3 Tips to Send You Into Your First Paid Shoot with Confidence

Photos: Matt McMonagle
Photo: Matt McMonagle

I just made my first dollar from photography.

I feel like I hit a real milestone and I was ELATED for hours after the shoot. The days leading up to the shoot, however, I was riddled with insecurity and fear.

I’m not good at being vulnerable. What if I fail? I like safe bets and sure things. You can put that on my tombstone. I want to be absolutely prepared before walking into any situation.

All too often, this powerful urge to be prepared, prevents me from taking the first big step into a new adventure (like launching a photography business). I want you to take the step into your next photography adventure.

It’s time to get paid. Here are three tips that’ll help you land your first paid photography shoot.

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1. Do Your Homework

My first paying client was a fashion blogger and she hired me to shoot photos for her blog. You can find her blog and great women’s fashion tips at lovefromjackie.com. Before the shoot I went through her blog and noted what I thought were the strongest and weakest parts of her images. For example- I thought she seemed to have a natural knack for posing so I noted that I wasn’t going to have to work too hard to make her look natural and beautiful.

Yes; I said “noted”. I took detailed notes on what I thought was strongest in her blog and I also took notes on where I could potentially add value to her and her mission.

I wanted to play off the strongest photos and fill in where weakest. Here’s a screenshot of my prep notes from Evernote. Taking notes helps me organize my thoughts and intention, which allows me the opportunity to concentrate on the task at hand. We even have a great crash course for Evernote on CreativeLive, which is where I learned the basics of the program.

Evernote: Matt McMonagle

Next bit of homework- find out what other fashion bloggers are doing with their photography choices. To educate myself on the standards of fellow fashion bloggers, I did a simple Google search (and asked my girlfriend) and found Sincerely, Jules – a fashion blogger with a similar brand to my client who is KILLIN’ IT. As far as I can tell, Jules very successfully travels around the world wearing pretty clothes. She seemed to be the perfect person to emulate and learn from.

To organize my thoughts and keep track of what poses, landscapes, and other visual stimulation that I might want to remember during the shoot, I started pinning to a board I built on Pinterest. Which happens to work well for my workflow, but you can use any organization technique that works for you. I learned the basics of Pinterest from Melanie Duncan’s Unlock the Power of Pinterest workshop, here on CreativeLive.

This Pinterest board was my security blanket during the shoot. I knew that if we got to a location and I didn’t know how to execute, I could pull out my phone and say “can you copy this pose, please?” That kind of security blanket takes a lot of pressure off.

You can find my Pinterest board for this shoot right here.

Here’s a secret – I had never posed anyone before this shoot. I am primarily a landscape photographer and I generally stay away from photographing people like the plague. But guess what? My client happens to be a person.

I needed another security blanket. I found the most helpful posing guidelines from Lindsay Adler in Day 1 of her Posing 101 workshop. Here is a screenshot from the workshop’s bonus materials and guideline number three, creating curves by encouraging negative space, really took a lot of pressure off because it offered a starting point for every pose. I find that having a starting point often times leads to the rest of the photo falling in place.

Photo: Lindsay Adler
Photo: Lindsay Adler

2. Give Yourself Benchmarks for Success

Be clear with yourself and your client on what you are delivering.

I noticed that Jackie tends to post 5-8 photos from each session, so I knew I had to hit at least 5 (so I told myself I had to get 10).

To keep the shots dynamic I made a plan to accentuate each article of clothing as well as how they all worked together. So I told myself that I wanted at least four different varieties/scenes of full body shots in addition to two options for each individual article of clothing. Let’s do some math to figure out how many shots I’ll end up taking based on my intentions. What kinds of clothing options could I accentuate?

(Shoes, pants, shirt, jacket, purse) x 2 shots each = 10 individual shots + 4 full body varieties with poses from my Pinterest board = 14 shots right there!

By golly, that’s more than I needed! 10 solid shots is my benchmark, but I set myself up to exceed expectations.

During the shoot, once I felt confident with having 10 varied shots, I felt a wave of relief and relaxation wash over me. Knowing that I could, at the very least, satisfy her basic deliverable expectations meant that it was time for me to have a little fun. So I did. After those shots were in the bag, I started taking photos that I would have liked to have in my portfolio.

Photo: Matt McMonagle
Photo: Matt McMonagle

3. Relax and Smile

If you’ve done the prep work listed above, you should be ready to knock your first clients’ socks off! You’ll have deserved this first paycheck. Remember that what’s most important is how you make your client feel. Smile, take your time if you’ve got it, and have fun!

Photo: Matt McMonagle
Photo: Matt McMonagle


I have a challenge for you that should take some of the fear out of reaching for your first photography paycheck.

Find a $1 client.

Regardless of what type of photography you like, I believe there is a client out there who will pay you $1 for it. After your first successful job, double your price. Yea, $2! Double your prices until you can’t get paid jobs anymore. Then, you’ve found your price point to start scaling your new photography business

Photo Matt McMonagle
Photo: Matt McMonagle
Photo: Matt McMonagle
Photo: Matt McMonagle


Get your learn on with Lindsay Adler and join her new class Posing for Curvy Women. RSVP Now!

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Matt McMonagle is an outdoor lifestyle photographer, a lover of living on the road and CreativeLive’s special snowflake.