What I Learned this Summer, Part I: Photography

I have returned to Virginia Tech for my final semester. After several days of meeting freshmen and helping them move in and get settled in their new home here, its time to reflect on the past few months. I learned a lot about business and photography, which will go into this post; a follow-up will detail some of the lessons I learned on a broader scale of life and faith.

Hey, if you are not taking the time to periodically look back and remember your experiences and learning, you are wasting a big opportunity to grow, know yourself, and even have a better idea of where you are going. A life devoid of self-reflection is dangerous.

As I was setting up my business, I discovered that legal and governmental "stuff" is just obnoxious. Not only did I have to fill out a great many forms and wait for them to be notarized and processed, but meticulous record-keeping and quarterly tax forms are required in addition to the yearly tax return filing. Say goodbye to the 1040 EZ.

Having an advertising budget of $0 makes things really difficult. "If you build it, they will come" does not really apply to small businesses in portrait photography, especially in an area where there are loads of people trying to do roughly the same thing. You have to go out in your community and communicate your ability and presence. Thankfully, the "high school mom email network" was helpful in this regard, as were other previously-established word-of-mouth venues.

The placement of your office/workspace is critical. I set up my workspace in our basement at a built-in desk. I had a good amount of space to spread out, but was away from windows and noise and people. If you are not an amazingly self-motivated person, this setup will be most unhelpful. Halfway through the summer, I found myself growing frustrated with the arrangement but without a better spot for relocation. Ergonomic issues with typing and computer location led to sore wrists as well.

Know your stuff! You have to practice, tweak, experiment, and plan. The work I put into everything for the first few months of the summer gave me much greater confidence in my photography than previous years. I was better equipped to give direction during portrait shoots and more able to communicate my skills and understand the wishes of my clients effectively.

Take advantage of the free and cheap. I learned a lot from books I checked out at the public library. I built my own sturdy portrait backdrop stand out of scrap wood and a piece of PVC pipe for a total cost of about $2.50. I learned loads from videos on the internet dealing with all sorts of aspects of photography and editing software.

It's amazing what you can learn when you simply go for something. You'll fail and you'll succeed, gaining experience and knowledge no matter the specific outcome.

Check back next week for a summary of what I learned about life and faith.