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  • Writer's pictureLaken McDonald

The Struggle Was Real | A Must-Read for Photographers

Updated: Dec 14, 2018


Recently, I met with a wonderful friend for lunch and we talked about her interests in photography! It encouraged me to write this post and express that for me...the struggle of being a photographer was real. I always try to remain modest and optimistic through much of life's adversity and my business is no exception. Being the kind person she is with sweet words about how she admires me and sees the hard work I've put into my business all these years was really humbling to hear and gave me the confidence to write this post!

It is pleasantly surprising to hear from someone else that they "see you". Especially in this industry, we try so hard as artists, as photographers, as creatives to be seen. Building a business from the ground up, hustling for any job that comes your way, spending time away from your loved ones, can be a daunting, dark place, but it doesn't have to be.

Mainly interested in learning where to start, cameras, editing programs etc. I explained to her that unfortunately, at one time I didn't want to share what I know or my "secrets". Sounds silly to say now because I am in many photographer community groups on social media where everyone shares everything and genuinely enjoys helping one another - but I think that comes with time, experience, and confidence. And now I love sharing tips & tricks and my knowledge with upcoming photographers because I feel their passion and desire and want to lead them in the right direction. And in some way or another I wish someone would've helped me as well.

Let's talk about, that was such a tough concept for me to grasp when I first started my business because #1- I had moved across the country to a place where I knew no one so how would people know who I was and #2- I wasn't confident in myself or in my work/ability like I should've been and never allowed myself grace. I never gave myself enough credit for the hard work I was accomplishing or ever allowed myself to...slow.....down.....I wanted to be the best, most popular photographer in the area, meanwhile my work ethic suffered, health, and most importantly family. Not to mention there were already amazing photographers in my new town that I constantly compared myself to...and thought it was a competition of who could book the most clients, post the most photos, and so on.

It really affected my mental health because I was always on the grind 24/7. I stayed up wee hours of the night, felt stressed, overwhelmed, and anxious, didn't exercise, and ate fast food because who has time to cook?! Nobody really realized, or asked, but I also worked, and still do, a full time 9-5 job so focusing on my duties there while knowing I have so much I have to do with my other full time job, my business. Thinking about what I could be doing to make my business successful was always a daily struggle. Simply put, it wears you out. I sometimes think mental exhaustion is worse than physical, at least for me, and can be very hard to overcome. With that came another job opportunity that felt more "me" and fulfilling. It went hand in hand with being a creative every waking moment. It was definitely a favorable balance to my dream job and I jumped on it right away.

It is still a lot of pressure to maintain both but I am blessed that I am a little more at peace during the day that spills over to my business duties and work ethic. If you need to work another job while running a business, I would advise it be enjoyable for the most part and not suck the creative drive and juices out of you! Little by little I saw my life crumbling before my eyes because I wasn't happy where I spent the majority of my time and livelihood. Sure it helped pay the bills, but in turn it gave me tunnel vision and affected my creativity, organizational & time management skills, motivation, passion, and appreciativeness of what I loved business.


Here is a list to follow of what was and still is important to me as a photographer!

Hopefully this will have you NOT saying The Struggle is Real....

1. Establish a meaningful business name & logo to match your brand or identity.

2. Have a website!! Sure Facebook is the place to be and I have gotten much business from it but a website is key. People want a credible place to see you put effort into something, and can access your portfolio, information, about yourself, and a way to contact. Google search is definitely still relevant!!

3. Be LEGAL! Business licenses, insurance, pay taxes, all the good stuff...If you're taking money from people, it's not a hobby anymore.

4. Be inspired. Who or what inspires you? What kind of photography do you want to shoot?

5. Research, Research, Research. Youtube, Facebook groups, mentoring, webinars, education, The good news is that a lot of this is FREE!!

6. Buy a "good" DSLR camera, doesn't have to be fancy, but start somewhere. (Nikon if you want to be the best.....JUST KIDDING!)

7. Have a reliable computer & editing software (I love Adobe Lightroom). One of the best decisions I've made was to upgrade to an iMac because it increased my productivity and made my workflow much, much easier to navigate.

