Discover everything you need to know about succeeding as a pro before—or even after—leaping full-time photography.
Turning your photography hobby into a full-time paying dream job as a professional photographer is the dream. While people live that dream, it’s not as easy as Instagram photos make it seem.
Transitioning from hobbyist to professional photographer takes a lot of time, peppered by learning and real experience in the field. We chatted with seven photographers who run their businesses full time to learn their backstory and their pro tips for hobbyist photographers who want to become professionals.
If you need advice on your wedding photography, check out our photography packages and services at Wild Romantic Photography.
Mark Twain may have been referring to writing when he said that “the secret of getting ahead is getting started,” but the idea applies to photography too. The camera’s different knobs and buttons can feel downright daunting — the important thing is to just take the first step anyway.
Dig out your camera manual and tuck it in your bag for easy reference — or download the PDF version to your phone. Look up some basic terms like composition and exposure. Flip through your old photos (or shots from a photographer you admire) and make a note of what you like and what you hate about each one. Start following a few photography blogs or sign up for a beginner’s photography course online.
Do Your Research!
Start with Self-Inquiry
Any business starts with research and needs analysis. Want to do it the smart way? Research yourself in the first place. Photography is art, and any form of art involves self-inquiry.
Ask yourself the right questions. What motivates you to become a professional photographer? What do you want to gain from your work? What makes you stand out as a photographer? Which genre of photography attracts you most?
As an emerging photographer, you may not have ready answers to all these questions. No worries. This is action research. Practice different genres of photography. Shoot something each day. This will let you re-discover yourself as a photographer and improve the quality of your work. You will also be able to make informed decisions and career plans. Check out our range of wedding photography for your wedding day.
Do Market Research to Assess Your Best Options
You also need to take a look at your local market, as well as global trends in photography. Study how other professional photographers in your area work. Try to discover the gaps that you can address.
You’ll also want to know what genres of photography are common in your area. For instance, there may already be many wedding photographers. This doesn’t mean you can’t enter this field of photography. Just work hard on your quality and develop your unique style.
Don’t let competition scare you. Neither underestimates your competitors. Learn from them. It’s always good to get to know different professional photographers! Connecting with them helps you build your support network.
Make sure to look at the rates that photographers charge for various packages. Use this info to figure out the average market prices. You’ll need this as you set your own photography business pricing.
Check Your Local Regulations
Establishing a Business
Some clients don’t trust unregistered businesses. Yes, paperwork sucks. But that’s what a photographer needs to set an official photography business.
Business regulations vary from country to country. Explore what rules apply to your area. Seek advice from your professional photographer friends, business counsels, lawyers and accountants.
Find Out What You Can Shoot
To put it another way, what are you allowed to shoot? In most countries, shooting pictures in public places is legal. Yet, many areas deemed as public are, in fact, private. For instance, in my country, you can’t shoot in subways. So check these regulations to avoid “candid exchanges” with the police.
Create a Photography Contract
A professional photographer must be professional in all aspects of work. The photographer-client relationship is a vital aspect to consider. Managing your client relationships is key to success. Make sure to learn what people expect from you. Also, explain the scope of professional services you’ll provide.
It’s safer to translate your oral agreement into a photography contract. Photographers often keep a contract template and adjust it for each project. If you hate paperwork, the contract will be an extra burden for you. But believe me, it’s worth it.
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Get comfortable with your specific camera
A camera is only as good as the photographer behind it — so how well do you know your camera? What’s the fastest way to adjust the ISO? Does your camera have auto-bracketing, double exposure or time-lapse features? Dig into the features of your particular camera so that when you need to quickly access a setting, you know where to find it.
Along with understanding what and where the features are, it’s a good idea to understand your gear’s limits. Can you shoot with your lens at a wide-open aperture and still get a sharp shot? Test your lens by taking a picture of a piece of newspaper or a printout — most lenses have a “sweet spot” that’s sharper than the rest that you may need to use when sharpness is essential. The same concept applies to your camera. For example, how far can you crank up your ISO before the image gets too grainy to use? Knowing the limits of your gear can help you take better pictures, even with an entry-level camera.
