So You Want to Go Pro? How-To Tips on Becoming a Professional Photographer

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Becoming a professional photographer can be a rewarding career choice. Who wouldn’t want to get paid for doing something they absolutely love? Taking part in romantic weddings, cuddling little babies, posing beautiful families, creating the coolest images for high school seniors and playing in the park with adorable children seems like a dream come true for budding shutterbugs. But becoming a professional photographer takes more than just buying the latest and greatest DSLR. Practice and dedication are just the beginning steps to transform your hobby into a thriving business. Check out our pro tips that will catapult you to the next level.

Pro Tip #1: Weigh the pros and cons of the photography profession.
The reality of being a professional photographer is far more involved than the one hour photo shoot you experience at the park. Talk to some pros. Ask them to describe a “day in the life” of a professional photographer. Find out what they like and dislike about the industry. And ask if they would allow you to shadow them for a day.

Pro Tip #2: Do your homework. Literally. Being a professional photographer is a profession that does not require a degree, a license or any other formal education. However, learning the trade from experienced professionals or educators is highly recommended. The fastest way to learn how to be a good photographer is to learn from good photographers. There are many opportunities for study. Professional Photographers of America and Wedding and Portrait Photographers International are just two organizations that have been created for professional photographers. Many top professional photographers offer classes to help budding photographers learn the trade.

Pro Tip #3: Practice makes perfect. Most professionals will tell you that you can’t get better unless you practice, practice, practice. Take your camera to as many locations, situations and events as possible. Play with your settings. See what happens when you adjust your aperture, your ISO or your shutter speed. Join a photography club or find a group of people who have a passion for photography, too. Attend photography excursions. Use various lenses including wide, zoom and prime lenses.

Pro Tip #4: Find your passion. Not all areas of photography will interest you. Just as there are specialized fields of study for doctors, photography is much the same way. Someone who enjoys product photography might not like shooting weddings. Commercial photographers may have a very different skill set than those who photograph newborns. Spend some time figuring out which type of photography is right for you.

Pro Tip #5: Hone your skills.  Know your strengths and build upon them. Strive to make each session or event better than the last. Continue to learn what’s hot in the industry. Attend local and national conferences to stay abreast of the current trends in the industry. Critique your own work or ask others to give constructive feedback. Enter photographic competitions and listen to the judges’ comments. Master your lighting techniques.

Pro Tip #6: Own the right equipment. You don’t have to own the biggest or the best. You just have to own the right equipment for your style of photography. Sports photographers and landscape photographers don’t necessarily use the same cameras or lenses. The needs of portrait photographers are different than commercial photographers. Understand your needs and purchase the right equipment for the job.

Pro Tip #7: Construct your business legally. Know what forms and paperwork you will need to file in order to make your business legitimate. Don’t forget that you will need to file with your state to pay sales tax and other fees associated with owning a business. Keep impeccable records of all expenses and income. You will need this when it comes time to do your taxes.

Pro Tip #8: Build a brand. Once you have decided you want to be an owner/photographer, determine the direction of your business. Create a brand that showcases your identity. Understand current marketing trends in order to promote your business.

Pro Tip #9: Know your numbers, grow your numbers. Understanding what it takes to make your business profitable is extremely important.  Without a global understanding of the profit and loss of your business you will never be able to know when to tighten your budget and when that new lens can be purchased.

Pro Tip #10: Don’t give your work away. This is a subject of much contention. What is the right fee for a session? How much should I charge per hour? Should I include the CD? (Gasp) The industry depends on professionals charging appropriately for their services. It’s more complex than just a simple answer. Knowing your local market and understanding the needs of your business are only two of the components to knowing how to charge for your services. Attending a business management class will be the best way to know how and what to charge for your work.  

Pro Tip #11: Network with other professionals. Create a circle of business friends. Utilize these partnerships to build your business and help them build theirs. You will be able to reach a larger customer base if you link your services with complementary professionals in your area.

Follow our series as we delve further into becoming a professional photographer. Future articles include:

Photographing Children

Photographing Weddings

Photographing Sporting Events

Photographing High School Seniors

Photographing Newborns

Photographing Families

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