting. I assisted as many shoots as I could and listened every chance I got to learn from the pros.

  52. Allison

    This post was awesome for so many reasons 1) You guys are the best :) 2) I love Natalie and her work and 3) I’m a 17 y.o. photog myself and it is really nice to hear and learn about other young photogs! Thanks :)

  53. ruthie

    I started my business at 13! I’m 14 now, and still going strong! never though I would be running a business when I still have braces on ;)

  54. Kara Abbey

    Fantastic post!! Was so encouraging to read :D In highschool I got my first digital camera that I could switch to "manual" mode [a total fluke – it simply looked like a cool camera so I asked for it for my birthday] and I’ve never looked back! Officially began booking weddings in 2009 & have been slowly but steadily growing my business ever since!

  55. Adele Schaefer

    It’s post like these that keep me in the game! Thank you Natalie for your amazing words and inspiring story. :) I graduated college last year with a Fine Art degree, and have opened my business being more commercial now. All your tips are so helpful and your style is beautiful!

  56. Maria

    I started my business this past year, 2 years after I graduated college! Kind of wish I had started earlier…but then sometimes I think this timing is perfect.

  57. Spring

    I started a year after college working with a studio in TX. I was just thankful to have found a job that my photography degree came in handy for. Then when I moved home a few years later I started my own business.

  58. Morgan Leigh

    First, this was such an awesome post! Great advice! My parents gave me my first DSLR my senior year of high school for my Christmas/Graduation present, along with a kit lens and a telephoto lens because I liked photographing the sporting events in high school. The fall after I graudated high school I shot my first senior session. I went to college for a year to be a high school History teacher, and began my second year of college at a community college to pursue my passion, photography :) It has been a challenge to start by business at a young age, targeting brides, when my portfolio isn’t very impressive. I am going to take this advice, make sure I have the basics down, try to define my style (which has been so hard!), and build a ROCKIN’ portfolio! I do think that is my weakness right now, and what is keeping brides from booking me. Thank you for this post!! Morgan

  59. Emily Koska

    I started my photography business two years after graduating from college. I’m a registered nurse and still practice. Photography offers a great balance between my creative side and my nerdy science brain. It’s such a fun outlet for me. Gorgeous images, Natalie!!

  60. Marcelle

    Natalie I have started to get to know other photographers in my area because I think there is a lot I can learn from them. I started my business 2 years after college. I have moved 2 times since then and I feel like I have to keep starting over. Thanks for the encouragement!

  61. Sarah Robertson

    Thank you so much for the post- this is perfect advice for young business owners such as myself! I started getting into photography my freshman year of high school, and did my first paid portrait session the summer after my sophomore year of high school- so I guess you could say that’s when I started my business! I’m now a sophomore in college and am so blessed by how far I’ve come thus far!


    I just started my business two short months ago at age 24! I have two young boys and have been teaching myself and have amazing feedback! I have a strong artistic style and editorial eye. Thank you, Thank you Natalie for the tips and inspiration! I love to read about young photogs with a dream making it work! Thank you for featuring these articles! xox,
    Brittny @ Twig & Fig.

  63. Brooke

    I started my business about a year and a half ago, but I fell in love with photography many, many years before that. Like Natalie said, it took years of practicing my skill before I felt confident starting a business, but since beginning my business, I have continue to educate myself. I believe the only way to be great at what you do is to continually challenge yourself and find ways to improve, and I strive to do that every single day.

  64. Candice Christman

    I always wanted to be a photographer, but lacked the intel and mentorship to know I could teach myself, when I couldn’t afford a photography degree. I finally took the leap after the birth of my daughter at age 28!

  65. Dan Ward

    really like this article! best bit for me, and the bet piece of advice ever your quite right is not to be critical of others works! networking and sharing with others helps so much!!

  66. Joel and Amber Photography

    I love reading stories like this! Your passion for learning your craft is inspiring. Thanks for sharing! :)

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