Top 5 Mistakes


January 11th, 2021

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As the wise Hannah Montana once said, “everybody makes mistakes.” As a new business owner, trust me when I say that you are prone to them. They are going to happen, but how you handle them and learn from them is what’s important. I’ve made my fair share of mistakes as a beginner photographer, but I’m here today to share those mistakes I’ve made, in hopes that you can avoid them. These are some of the things I wish somebody had warned me about before I started.

1. Free Shoots

When you first begin your photography business, it can be difficult to build a solid clientele without a decent portfolio to showcase your skills. The first thing I did when I launched Honeybee’s Photography was make a post about offering free shoots to my friends and family, and let me tell you, I wish I never had. My inbox was flooded with people interested, initially I thought this was great and I was super excited. In the long run, it lead to some people not valuing the work I now do.

"Model Calls" are a great way to avoid using the term "free." Posting a model call on a local Facebook group is your best option. With a model call, you can ask for a certain person in mind. Say you want to take a photoshoot at the top of a mountain, you'd be able to weed out anybody who isn't able to make the hike. Say you want to have a photoshoot with a horse, obviously Jane Doe without a horse isn't able to take advantage of what once was a "free shoot." 

I've gotten some amazing content from doing model calls, here are a few: 

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2. Retainer vs Deposit

ALWAYS require a nonrefundable retainer fee before booking a session. Unfortunately in today’s society, money speaks. When you book a session with a retainer, clients are more inclined to actually show up to their session. Never refer to this reservation fee as a deposit, as you may run into some legal trouble. Sessions are not booked until I receive both the retainer and signed contract returned.


Retainers are fees paid in advance to reserve, hold, or book a certain date for your services. This fee is nonrefundable. Many photographers require different retainer amounts, I personally require 50% of the total session or wedding cost, while others may require an X amount such as a flat $200.


Deposits also reserve a date for your services, but typically a deposit is returned after the services have been rendered. If the client is to cancel their session, you are legally obligated to return a deposit.

Though they’re just small words, knowing the difference between a retainer and deposit is crucial. Think of it as signing a lease on an apartment: You would usually have to pay a security deposit and first month’s rent. The deposit would (usually) be returned at the end of your lease, but the first month's rent, similar to a retainer, would go towards your purchase and would not be refunded.

3. Contract

Having a solid contract from the get-go will take you far. Whether it be for something as big as a wedding, or something as little as a 15 minute mini session, HAVE A SOLID CONTRACT! Most photographers either invest in a lawyer to help draft their photography agreements, or purchase templates from The Law Tog. I have separate contracts for weddings vs normal sessions (couples, families, maternity, portraits), but here are a few of the major aspects that both contracts incorporate: 

• General Info - Such as dates, times, location, etc. There's also a field for the client to fill out their contact information. 

• Prices and Fees - My photography agreement lays out all costs including session fees, any extra fees such as mileage, extra time, people, etc.

• Copyright - Be sure to include information about what the client can and cannot do with your photos. While they paid for the session, there may be limited use based on your copyright regulations. 

• Liability - Liability is SO important in your contract. If something *god willing* happens to your photos and you are unable to recover them, you need to have your bases covered. Liability also falls under any illnesses or injuries resulting in your time with your client. 

• Cancellations - Cancellations and late policies vary from photographer to photographer, so whatever you decide your policy will be, put it here. 

• Model Release - Having a model release from your client ensures that you are able to post and share your work without any issues. 

Master Draft Photography Agreement

4. Low Prices

I know, I know, it's tempting to have low prices. I love a great deal myself, but having low prices usually isn't a good thing - I learned that the hard way. In the photography industry, you pay for what you get, and if somebody loves your work, they will do anything to book with you. KNOW YOUR WORTH! If you start out with low prices, people tend to expect low quality work. What's even worse, is that they also expect low prices indefinitely. If you shot Jane Doe's family portraits for $50, but have since realized your work is worth more and have updated the same session's cost to $300, Jane Doe likely won't book again. 

There are a lot of factors that go into running a photography business, that most people don't think about. The cost of your equipment, travel to and from, the time you put in during the session, the time you put going into editing the gallery, the cost of monthly subscriptions like your website and editing softwares, on top of that... Taxes. Photographer's must set aside 30% of all income to pay taxes. Run a CODB (cost of doing business) to understand how much you should really be charging to make any sort of profit. 

5. Friends + Family

No matter what kind of business you own, it's common for friends and family to take advantage without realizing what they're doing. True friends and family will want to support your business and appreciate the work you put in. So how do you deal with friends and family who constantly ask for discounts or free shoots?

• Decide who the exceptions are - There's a difference between your beloved mother and that one acquaintance from high school who you haven't talked to in 8 years. I offer a 20% discount to "friends and family" but just because they knew me at one point in time, or are a distant relative who I only see at weddings and funerals, doesn't make them eligible. The beauty of it is, it's YOUR business! YOU decide who the exceptions go to, and IF you even give them!                               

• Learn when to put your foot down - Stick up for yourself! Stand your ground and let them know right off the bat what is and is not acceptable. This way they know from the beginning and it won't lead to a never-ending spiral of questions.

• Treat them like every other client - It's that simple. Just respond the way you would respond as if you don't know them. Let them know what packages and prices you offer. Short, concise, and to the point. 

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