Starting a Family Photography Business: Common Mistakes

Starting a family photography business is hard work, but when a lot of people start, they usually aren’t thinking about anything other than creating art, having fun, and making a little money while doing it. There is SO MUCH MORE that goes into running a successful photography business, and a lot of photographers burn out after their first year because they make a lot of mistakes. This blog post is here to help you avoid those mistakes, avoid burnout, and hopefully start a successful photography business that will last!

Mistake 1: Charging low prices for photography

I put this first because it’s probably the most important one! You want to price yourself to make a profit and compensate you for your time. Obviously this number is going to be different for everyone because we all have different expenses and want to be paid a different amount per hour. I’m not going to tell you how to calculate your Cost of Doing Business(CODB) because there are tons of CODB calculators for that out there if you google it. But at the very least, I want you to think about these things:

  1. How much money do you spend on your business per month? Subscriptions, advertising, props, clothing, blankets, gear, education, phone, computer, internet, insurance, etc.
  2. How many hours does one session take you? Not just the session itself, but communicating with the client, planning, driving to the location, editing, uploading, delivering, etc.
  3. How many hours do you spend per day/week/month working on your business that isn’t directly related to a session? Posting to social media, working on your website/blog, location scouting, etc.

Now that you’ve got a better idea of what you spend on your business and how much time goes into it, you can start to make a plan for how much you need to be charging in order to be profitable and make it worth your time. If you’re only charging $100 per session, and you’re spending 3 hours total on a session after all is said and done, you may think that you are making about $33 an hour. But in reality, you have to pay taxes on that, and after you account for your gas, wear and tear on your car, and all the other expenses that go into running your business, plus all the other time you spend per week on other business tasks, you’re basically making nothing.

This is why so many photographers burn out so quickly: because they aren’t making enough to make it worth their time.

What is the point of being your own boss if you don’t get paid? It’s a ton of work to figure out how to run your own business, why spend the time figuring it all out and then make less than minimum wage?

I do understand feeling like you’re new and that you shouldn’t be charging high prices because of that. But don’t feel that way! If you’re putting in the time, you should be compensated for it. Simple as that.

Mistake 2: Charging before you’re ready

I made this mistake in a big way! It was back in 2009 and I had never been paid to photograph anyone before but I had taken photos of my sister and her friends for fun and I thought I was pretty good (operative word: thought). So one of my sister’s friends asked me to photograph her wedding 🤦‍♀️🤦‍♀️. I kid you not, the first paid job I ever did was a wedding!! I had no idea what I was doing, knew barely anything about lighting, knew even less about photographing a wedding, and absolutely didn’t know how much money was a fair price for this. I photographed this wedding for almost no money. I hadn’t figured out what my editing style was yet, unless adding tons of different actions in photoshop counts as a style. It was bad.

Then, a few months later I had a friend ask me to take her family photos. I think I charged her like $30 and took some of the ugliest photos I’ve ever seen. I still didn’t know enough about lighting, I was just lucky sometimes. This wasn’t one of those times. She wanted to go out at noon to a park full of green, manicured grass and lots of trees. The photos turned out so bad because there was a green cast to their skin from the harsh sun reflecting off the grass, and the shadows were super unflattering for them. And, in my usual style back then, I had some fun with different photoshop actions and delivered several photos with horrible edits that didn’t look good alone or together as a whole. Lol.

I slowly started photographing more family friends and didn’t really get much better until I realized that there was online education out there that I could use to figure this whole thing out. That’s when I started educating myself and really growing as an artist. But it took me about 4 years until I started feeling proud of the work I was delivering, and two more years after that until I felt I was actually profitable.

So what did we learn from this mistake? Don’t start charging until you are ready! I so wish I would have waited until I knew what I was doing to charge people and start up a business. If you have really figured out lighting, and how to pose/direct people, and feel confident that your work is worth charging enough for, then you can start your business at a higher price point than the “beginners” because you’re actually not a beginner at all. Yes, you’re a beginner at running a business but not at taking amazing photographs. And really, no one should be charging people for photos if they don’t know what they’re doing yet, right? 

So before you charge, do model calls, practice on family and friends, educate yourself, and really get your confidence up! You’re worth whatever price you set for yourself and more!

