First year, first website
April 18 marked one year to the day that I sat in a Starbucks with an hour to kill and thought, “I should probably make this thing official.” I had been working on a launching a photography business for a couple of months. I wasn’t sure where it would all take me at first, but on that day it got real! I had actually spent a few weeks in January of 2019 making a website with images I had taken over the years. I didn’t know much about starting a photography business, but I knew I loved taking pictures of people. The home page of my first website was in all black and white — a compilation of pictures of my cousins’ adorable toddlers, some pictures I had taken for a college photography class, and a few from some charity events I volunteered for. The funny thing about that website? I never published it! I finished it and never put it online. And not because I gave up.
That website actually lit the fire I needed to make this thing real. While I was making it, I started researching photography. Looking at other photography websites and Facebook pages. I decided that if I was going to put this thing out in the world, I had to know what I was doing. I didn’t need to know it all, but I wanted to be professional right out of the gate. The idea of that was stressful though. I thought I was going to have to go back to school, or spend a lot of money on a tech school program. Then, because of all my Facebook research and the robots that are watching us, I came across a sponsored post for an online photography course by two successful photographers in Arizona (Amy and Jordan Demos). I watched their free webinar and I was hooked. I took their online class (for WAY less than what I would have paid to go back to school), and learned enough of what I needed to know to start. My fire was officially lit!
First year, second website
I realized what style of photography I liked best – bright and airy with a pop of color, timeless, joyful. The images on my first website were definitely joyful, but they weren’t consistent. With my newfound knowledge, I started playing around with my DSLR. I took pictures again of my cousins’ adorable babies. I took some pictures of my grown cousins for Mother’s Day. Before I knew it, I had enough consistent images I could work with for a new website. I bought some logo designs off of Etsy, built my website on Show It, figured out what I need to do to start an official business, and dove deeper into the craft.
When Morgan Madeleine LLC became official in that Starbucks, I had no idea the kind of year it was about to bring. The amount of people who would support me, the beautiful faces of joy I would get to capture, the people I would meet, the places I would go! It’s kind of crazy what can happen when you take a leap of faith and put yourself out there. When I first introduced my business on Facebook, I felt like a fraud. I imagined people behind their computers or phones rolling their eyes, “Oh great, another photographer”…”How original”…”Seriously? Literally anyone can be a photographer.” But this year has come with so many blessings, so many new experiences, and I fall in love with it more and more with every picture I take.
Only a year in, I am still working on the insecurities behind every post or every new idea. But I have learned that being a professional photographer is about way more than taking someone’s pictures. It’s about the real connections I get to make with people, it’s about capturing memories for them that will last a lifetime, and as I move into this next season (wedding season!) of my business, it’s going to be about so much more.
If you’re someone who’s been considering starting a business – photography or not – I encourage you to take the leap! Spend some time creating, learning and dreaming. You won’t know where it can take you until you try!
How I booked paid sessions and 17 weddings in my first year
For those of you who are starting – or considering starting – a photography business, I want to leave you with some of the things I did in my first year that helped me book family, high school senior, maternity, and branding sessions, and 17 weddings all in my first year! I’m a year and 6 days in. I have so much more to learn. Right now, I feel I can only speak to my own experiences, but as someone who was in your shoes not too long ago, I hope some of my experiences will help:
- Share on your personal page. I shared a lot in the first few months of my business on my personal Facebook page. Most of my sessions in the beginning came from those connections. I invited people to like my business page, but still posted where more people were going to see it.
- Be willing to work for free! My goal before I started the business was to avoid doing a lot of sessions for free, so I educated myself and worked on my branding before launching the business. I had technically done “free sessions” for years, before I considered myself a photographer (by this I mean my own family and charity events). I still realized though because I was new, I was going to have to work for free, or at least for cheap.
- I took pictures of my cousin’s kids to use on my website. I then posted on my personal Facebook page that I would be booking sessions for a suggested donation of $100 to the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation (I was raising money for a century bike ride, so this was good timing!). I had a few people reach out for that, and then some of those people referred me to future, paying clients!
- About two months in, even after I had a few paying clients, I had a couple weeks of a slump with no sessions, so I reached out to a Facebook friend who has kids, and offered to take pictures of them for free so I could use them on my website and social media. Not many people are going to turn down free photos, and I had more pictures to share in a new location, and made it look like I was staying busy!
- Use your personal connections (outside of social media). Almost everyone I had a conversation with, no matter how well I knew them, I tried to bring up the fact that I started a photography business. It feels so weird to say that at first, but I couldn’t tell you the number of people who said, “Oh I know someone who needs senior pictures for their kid!” or “I’ve been wanting to get some family pictures!” They’d never even seen a picture I took, but because we had an in-person connection, they were immediately interested.
- Think about where you have these personal connections. The best thing about photography is that everyone, everywhere either wants to get pictures or know someone who needs pictures. I teach tennis part-time, and many of my original clients come from tennis connections. Talk to people at your gym. At your work. Your neighbors. Strangers! 🙂
- One of my biggest supporters was another personal connection and fellow business owner, Lisa Feran, who owns my favorite gym – Custom Fitness Specialists – in Madison. I had been going to Lisa’s gym for a few years, and she was well aware of my new venture. She needed some branding pictures, so we had an agreement that I would take pictures for her, and in exchange, she would let me use her gym space for headshots (I love her!). She also referred me to several others in the gym who wanted branding pictures, and some of them ended up referring me to their families!
