Becoming a small business person

So I had been going along making some money with my photography hobby, then a bit more, enough to buy new equipment, and of course I was paying taxes on that money, but was not keeping track of expenses. I also decided to put in a proposal for the gifts of art program at UM, which if accepted, would allow me to sell my framed photographs, which means charging state taxes, and I need to be a business owner to charge taxes… you see it was starting to get big.

So, time to become a small business. I looked around the internet researching different business options and decided that since I don’t intend to shoot weddings or other such situations that might end up with me being sued, and I’m not planning to have employees, I didn’t think I needed to become incorporated. Instead I went with the “sole proprietorship” model, which in Michigan is sometimes also referred to as DBA, or “doing business as,” such as me doing business as Susan Montgomery Photos.

So time to keep the money separate. I checked my local credit union’s website about opening up a business account, and found out that I had to bring a “Certificate of Assumed Name or Doing Business As Certificate.” A bit of research in the State of Michigan website and I downloaded the form, got the notary public signature, filed at my county courthouse, back to the credit union, and voila, I have a business account, with checks and a debit card, and I started a Paypal account in my business name. Small business person me, who’d a thunk it.

One of my big points here is that I didn’t know anything about this when I started. I just took it one step at a time, learned what I had to learn, checked with some friends to make sure I wasn’t making any terrible mistakes, and I keep learning. Don’t be intimidated. There is a lot of knowledge out there, seek it out as you need it. As my neighbor Linda says about running 5k’s, “It’s just taking one step after another.” If I can do it, so can you – really!

Disclaimer: I am merely sharing my experience here, I have no legal expertise, so please do your own research to determine which options works best for you.


Review – Mike Moats Macro Bootcamp

I recently attended Mike Moats Macro Bootcamp.

It was everything I hoped it would be. A tell-it-like-it-is description of how he takes his wonderful photographs, to the level of detail that you can do it yourself. He covered lenses, accessories, camera details, the keys to flower and critter photographs, what buyers want, taking photographs at a botanical garden, elements of design and composition, finding character in nature, his workflow, including demos of how he uses software to clean up his photos, fun ideas for photography, and many many more.

He has lots of opportunities for you to try out his tips, with plenty of things to take photos of. He walks around and gives you advice, suggestions, and lots of encouragement. Overall a very positive experience.

I can already tell the difference when I’m looking for that photo to take, such as at the Matthaei Botanical Gardens earlier this week:

Matthaei peonies pink between whites

You can follow his blog to learn more about this amazing and amazingly generous photographer.

From the beginning…

So in this section I intend to chart my continued adventures into photography. I’m starting with this post that will bring you up to date as to how I got here. You can see my suggestions in Getting Started in Stock Photography, but this is more of the personal story.

I took some photographs when I was in school, fancied myself a good photographer, submitted them to a local contest, and when I didn’t place I decided I had been wrong and should just give up. So much for my confidence in my abilities!

Flash forward 15 years later and I was that mom that took photos of everything their kids were doing, and folks would ask me to take photos of their kids and send them copies. Before a family trip to Yellowstone in 2008 my kids encouraged me to get a DSLR camera, saying it would be a shame to take a little point and shoot when I took such good photographs, so I purchased a Nikon D40, which seemed an extravagant purchase at the time. Thanks for the support, guys!

Little by little I learned how to use some of the features of my camera. I like the approach I read about in an article once. Just go along until you find that you are frustrated about some issue with your photograph, then look up that issue online and figure out what camera feature will help you fix it, and learn that feature, and so on as you demand more of your photos. That philosophy kept me from becoming overwhelmed and losing confidence. Six years later I know about ISOs, apertures, white balances, etc. It wasn’t the fastest path there, but it has served me well. I also took some online courses, and get lessons through other means, as you can see in Resources for Better Photographs.

In 2009 I took a shot at getting into Shutterstock to help me improve my photos, and with a mind to take photography beyond a hobby. In Stock Photo Submission and Tutorial you can see my progression to the current 13 stock photo sites, though most of my stock photo income comes from Shutterstock, iStockphoto and Dreamstime.

At some point Shutterstock started requiring 4 MegaPixel photos and the D40 was a 6 MegaPixel camera, meaning that I couldn’t crop very much of the photo before it wasn’t eligible, so I was ready to move on to the next camera, my current D7000, which I bought from my local camera shop, Huron Camera in Dexter, MI. The folks there have been very patient and helpful, so I try to buy big items there to help ensure they stay in business.

I recently attended Mike Moats Macro Bootcamp which was tremendous, I learned so much in those three days, I’ve already seen an improvement in my photos:

Matthaei peonies pink between whites

One of my passions is car details

06 2013 Cruise 1957 Chevy flames

I recently submitted a proposal to the University of Michigan Hospital’s Gift of Arts program based on these car details, so we’ll see how that goes.

OK, that pretty much brings you up to speed. I plan to keep regular posts from now on updating my progress.

Best wishes in your own adventures,


Getting business cards

I have found having business cards to be very helpful as a stock photographer. My latest version has one of my photos as the background, the URL for this blog, my Shutterstock portfolio address, and my email address, which I’ve obscured in this photo:

business card - no email

They’re useful to have when I’m photographing an event, so I can reassure people that I’m a professional, and I explain that I’m taking photos for a stock photography site. I let them know I’d be happy to send them their photo if they choose to email me, and to look for their photo in the Shutterstock site. People have invariably been very happy to have their photos taken, such as this one at last year’s civil war remembrance in Greenfield Village:

Civil-war era reenactor working on a watercolor

Or this one at last year’s Ann Arbor Mini Maker Faire:

Learning how to solder at the Ann Arbor mini Maker Faire

Now that I have this blog I’ll also be able to give it to people who ask me about stock photography.

I got them from Vistaprint, $20 for 250 nice quality cards. My earlier cards were double-sided, but I decided to have the back side blank on this new set so I can write notes on it.