Pick a Niche
There’s no limit to the number of genres you can explore. Yet, as you become more professional as a photographer, you need to focus on a particular niche. This can be portrait photography, product photography, event coverage, wedding photography, etc.
Thus, you have a wide choice.
Your choice will depend on your professional interests and internal drive. But don’t neglect the commercial side. Want to know how much photographers earn per year? Well, it depends on how good and how popular they are in the niche they practice. Also, note that some niches pay well, others don’t.
For instance, the street genre is not in high demand, whereas portraits are. Things get even sadder when it comes to insect photography. Your tiny models are unlikely to pay you. So you’ll have to work twice as hard to produce quality work. In that case, you can sell them to external customers like media outlets.
Some photographers also offer photography courses. This lets them earn extra money and extend the professional network. So, once you feel confident as a photographer, you can start teaching others. Wild Romantic Photography has the best range of services of wedding photography Yarra Valley. Check them out here.
Branding and Marketing
Specialising will make your branding clearer to your audience. Thus, the right clients will have a much better chance of finding you!
You’ll most likely still take on jobs that are outside of your speciality. This will help increase revenue early on. But you don’t have to include all you shoot in your professional portfolio. It’s better if a particular genre of work is predominant there. Your niche can also reflect in your brand name. Another option is to use your personal name.
If you are professional in your niche, you’ll be competitive even in saturated markets. Market yourself in a way to stress your competitive advantage. For instance, another wedding photographer might not include a video in the package. Thus, as a professional photographer, you can aim for a wide scope of services. But the quality should not suffer from it.
Find your Focus Area
Your education and internship experiences would help you learn the art and technique of photography and give you a more definite sense of the kind of photographer you want to become. It’s time to start defining your photography style and find your niche and concentrate on the genre/photography style that you enjoy. Do you want to shoot portraits, travel, weddings, fashion, conceptual fine art photography, documentary, or are you interested in commercial photography? Research the niche that you want to focus on – For example, if you want to become a wedding photographer, study and learn from the best wedding photographer websites.
Just like every photograph needs a focal point, so does every photographer. While experimenting in every avenue is fine, you’ll need to narrow down just what type of photography you will offer if you want to become a pro. From wedding photography to product photography, there are plenty of different paths to choose from.
Start with what you love to do — maybe you love shooting sports and have a soft spot for babies and would love to spend your days photographing them. Don’t just base your decision on your interests, though. Live in an area that already has a dozen good portrait photographers but no established real estate photographer. You will likely be able to start building a stronger business from the start if you learn how to photograph architecture instead of faces.
Once you narrow down your focus, work to hone the specific skills used in that subcategory. Portrait photographers, for example, need to learn the art of posing. Commercial product photographers should be able to light a transparent glass and get the glass to pop without odd reflections. Wedding photographers need to know how to shoot an outdoor ceremony under a bright noon sun.
While it’s good to specialise, don’t limit yourself too much to something that isn’t going to drive enough income for a stable career. Some wedding photographers also shoot portraits, for example.
Get the right photography education
Professional Photography is one of the very few fields where structured training is not a prerequisite. You can self-learn, practice, and improve your skills without going to a formal educational institute. However, it can add a lot of value to your career, skills, and experience as a professional photographer.
A lot of professional photographers have taken photography courses at top photography schools, universities, or design institutes. Besides a formal course of instruction to develop their skill sets, a photographer should have a keen eye, oodles of creativity, and technical ability. We have listed a few simple steps to get you started. Looking for a Mornington Peninsula wedding photographer? Look no further! Wild Romantic Photography has you covered.
Put together the right set of camera, lenses and photography equipment
While you need the proper equipment to capture high-quality images, don’t go overboard in purchasing all the fancy photography gadgets you can find.
