If you aspire to become a professional photographer, then you need to start your journey by understanding the steps necessary to reach your goal.
Becoming a professional photographer will give you the ability to earn a great living while doing something that you love.
They say that when you do what you love, you'll never work a day in your life. So, if you love photography, then learn how to use what you are passionate about to earn a living from it.
Will it be easy to become a professional photographer? Not necessarily. But this is one of those cases where the reward you will get justifies the time and energy you'll expend to reach your goals.
The following are the ten steps that you need to take if you want to become a professional photographer.
- 1 1. Develop Professional Level Photography Skills
- 2 2. Professional Photographer's Equipment
- 3 3. Professional Photographer - Study Your Camera And Master It's Use
- 4 4. Spend Time Studying Everything You Can About Photography And The Business Side Of Things
- 5 Business knowledge for Professional Photographer
- 6 5. Learn To Utilize Photo Manipulation Software
- 7 6. Specialized Professional Photographer
- 8 7. Put Together A Portfolio Of Your Best Work
- 9 8. Website And Social Media for a Professional Photographer
- 10 9. Cater To The Needs Of Your Clients
- 11 10. Work To Build A Stellar Reputation In The Industry
1. Develop Professional Level Photography Skills
If you want people to hire you as a professional photographer, it should go without saying that you need to have professional-caliber skills.
Most people today have a smartphone with a camera on it, that means just about anyone can snap a few quick pictures.
Quality of Work
What sets a professional apart from the average person armed with a smartphone is the quality of their work. When you look at photos taken by a professional and compare them with photos taken by an average person, there is usually a considerable difference in quality.
Photographs taken by a professional are not random. The professionals use their camera as a tool to express their artistic vision. They compose their shots and pay attention to lighting to capture the perfect image.
How do you develop professional-caliber photography skills? You need training.
Even the most naturally talented photographers had someone to teach them about their equipment, lighting, and composition.
The first step in developing the skills of a professional would be to go to school. You can choose to take some classes to learn the basics, or you can devote yourself to your craft and pursue a college degree in photography.
While a degree can make a good deal of time to achieve, and it can be expensive, it's the perfect foundation to build a photography career on it.
But there are also other options nowadays. There is a lot of self-taught photographers without any special educations, and they are very successful in spite of that. You can find a lot of web-based training or personal photographic training just near to you. It is always a good investment to take one to one sessions with a professional photographer.
On top of going to school to learn about photography, having a mentor that works as a professional is an invaluable way to learn everything there is to know about the business.
Working as an intern or an assistant to a professional photographer will give you an insight into the creative processes of a professional, as well as the business side of things. While a degree is a perfect foundation for a photography career, it's often better to work as a photographer's assistant before you spend a lot of time and money on your education.
Why is that? Because it gives you a chance to see what it's like to work as a photographer before you dedicate yourself to doing it. The last thing you want is to spend years in school, and a small fortune in equipment, only to find out that you don't like the business aspect of being a professional photographer.
2. Professional Photographer's Equipment
If you want to be able to take professional-caliber photographs, you need the right equipment. While the cameras on smartphones today are pretty amazing, they can't compare with the capabilities of high-end cameras.
Now, cameras aren't cheap. At least not the kind of cameras that you'll need to work as a professional.
So, if you can't afford to buy a quality one right away, it's essential that you don't make the mistake of trying to buy a cheap camera to get by.
Not only is this a waste of money, but the time you spend becoming comfortable using it is a waste as well. If you can't afford a quality camera, it's best to save your money until you can.
Rather than settling for a camera that you won't be able to use as a professional. If you’re on a budget, always invest in high-quality lenses instead of the camera body. Of course, the camera body should be from a semi-pro level.
What camera to buy?
Another question you'll have to answer soon is whether you want to work with a digital camera, a traditional camera, or both. Nowadays there is even more specific dilemma whether to use a Mirrorless camera or DSLR. Have a look at this article describing this issue in more extensive detail.
If you are planning on working as a studio photographer, then you are also going to need lighting. Lighting for a studio photographer is a really must.
Is your goal to work in the field as a wildlife or nature photographer? Then you are going to need more things to cover.
A photography bag where you can carry your camera, lenses, extra memory cards, extra batteries, and any other supplies that you need. Please check this article that gives you an overview of the travel photographer’s backpack list.
3. Professional Photographer - Study Your Camera And Master It's Use
How do you get better at anything? By practicing, and by becoming intimately familiar and comfortable with any equipment that you need to use.
You need to practice using your camera until it becomes a part of you. Why is it so important to be that comfortable with your camera? Photography is all about capturing a perfect image at a precise moment in time.
You need to be able to react quickly, or you could miss out on the shot that you need. By using your camera often and practicing it, you can develop your skills and also develop a reflexive ability to take pictures quickly when required.
I remember I was training to find the right buttons on my camera like shutter speed, aperture, and ISO even with closed eyes. After years it gave me the ability to react and set the right settings exceptionally quickly.
4. Spend Time Studying Everything You Can About Photography And The Business Side Of Things
If you want to work for a photographer studio, a newspaper, a graphic design studio, or any other type of environment where you'll get paid to take pictures, you need to be a master of your craft.
When young artists are learning to paint, they'll often study the masters and learn to imitate their techniques.
As a photographer, you are an artist, the only difference is you use a camera instead of a canvas and paint.
If you want to be able to succeed, you'll need to study the work of others. Try to find some photographers that are well regarded, and whose work you also enjoy.
You don't need to copy what they do, but by learning what they do, you can learn to develop your artistic vision.
