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Your Guide to Becoming a Professional Photographer

So, you have a camera, a good eye for composition, and a decent selection of camera gear. You’re ready for the big time, right?

Probably not…

Much to the surprise of many would-be photographers, there’s a lot more to it than simply liking photography and knowing how to take a pretty good photo.

In fact, it requires years of patience, planning, and hard work to build a business. Then you have to continue that hard work to make your business a success.

A lot of that work has to do with actually taking photos, editing photos, and the like.

But a surprising amount of that work has to do with business activities – marketing, answering phone calls, chasing payments, and so forth.

Let’s have a look at some crucial tips for building yourself a successful photography business.

Have a Source of Income

While you’re getting your photography business off the ground, it’s important that you have some means of making money.

That might be something as simple as working for other photographers as an assistant or a second shooter.

You might even land gigs here and there handling editing tasks for other photographers or try your hand at making some money shooting photos for stock photography sites.

There are plenty of other ideas too. Watch the video below from Jessica Whitaker to see other ways to make money in photography:

It might come as a shock that many burgeoning photographers have a completely different day job, too.

Whether you’re a teacher, a toll booth operator, or a lawyer, having a day job certainly helps ease the pressure on you to be immediately successful as a photographer.

But that also means you’ll have to work a lot of long nights and weekends on your dream to become a photographer.

So there’s actually two lessons here…

First, have a means of paying the bills while you’re building your business. Stick with that job – whatever it is – until your photography career is off the ground.

Second, if you think that your photography business will be successful on day one, think again. There’s a ton of work involved, so be prepared to gut it out for a few years before you can count yourself among the professional photography success stories.

Get Relevant Experience

A related tip to the one above is to find ways to get relevant experience in the industry.

As suggested earlier, you might look for work as an assistant to a more experienced photographer. Even if the pay isn’t that great, it at least gets you working in the industry where you can get some valuable experience.

Another idea is to volunteer your services, especially if you’re a student or otherwise have little in the way of experience.

Charities, local service groups, heck, even the animal shelter might take a chance on an unproven talent. By volunteering to take photos, you put yourself in a position to get experience, make connections with other people in the community, and perhaps most importantly, get a chance to get eyes on your photos and fill out your portfolio.

Your shot at success involves you putting your money where your mouth is, and the best way to do that is getting some actual experience taking photos.

Learn about how to get experience as a photographer and get other important insights about making it in this industry in the video below by world-renowned photographer Karl Taylor:

Having said that, there is more information out there today on how to become a photographer than ever before – much of it completely free.

If you’re not prepared to spend all the money associated with pursuing a formal photography education, you might consider informal means, like the following:

  • Online articles, tutorials, and guides, like this one!
  • YouTube videos
  • E-books and traditional books
  • Photography workshops
  • Internships or job shadowing

There are also plenty of resources that might cost a little money, but have detailed guidelines to take you step-by-step through the process of building a photography business.

In the end, you need to do what you’re most comfortable doing. If you have a firm grasp on the essential photography concepts, you might be able to fill in the gaps by reading some tutorials and watching some YouTube videos.

By contrast, if you’re a green photographer, you might benefit from a more formal setting in which to build a foundation of knowledge.

Get the Gear

There’s a “disease” called Gear Acquisition Syndrome (GAS) from which many photographers – beginners to experienced – suffer.

Don’t get caught up in the notion that if you have really awesome photography gear that you’ll take really awesome photos.

Great gear is nice, but it’s no guarantee. In fact, a really skilled photographer can take a much better photo with a smartphone than an unskilled photographer with a $10,000 camera and lens setup.

The point here is that you need to focus on experience first (which is why those sections preceded this one) and then set about getting the gear you need.

Of course, the gear you need will depend on the type of photography you want to pursue. For insight into the basic necessities, check out the video below from Matt Granger:

If portraiture is your passion, strobes, umbrellas, and backgrounds will be an important acquisition. However, if sports photography is your thing, you won’t have a need for any of that stuff, but instead a high-quality super telephoto lens and a solid monopod or tripod.

A great way to get the gear you need without dumping thousands of dollars into it is to rent gear as you need it, at least initially.

For example, if you’ve been hired to take portraits at a local event, you don’t need to buy your own lighting equipment. Instead, rent what you need so you don’t have a bunch of expensive gear that you may or may not use for a long while.

Another option is to search the used market for deals on good used gear.

There’s no shame whatsoever in buying used. In fact, it’s probably the smartest thing you can do, so long as you buy from a reputable retailer. If you save $50 here and $100 there, you can extend your budget and fill out your kit with more accessories than you can if you buy brand new.

Market, Market, Market

It isn’t enough for you to have the necessary gear and a portfolio full of incredible images.

If no one knows who you are or how to reach you, your portfolio and your gear will just sit there collecting dust.

Just as you have to work hard to learn how to be a photographer, you also have to work hard to ensure the buying public comes knocking at your door when they need photography services.

A big part of marketing is via online means – social media, blogging, making YouTube videos, and having a website or online portfolio.

Each of those is a crucial aspect of marketing yourself as a photographer.

But there’s something even more powerful for getting clients – word of mouth.

Consumers trust the people they know much more than people they don’t, so when you have a satisfied client, the best way to build on that success is to get a referral from that client.

Whether it’s a quote on your website or they pass a coupon card to their best friend, it’s critical that you get your clients on board about spreading the word about how awesome you and your photos really are.

See the benefits of word of mouth marketing in the video above by Room 214.


As I mentioned earlier, becoming a successful photographer requires time and patience.

But more than that, it requires perseverance…

There will be gigs that you don’t get along the way. And sometimes, the gigs you do get won’t go well.

You’ll have angry clients. Some of your photos will be clunkers. There will probably be stress about budget and finances too.

The key here is to continue moving forward, acquiring skills, honing your craft, and pounding the pavement to get eyes on your photos and your contact information to as many potential clients as possible.

At some point, whether it’s a big break or just a stroke of luck, your perseverance will pay off. It might take awhile for that point to come, but once it does, all the hard work will be worth it.

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