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Can You Make It As a Military Spouse Photographer?

Child posing for photographer 600x400

As a professional photographer, I get many questions from military spouses just starting out in this industry. The questions are generally the same: How do I advertise? How can I make money? Is my gear good enough? How much do I charge? How do I find clients after we PCS?

Simple questions like these often have not so simple answers. And when you are a military spouse like I am, the answers may be very un-simple.

So I am going to be blunt and to the point. I am not here to coddle you and make you think you can make it in this industry just because you have a camera. It takes hard work, and dedication to make it as a photographer. Having a camera is only a third of what it takes. So, those with weak hearts please stop here!

If you're anything like me, you want not only to give a client the best experience possible. You also,want to make money doing it. So where do you begin? I am no business expert, but I have been doing this successfully for 15 years. This is what I have learned that may help you.

Equipment

This is a huge thing for many photographers. Not everyone can afford the amazing Canon 5D Mark III when they start out. With a price tag of almost $4,000 you can see why so many stick with APS-C cameras.

That's ok. f you're just starting out, and are on a budget (like most military families), an APS-C camera like the Canon T3i is a great way to learn and grow. What you, as a photographer, should invest in is GOOD glass( lenses) that can transition from APS-C to a Full Frame camera like the Canon 5D Mark III.

While everyone knows you need a good camera, do you also need to invest in studio lighting? I can tell you more often than not you will not use it unless you intend to stay at your current duty station. Or if you like to lug around a lot of equipment across the country.

Your investment in lighting really depends on what kind of photography you want to do. Having an external flash, or a nice little continuous lighting kit, IS a GREAT investment. I had a studio before my husband enlisted. Trying to haul all of that equipment to his FDS was a terrible idea. Needless to say a lot of things got damaged (thank goodness for insurance!).

If you are just starting out, studio equipment may not be the best thing for you unless you know for sure that is something you want to work with. I hardly use my studio lighting now unless I am doing newborn sessions, even then natural lighting can be used. My clients love my approach and use of organic, naturally lit environments.

Education

You do not need a degree to become a photographer. However, I implore anyone who wants to get into this industry you do need some form of education.

Take a few workshops online, visit your local community college off or online. Heck, work as an assistant to someone else for free or seek out a mentor! You need to have the basic fundamentals of photography down.

This can be a challenge given our circumstances as military spouses, but it is possible. If you're worried about PCSing in the middle of school it may be best in your situation to avoid the local college and complete your training solely online.

Do not be one of those photographers who thinks that just because they got a camera for Christmas they can be the next Annie Leibovitz. Natural talent only goes so far without some sort of technical know-how behind it. So, pick up a book on photography and read it 9000 times over! Also, take a few courses in Business management. You will need them.

Advertising/Websites

With the revolution of social media websites like MySpace, Facebook, and Google+ it has become easier for small businesses to advertise to potential clients. These are wonderful tools to advertise your photography business to local clients.

Since we military families are more prone to move than our civilian counterparts, having a Facebook or MySpace page for your photography business is a surefire way to keep in contact with clients. It is portable, free and easy to use.

Do not think that you have advertised enough just by accessing social media websites. There are tons of free advertising websites out there like Craigslist and Bookoo. Think about starting a blog or joining with a group of bloggers.

Paid advertising is somewhat more complicated. Facebook advertising can get really expensive, so I steer clear of that as much as I can.

I have found that when paying for local advertisements, it is best to arrange the payments to go month-to- month. National advertising is advantageous during a move because getting up to speed only requires editing your information. National advertisements are cheaper if they are paid yearly rather than month-to-month.

Offer incentives to returning clients to motivate them to help you with advertising. Give them discounts if they refer people to you. Start little advertising campaigns on Facebook asking your clients to get people to 'like' your page, and you will offer either discounted or free sessions to a select few. You have to have fun with advertising and be interactive with clients.

Legal issues

Always register your business with your base/post. I say this because it not only shows good faith to them, but it offers other military families a list of who is registered, who is trust worthy (bad business can be reported) and legitimizes your business.

Become familiar with the differences between a copyright release and a print release. I suggest each and every photographer hire a lawyer to draw up a model releases for adults and children, print release or license agreement, and copyright release if you ever want to sell your work.

Outline in detail exactly what a client can use your work, where, how much and how often. If you do not want a client using your work in a commercial setting (for profit) you need to have that in there unless you have a license written up for it. This not only saves you time and money, but it protects you and your business.

Goals

Yes, you need to have a goal for yourself and your business. While our spouses careers advance, they ETS, they deploy and come back. We as spouses, as businessmen/women, need to have our own goals.

Say that you want to save for an amazing vacation for you, and your spouse when they come back from deployment. You would need to add that to your cost, raise your prices accordingly and work on it.

Goals are a great way for us to actually see that we are making something of our business. If it were not for goals what would be the point of working?

I don't like working 60+ hours a week just for the money. No ma'am ,I do it for a goal! My goal right now is to buy a second body for my business since I hate switching out lenses in the middle of a session.

So, figure out what you as a person want as a goal. Add it to your expenses and figure out what your overhead is. Keep that goal in sight at all times. Make a little board with what you want and hang it up by your desk, or refrigerator. Do something you want to see, and keep on your mind. But always have a goal. ALWAYS.

A lot of what I've written can be translated into the world outside of the military. That is and was my point. We as spouses of military members have certain challenges we have to deal with when starting our own businesses. It does not stop us from doing it, but it is not always an easy task. If you are serious about your business you will strive to make it work no matter the situation.

PHOTO CREDIT:  Crystal Johnson

Crystal is a full time photographer, mom and wife. She lives with her amazing husband and son at Fort Carson,CO. For the past 15 years it has been her passion to capture her clients special moments and memories. When not working she enjoys a good book, and tall glass of southern tea.

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