Business knowledge for Professional Photographer
As we already mentioned, the crucial part of your work is the business side. If you will become a professional photographer and do it for a living maybe 50% or even more of your time you will have to spend on business activities.
For example, negotiations with your clients and marketing your brand and work. This is extremely important to realize. You’ll become a businessman as well not just an artist with your camera in your hand.
So my advice here is to complete a business plan before you even start and invest a single dollar for equipment.
5. Learn To Utilize Photo Manipulation Software
No matter how great a photographer is, there are going to be times when a photo is almost perfect but isn't quite there. Maybe the lighting is a little off. Perhaps you need to crop something out.
Maybe your model has a few fine lines or wrinkles that you need to take out of the picture.
No matter what the reason, if you have a photo that needs to be retouched, or drastically altered, you'll need to know how to utilize photo manipulation software.
The number one photo manipulation software in the world is Photoshop, so you shouldn't waste your time learning anything else.
There are free options available, but when your goal is to work as a professional photographer, you need professional tools.
Photoshop has a lot of powerful tools that can help you to turn an average photo into a good one, or a good picture into a great one.
If you don't dedicate a reasonable amount of time to learning Photoshop, you'll be at a significant disadvantage.
The second option could be to hire an outsourced retoucher or image editor. Today there is an excellent possibility to find an image editor for a reasonable price.
6. Specialized Professional Photographer
What kind of photos do you enjoy taking? What type of subjects do you feel you do best with? If you want to succeed as a professional photographer, you'll need to pick out a niche to work in.
Choose the right niche
Very few photographers are successful when they try to do everything well. Your best chance at succeeding is to choose one thing, or a few related things, then focus on that.
Not only will focusing on a particular niche enable you to master it, but it will also help you to develop a reputation for that kind of work.
7. Put Together A Portfolio Of Your Best Work
When a regular person applies for a job, they bring a resume.
When a photographer applies for a job or tries to convince a client to hire them, he needs a portfolio. Your portfolio needs to showcase your best work.
Everything in your portfolio should be the pinnacle of what you can produce as a photographer. When a client or potential employer looks at your portfolio, this is your audition.
This is where you can show them what you can do and why they should hire you.
8. Website And Social Media for a Professional Photographer
It should go without saying that if you want to succeed in any type of business today, you need a website, and you need to be active on social media.
First, make sure that you have a professional-caliber website. When someone visits your website, they are probably looking to hire a photographer.
If you have an amateur-looking website, then that's not going instill confidence in them. You need a website that is great looking, has your contact information in a prominent place, and that is easy to navigate.
While you may not like the idea of hiring a professional to design your website, this type of investment can really pay dividends and help you to attract more clients.
On top of having a great looking website, you also need to be active on social media. Social media allows you to interact with people in a way that was impossible in the past. You can directly communicate with people from around the globe, which can be a huge help in attracting new clients to you.
The other huge benefit of social media is the potential for your work to go viral. If you have a lot of followings, comments, or likes, then you've suddenly got lots of eyes on your work, and that's always a good thing.
From the business perspective, I would take into consideration LinkedIn as well. But do not stick with many social media.
You simply won’t have enough time to be active on all of them. The best for interaction with potential or existing customers is Facebook. For presenting your best work, it is also good to post on Instagram.
9. Cater To The Needs Of Your Clients
The customer is always right. Even when they're wrong. You may not like it, but when you are working for someone as a photographer, you need to be prepared to compromise.
Your training and experience may tell you one thing, but when the person signing the checks tells you something different, you need to cater to what they need.
Even if you are a fantastically talented photographer, being known as difficult to work with can hold your career back.
10. Work To Build A Stellar Reputation In The Industry
If you want a chance at landing one of the coveted photographer jobs out there, then you need to have a reputation for excellence. Your reputation as a photographer is perhaps your most valuable asset.
You need to take care of your reputation as if your professional life depends on it because it really does depend on it.
That means catering to the needs of clients, always producing high-quality work, being dependable, and acting professionally at all times.
Breaking into the industry as a new photographer is difficult, but you always have to keep your reputation in mind.
You still have to work to ensure that no matter how difficult a client is, when they hire you, they should know that you will do an outstanding job.
How Much Do Professional Photographers Make?
Photographer salary for many professionals falls in the range of $30,000 to $70,000 a year.
There are photographers making $200,000 or even more of course. That's a pretty wide range of salaries, with more experienced photographers typically making more than those that are just starting in the industry. The type of work that you do will also impact how much money you make.
How Is Working As A Profesional Photographer Different Than A Traditional Job?
Photographer jobs are very different than the type of jobs that most people work. For one thing, it's an artistic endeavor.
Even if you are employed as a studio photographer where there isn't a lot of creative freedom allowed. You are still paid for your ability to capture a visually appealing image.
If you are fortunate enough to have a position that will enable you to be more creative, there is still a lot of pressure to perform.
You are presenting your artistic vision for people to look at, and there's often a lot of anxiety that goes along with doing this.
As a photographer, your margin for error is much slimmer than what you'll find at most jobs because your work will be there for everyone to see and scrutinize.
Freelance Professional Photographer
If you happen to work as a freelance photographer, this can be even more stressful than working for a photography studio or in some other capacity where you draw a regular paycheck.
Freelance photography can be extremely rewarding both financially and artistically, but it can also be stressful since you don't have a steady paycheck you can count on.
While this can be a difficult way to make a living, many photographers love the freedom that working as a freelancer offers them.
I hope my article adds some value in your photography career but if you would like to know more about freelance photography and how to turn your freelance photography as a full-time profession, marketing strategies for a freelance photographer. You can check out a great resource on How to Become a Successful Freelance Photographer?