Mistake 3: Not learning how to photograph people in all different lighting scenarios

I’m so mad at myself for this one. I really should have tried out all sorts of lighting before starting a photography business! Lighting has so much to do with your style as a photographer. Taking photos in good light is something every photographer should know how to do, and it’s possible no matter the situation if you know how to look for it. 

I started out taking photos of families at whatever time they chose, and I didn’t understand that it actually matters what time of day you photograph people. I didn’t actually try out a sunset session until about 4 years into my business! How crazy is that? And of course, I immediately fell in love and slowly transitioned into only doing outdoor sessions at sunset (unless it’s cloudy out). 

There are so many things that can go wrong depending on the location, time of day, and available light, so you want to be prepared for anything.

For example, I recently had told a family to show up 3 hours before sunset because it was supposed to be overcast so that’s the ideal time to start. Well, the sun decided to come out anyway! If I didn’t know how to shoot in harsher lighting conditions, it would have been a disaster.

Another time, I showed up 30 minutes early for a session so I could walk around a bit, but the family came early, too! It would have been awkward to just tell them to wait in the car when we were both clearly there, so we started early. But the sun was too harsh for that particular location and there weren’t trees to diffuse the sun, so I had them start in the shade of the bathroom!

Being ready to think on your feet and come up with solutions to lighting problems will be a very valuable skill and one that every photographer should have. 

Mistake 4: Getting too fancy with editing

I’ll start by explaining that I started my photography business way back in 2009/2010 when there were some interesting editing trends going on, so I try not to judge myself too harshly. But seriously, I did some horrible things to my photos. 

I think that when new photographers start seeing all the different possibilities and the different ways you can edit, they get a little excited and want to try it all. And it’s okay to try it all, but maybe not on client work. Before you start a business, you should know what your editing style is going to be. 

A really great way to figure out your editing style is to go on Pinterest and start pinning images that you love, in terms of editing. See what you are drawn to most. Vibrant and colorful? Soft and muted tones? Light and bright? Dark and moody? Cool tones? Warm tones? There are so many different possibilities so pick what you like the best and do some research to see how you can get your editing to look similar. Search for presets that have the look you want, or take an editing course. Build a consistent portfolio to show potential clients and stick with it so they know what to expect when they hire you.

As a general rule, here are some editing trends that you want to stay away from:

Heavy vignettes – either white or black edges that make the subject stand out more. White is definitely dated. Some people might do a more subtle dark vignette which can work but just make sure that you can’t actually tell that one was added. If you step back and can obviously see it, you’ve gone too far.

Selective color – When the photo is black and white except for a small portion is still in color. Like the eyes are blue, or the flower is red, but everything else is black and white.

Crazy Vibrant eyes – When the whites of the eyes are bright white and the iris is super vibrant. If it looks fake, don’t do it.

Fake blur – When I started photography, I remember seeing images where the background was blurred so nicely and wishing my images looked like that. So I tried adding it in photoshop. But the problem is, it always looks fake when you try to add blur while editing. The trick is to have a shallow depth of field when you’re taking the photo. You can get that blur naturally!

Mistake 5: Relying on cheap mini sessions to build business

When I first started my photography business, I thought that the best way to get my name out there was to offer mini sessions. There is definitely a way to make minis profitable, but I definitely didn’t know those ways. I was offering family mini sessions for pennies, just trying to get my name out there.

The problem with this strategy is that all I would ever book was minis and NO ONE booked a full session with me for at least two years, maybe three. Why book a full family session when I was offering family mini sessions three or more times a year?

Another issue with this is that all my clients only wanted mini sessions, so when I finally stopped offering them, most of those clients didn’t stick with me. I had to start completely over.

If you are going to offer minis, offer them for just the kids, or mommy and me, or have a specific, styled setup. That way you’re differentiating your minis from your full sessions by the way they look and also who will be in the photos. 

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Are you making these mistakes in your photography business or have you made them in the past? I’d love to hear about your experience in the comments below!

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  1. My biggest hurdle – What is my “style”? There is so much out that i LOVE. I also need to learn to take photos in different lighting scenarios. It is a struggle. I just need to keep practicing. Thanks for all of your help!

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