Heading up the my second interview or Q&A is with a colleague of mine from the US. I started chatting with Patrick when I noticed a tweet that he needed some web design help with his site Fstoppers.com. Since I new a bit about web design I jumped in to help out where I could.
Tell us a little about yourself?
My name is Patrick Hall and I’m a professional wedding and commercial photographer out of Charleston South Carolina. I grew up in Anchorage Alaska but have spent most of my teenage years in the southeast. I actually went to Birmingham Southern College studying premed and wanted to become a dentist. Somehow after all those years in biology and chemistry I stumbled across photography and made a comfortable living at it. It’s always funny for me to hear what people studied in college only to meet them in a completely different field. I guess college majors are over rate? No I didn’t just say that!
What made you get into photography?
I’ll be honest, I used to be one of those studious kids who thought the artsy kids running around campus with a film camera shooting fire hydrants were a little too self absorbed. But then I took my one and only photo class during my last semester and fell in love with the quiet scene of the dark room. So after I graduated I bought a small Sony 6mp point and shoot camera and enjoyed taking landscape and music photos more or less. Looking back they were really clique and poorly executed but I never took photos for anyone but myself. Long story short I moved to Charleston to apply to dental school and ran into Lee Morris who begged me to assist him at one of his weddings. Little did I know, shooting those first few weddings really opened my eyes to both photo journalistic images and commercial style lighting. The rest is just a couple million shutter clicks.
How did you get started?
I think I already answered this so I’m going to redirect it towards what I think I did successfully that others can do to make their main paycheck come from photography.
I think the big secret initially is to find a niche in your community that will allow you to charge for your work. I know this is not what most artists want to hear, and it wasn’t something I wanted to hear either. But the reality is for me, shooting weddings in a destination wedding hot spot like Charleston allowed me to quickly retire from my day job and start managing my own time in less than 2 years. When I started assisting Lee and other wedding photographers, I sought after specific images I knew I needed to book my own weddings. So I would tackle a commercial looking cake photo, a great ceremony shot, a pretty outdoor first kiss image, an epic looking first dance shot, and other key moments needed to be a bookable wedding photographer. I then slowly started pouring my assisting money into a website and marketing like Google Ads.
This worked well for me because I knew that with weddings I would get a deposit months before I ever had to shoot a couple’s wedding which I then used to buy gear I didn’t even have yet. I wanted to get paying clients first and foremost before I ever had multiple lenses or even a back up camera. As I started booking weddings for dirt cheap (around $1000 for 6 hours) I would buy the gear in order of necessity and pay my other photographer friends to borrow a few back up pieces here and there. Soon I was on the quick path to making more money with my wedding photography than with my retail day job.
I knew in the back of my mind that by shooting an event that other photographers might look down on (which I think is crazy btw), I could create an environment where I was working only on Saturdays and using the rest of my week to shoot my personal projects and continue marketing my wedding business. I don’t think enough people my age and younger systematically think about their plan on how to become solely dependent on their work. Many simply have this pipe dream that somehow their images will all of a sudden become worthy of a paycheck. This career does not work like that at all.
What sort of photography do you mainly do?
My bread and butter is wedding photography here in Charleston South Carolina. I’ve worked hard to expand my business now throughout the southeast which is great because I love to travel and challenge myself with new locations. I also shoot some headshots and local designers here and there to fill out my week. I really love advertising images but because Charleston isn’t very big in the ad world I like to beef up my port with images that I personally enjoy creating. Most photographers are only super successful at one field of photography but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t keep pushing your own boundaries and exploring your creative side. In reality it’s your creativity that your clients are taking interest in initially and nothing destroys your business more than becoming stale.
What gear are you using?
I think Nikon cameras are the best DSLRs out there right now so I shoot on a few D300s cameras and a D700. With Fstoppers I’m shooting more and more video which causes me to envy a few of the Canon bodies. I actually bought a Canon T2i just for 60 fps slo motion video but luckily I can use a lot of my older Nikkors with a nifty little adapter. My goto lens is the same as most professional wedding photographers: 24-70, 70-200, 50 1.4, and a 60mm macro. Of course you have to have a bunch of speedlights and even a few studio lights for when you have to shoot portraits in caves but I’m really enjoying exploring natural light more and more. Lee and I made a thorough gear guide on the top of Fstoppers.com so people can read about why we like certain lenses…I personally get bored talking about gear because it’s always changing.
Whats your favourite lens and why?
Geez that’s a loaded question. I think my most successful images come from the 70-200 which is def my favorite but I still love the simple 50mm.
How are you marketing yourself?
Everyone has heard this time and time before but marketing really is the business of photography these days. No perfect snapshot or technically challenging image is ever going to get you a job unless your portfolio is concise and strong…and in front of people. So for weddings it’s pretty easy: market with Google Ads and Facebook ads first and foremost. I’ve found that bridal magazines don’t make sense for the amount of money they cost and for your work to be hidden among a million other photographers. Another BIG thing is to market yourself. I always looked up to photographer David Jay for his marketing and business skills and the best thing he taught me is that clients don’t book you because of your work but because of your personality. So if you run a blog, have a website, tweet, or throw your facebook profile out there make sure you have a killer headshot and everything you display oozes you and your personality. Unless they are art directors, most of your clients can’t tell the difference between a ‘good’ photo and a ‘spectacular’ photo. That’s not to say you shouldn’t try to aim towards stellar work but don’t get hung up on the details….unless you are a commercial photographer!
Whats your favourite photo you have taken?
I don’t know if I can really ever answer that. Most of my images are commissioned by my clients which I love dearly but they aren’t always 100% my idea. I think I’d have to say my favorite photos are the ones I take of my travels and daily life because that’s when I usually don’t have a camera on me or fail to take out the one on my phone. I get more excited looking at my iPhone’s camera roll than I do my website….and few of you will ever get to see my phone :p
Advice for new photographers looking to go pro?
I’d say first find a niche that can make you decent money. If that’s shooting food, clothing, pets, headshots, weddings, events, or real estate interiors, you gotta initially aim at doing something that can pull you away from the day job. Nothing will suck your soul more dry than having a manager demand you work a shift when you have a big shoot planned.
Second, pay someone for a great looking website and make sure your website only showcases your best work for a specific niche. Very few clients want to book someone with a few half naked girls, some local plates of food, a couple headshots, and some wedding photos on the same site. Make a site that aims towards one specific client and market the hell out of it. Then if you want to dive into something else create a completely different website showcasing only that work. If you want your friends to see all your work make a splash page that not everyone can see that directs people to all your portfolios. Very few high end pro photographers have a bunch of categories showcasing what all they can do; they showcase only what they do best!
Be sure to check out more of Patrick Hall’s wedding photography here and his commercial porfolio here. Also head over to Patrick’s educational site Fstoppers.com which features behind the scenes videos of photographers and videographers around the world.