In most cases, you can start out by buying second-hand equipment in good working condition or slightly older models of camera or lenses at a significant discount. Buy a decent DSLR camera to get started as a professional photographer. You don’t need the highest model to get going. Some photographers feel using an SLR camera is a more authentic way of learning photography. Read this article on SLR vs. DSLR cameras to make up your mind.
Make sure that you buy the right set of equipment based on the type of photography you are focussing on. Buying lenses is always an area where people tend to make a lot of wasteful spending – pick your lenses carefully so that they can serve you in most of your working situations. Also, make sure that you invest in the right hardware and software for post-production. A properly calibrated monitor and the right editing software would be must-haves for your professional photography needs.
You can rent expensive items that you do not regularly need.
When it comes to post-production, Lightroom and Photoshop have traditionally been the editing tools of choice for professional photographers, but the decision by Adobe to make these programs monthly or yearly subscription-only has made them less popular. There are other reasonably priced, subscription-free image editor options available that can challenge Lightroom. For example, Skylum’s Luminar 4 is an advanced professional photo editing software for Mac and Windows with intelligent filters and over in-built 100 presets. Luminar speeds up the photo editing workflow to deliver great results in less time. It also features some advanced tools like layers, masking and blending, lens correction, and the transform tools — to name just a few — that take image editing to the next level.
Keep taking pictures
It’s all starting to come together now. You now need to continually hone your skills by practising various facets of your photography specialisation over and over again. Ensure that you become proficient with all your equipment and know them inside out of your camera.
Shoot pictures every single day. That is the only way you will get better at what you do. Set up a work schedule to manage your projects. Start a 365DayProject. Use Pinterest to create boards and curate your best shots that follow a particular style.
As you learn new skills — whether that’s through a class, a written tutorial or a mentor — keep shooting and put those skills into practice. Don’t just memorise the definition of aperture, turn your camera to aperture priority mode and take the same image at several different apertures. Then take a look and see how those changes affected the final image.
Learning through a class (or tutorial, book or mentor) is great — but putting those skills into practice helps solidify them, turning concepts into actionable knowledge.
Start taking a camera everywhere you go and start shooting what inspires you. The more you practice, the quicker you’ll make that transition from beginner to photographer.
Build your Photography Portfolio
Your photography portfolio is the most crucial tool in your arsenal to become a successful professional photographer. Having an impressive photography portfolio will pave the way for success as all potential clients will judge your skills and talent based on your portfolio. Select your best images that show the full range of your work – make sure that your portfolio wins over new clients for you.
Don’t have a photography website yet? Then it’s a bit early to call you a professional photographer. Potential clients typically ask for samples of work from a professional photographer. Thus, it’s vital to have a website to direct potential clients to.
Make Your own Website
A free website with basic sections will serve in the beginning. You can post there your bio, major projects, and photos. Each of these can form a separate section. The ‘About’ section must feature a brief introduction to your work and your contact details. Make sure your website has capabilities for large, easy-to-navigate galleries. Group your website images in themes.
If you’d like to work with professional photographers, book with us at Wild Romantic Photography.
Promote Yourself to Grow Your Network
Order photography business cards. They will come in handy when you tell people about your new venture! Start with your friends, colleagues and family.
Open a professional photography page on Facebook, Instagram and/or another platform. Post at least one picture a day.
Attend local events for casual networking. Introduce yourself as a professional photographer. Offer taking portraits of the attendees for free. Later you can send them to their emails. Be sure to include your website and social media links in those emails.
This is a good way to extend your network. Besides, some of the attendees may want to hire you for a paid photoshoot if they like your work. How much you’ll earn per year depends not only on the number but also on your clients’ wealth. So, pay attention to what kind of events you go to.
Don’t put pressure on yourself to find clients immediately. At the same time, be ready to get out of your comfort zone. Telling people what you are doing can make a difference. If you have a large number of clients, you will practice more to extend your experience. Experience is one of the key things amateur photographers need to become professional.
Deciding to turn your hobby into a professional venture is exciting. It can also seem overwhelming at first.
Running a successful photography business requires much more than what we discussed here. But these simple steps will get you started when you first dive in!