8. Specialize. Some may not agree with this but I have learned by trial and error that specializing in a specific genre of photography such as weddings, newborns, seniors, etc. really takes the pressure and stress off of trying to do it all. Sure! It can be done. And quite frankly, I've done it. But The Struggle was Real...haha. There is so much that goes into planning a session and having to switch modes, or have a prop for every type. It was exhausting. I quickly got burnt out on trying to be everyone's photographer. Now I can focus more specifically on what I'm good at and hone in on those clients, giving them the best experience possible. So with that I say...there's a photographer for everyone...don't feel pressured take everyone on....especially when as business owners - we already do it all!

9. Be confident. YOU can do it.

10. Shoot for free if you need to build a portfolio...I recommend doing this only a few times for events/sessions. Because you don't want to be taken advantage of in the future or regarded as the "cheap but good photographer".

11. Say no. This goes hand in hand with #8 but I can't stress it enough. Say no to working a Saturday when you said you would take it off to spend time with family. Say no to a session request that you don't think fits your brand or style. Say no to a bride that you may feel just isn't a match, personality wise or with meeting their needs. Say no to someone bartering with you for discounts or lower packages. It's fine to do special discounts or mini sessions sometimes, but don't lower the bar - you do it once, you'll do it for everyone. I am a yes person for sure! So I challenge you right now to say out loud........NO. Feels good doesn't it?!

12. Schedule smart. You do not need to schedule a session every day. Just don't do it. I thought by the looks of my calendar, if it was full, with back to back to back sessions...I had made it. But looking back, it was not worth it. Again, I got burnt out. My health declined. My creativity lacked. And therefore my clients suffered. I always want to give my clients or bride & groom an enjoyable, memorable experience. If I am not totally present with them that day, am just going to the same locations over and over again, or not having enough time to get their photos back in time - what good is that doing my business? Choose a few days that work for you. Respond to emails and messages at certain times. Take a weekend off. Do something UNRELATED to photography. You'll thank me later :)

13. Faith it 'til you make it. You may have heard of "Fake it" but who wants to be fake?! You don't have to feel like an imposter to have confidence in your work or to put yourself out there. Just have faith in your abilities to take you to the next level. And of course I am blessed from my creator & always put my faith in Him to guide success and humbleness in my life.

14. Take risks. I do believe you need to spend a little money to make money, save up the funds to buy your gear, invest in bridal shows, advertising, event programs, etc. to put you on the map. I started my business with the last $1000 we had and I believe it was on a credit card! Now I have a steady 5 figure income and work hard to maintain it.

15. Save. Save. Save! As much as you can save. Have separate bank accounts from personal & business, make sure to save for taxes but don't use your business funds if you can help it. Sure it's nice to have a new lens here and there but think before you purchase. Do you really need it? Will it make me better? Is it a good investment? It is very rewarding to see a monetary value on all your hard work over the years!

16. Know your worth. So you've done a wedding or two for free or took some cheap head shots for a local realty it's time to value yourself. This concept will not happen over night either. I still have to evaluate my worth each year, even half way through the year. Add up your cost of doing business, your time, expertise, knowledge, your new gear, and take a look at what others around you are charging if you feel your work is comparable - but ultimately it is based on what YOU need to charge to profit. We can agree photography is fun! But if you need to support yourself or family or want a sustaining business, you need income. Don't sell yourself short. Charging $25-$50 for a 2 hour shoot with all images included and much not going to cut it. If you're confident in your work and pricing structure, others will follow and trust you as well. Do not feel unworthy of success. It may take a while but don't give up! IT IS POSSIBLE to be a "new" photographer and be profitable.

17. Be humble & kind. Most importantly be humble and kind to others. Remember when I said I didn't want to share my in's and out's of my business or that I wanted to be THE BEST? Well I can say with confidence that I wouldn't be where I am or sharing this information with you today if I didn't get off of that high horse and start examining my life and those around me who helped me become a better person. It is why my business is where it is today.

As each has received a gift, use it to serve one another.

1 Peter 4:10


It's going to be tough. You're going to work long hours. You'll have to sacrifice time spent with your spouse or children over improving your business. The feeling of giving up will always be there. That picture you spent 3 hours on may not look perfect. You probably won't have the best lens that someone else does. It may be silent for months on your contact form because you have no inquiries. You'll question yourself & ability daily. Your bank account will reach zero. You'll need a break.

I could go on and on! But these thoughts, tribulations, and real life scenarios do not define who you are or want to be as a photographer. You do have control over your business. Don't let it control you.

Eliminate the struggle from the get go!



*If you're a photographer and would like to share any tips or your own experiences & struggles, please comment below!! Questions are encouraged as well!

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