- Within a couple of months, I was consistently getting paid clients for family sessions and high school seniors. I was still cheaper than the majority of established photographers, but I was bringing money into my business! Almost all of these clients came from referrals – Someone on Facebook passed me along, a client referred me to a friend, I mentioned the business to a personal connection.
- Charity events are another great place to start! Before I even started my business, I volunteered for a few charity events. Nonprofits are always on the hunt for photographers willing to donate their time at their walks, galas and fundraisers. I have two particularly close to my heart – the CF Foundation and JDRF – that I volunteer for regularly. Reach out to your favorite organizations. Bring your business cards. Connect with people. Get your work out there! It’s also great practice for the hustle of a wedding, and using flash – you’re gonna need it at receptions!
How I booked my first wedding
- From the beginning, I knew I wanted to do weddings. I LOVE everything about weddings, and I knew I wanted to be a wedding photographer. But I wanted to be a great wedding photographer. I take my responsibility seriously. I know my couples are trusting me to capture one of the most important days of their lives, and I not only want to do that as best I can for them, I want to be a supportive, trustworthy friend along the way.
- Again, I knew I would need to put work in for free. I connected with an established photographer who I knew from a previous job, and she let me tag along on one of her weddings. There, I actually met her second shooter, Moose (Blu Moose Photography), and he took me under his wing as an assistant. I spent many weekends over the summer and fall tagging along to his weddings. I carried his bags, held his lights, fluffed the dresses. And I learned! Eventually I started taking some pictures alongside of him, and that helped me build a small portfolio. I now have an amazing mentor in the industry, and a great friend as a bonus!
- I also knew to book weddings that I would need to take pictures of couples! Re-enter Facebook. During one of my larger family sessions, I took individual pictures of each couple, so I had a few engagement-like pictures to use. I put a post on my personal Facebook page that I would be offering engagement sessions for $150 as a portfolio builder. I didn’t mention a single thing about weddings (You could, but I didn’t). I ended up booking an engagement session through a Facebook connection, and only after I sent the pictures back, did I send a PDF with a wedding package, and an offer to take what they already paid off the price. I ended up booking their wedding, and did a few more sessions like that!
- Facebook Groups! There are several photography and wedding Facebook groups specific to the area I live in. Other photographers will post wedding referrals for dates that they already booked, or for couples who have lower budgets. I found this especially helpful being on the lower-budget side of things while I was starting out. I booked several weddings this way. And now I find myself returning the favor 🙂
Things to note about the first weddings I booked:
- I wouldn’t have booked them without a plan. I learned an approach through the courses I took, and I had a plan for when I talked to my couples on the phone or met them in person.
- I wouldn’t have booked them (or wouldn’t have felt comfortable booking them) without experience. Whether it’s experience as an assistant, as a second shooter, as a photographer for smaller elopement-style weddings, or from studying (KJ All Access has been amazing!) — or preferably, all four.
- Client experience is huge. I’ve been learning this all along. Learning it from classes and already from experience. I will leave a wedding with Moose, and people at the wedding will say things like, “You guys did a great job!” And they haven’t seen a single picture. I already have my own couples referring others to me, and I haven’t even had their engagement session yet. Now I realize part of that might be my starting-out price, but I believe how you treat your couples right from the beginning is the most important thing.
I really could break all of this down into several blog posts (Seeing as how I already wrote several posts in one!). If I can inspire just one other person to take their leap of faith, then this is worth all the words!
Lastly, and most importantly, THANK YOU THANK YOU THANK YOU to every single one of you who have supported me in this journey so far. Especially all of the beautiful faces you’re about to see below. I am SO excited for the journey to come, and I can’t wait to share more with you guys!
Morgan Madeleine’s Year ONE Highlights
(#MorganMadeleineY1 on Instagram)
My cousin’s adorable babies! My first session after taking my first course!
More cousins! 🙂
I gave tennis lessons to these sisters – They are SO much fun <3
My first large family session. I also used this session to take individual couple pictures to use for engagement session marketing!
First cake smash, and DEFINITELY not my last!
These girls had a lot of energy! And it was freezing cold! I use to babysit them, and their mom was my high school tennis coach.
I have been partnering with the CF Foundation ever since my cousin’s baby girl, Alice, was diagnosed with Cystic Fibrosis (That’s her in the left picture below, and in the very first picture at the top!). The people in the Foundation are amazing, and I LOVE taking pictures at their events!
The picture above and the few below are for the JDRF Gala and One Walks. JDRF is an organization very close to my heart. I was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes when I was 8 years old. I used to work for JDRF when I first moved to Madison, and I have been taking pictures at their events for a few years now!
Another CF event – Golf this time. It was sunny and warm and beautiful! Check out the blog post here!
Lisa (above) owns Custom Fitness Specialists in Madison. She has been one of my number 1 supporters!
High School Seniors
My not-so-little brother Grant at his high school graduation (had to throw this in here!), and below are my twin cousins Will and Zach! Class of 2020!
My first session with a horse – Challenging, but so much fun. Chloe (the senior) was a champ!
Um, bring me all the maternity sessions please! Love these two <3 Amy is one of my co-workers. They now have a beautiful baby girl! Check out their blog post here.
Engagements and Weddings
From one of Moose’s weddings!
I took these (above) at a photography conference in Chicago (ClickCon). You could work with beautiful models in different areas of photography. Another photographer I met and I worked with this beautiful woman to get some bridal shots!
Deep and Soni’s Sikh wedding ceremony!