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How To Be a Professional Photographer

 29th Dec 2020

UBC 2017 250 REPLACED W MASTERCLASSProfessional photography has meant that I get to have fun every day. My passion for photography is the foundation for my professional career which has been challenging and rewarding. 

My knowledge and experience means that I have been able to teach photography to beginners and enthusiasts for almost thirty years. 

In our Photography Locked Down group we have some exciting photographers whose work has been selected for competition short lists and publications nationwide which just shows individual growth in their aspirations to professional photography.

This is a more personal one for me because I didn’t turn 18 and confidently pursue a career as a professional photographer. I took a more abstract route and you can too.

What is a professional photographer?

A professional photographer earns 100% of their income from their photography. If they are only earning 50% of your income from photography then you are considered an amateur.

This is particularly true when entering competitions.

Now photography takes on many styles and forms. For example, I run workshops, a membership and do commissioned photography. You might make a living from family portraits or wedding photography.

The distinguishing factor is how much of your overall income comes from photography.

My journey to professional photographer

I didn’t leap head first into photography knowing in my gut that it was what I wanted to do.

I’ve always been a keen amateur photographer but when I was a young gun in my twenties I worked as a tractor, digger and truck driver.

I wasn’t set on any life plans but I knew I didn’t want to drive machinery for the rest of it so I sold everything I owned and in 1989 went travelling.

After a year of travelling and a life changing experience in Africa I returned to the UK and trained as a photographer.

My first invoice was in December 1993 to photograph some block paving for one of my ex-employers. 

I've since photographed commercial properties, hotels, food, products, PR, travel - and hundreds of weddings.

I have made a career out of photography in shooting, training and teaching. I had a later start to it and there’s nothing stopping you from starting your journey to professional photography no matter your age!

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How to become a professional photographer

The way I did it was through hard grafting and training. It was hard and I struggled for years before making an income.

Now that I have the experience I would advise you take more calculated steps.

It’s a good idea to find a mentor

If you shadow someone who has their own successful photography business you will learn priceless skills such as:

  • How to build a client base
  • When to raise your prices
  • What to offer

Plus working closely with a talented photographer is always good for your upskilling!

Invest in photography training

Don’t just grab the first course you see. Take your time and identify what skills you need and how you want to learn them. 

If you intend on focusing on family photography it’s pointless to commit to a course in product photography. 

Find your niche

It’s much better to be absolutely brilliant in one area of photography than just okay in several.

Discover your strengths and weaknesses, work on your interests and dedicate yourself to your niche to become the best you can be in that area of professional photography.

Get the right kit for your niche

Make sure you’re kitted up. 

The last thing you want is to run out of battery at an event and not have at least two back ups…

Plan ahead and be prepared for all eventualities so you can deliver the highest quality to your customers.

Build an impressive portfolio of work

You want to get to the point where customers seek you out because they’ve seen your work. 

Showcase your skills in your portfolio, let it speak for itself so that the contract is just a formality!

Set pricing that reflects your professional photography skill

It’s really important that you don’t start charging what you want to earn immediately, you can always increase your fees. When you are building up your client list and starting to invoice for work, be fair to your customers and to yourself.

Work won’t just fall in your lap

You will need to have a marketing strategy. Be clear on who you are, what you offer and how you can benefit your customers. 

Build a website, ask for testimonials and advertise when you’re ready. This isn’t just a passion, it’s a business so invest so that you can grow.

Get to grips with post production

I am a big believer in getting it right when you take the photo and I encourage you to work like this too so that you don’t get lazy. BUT there is a time and a place for post production and you will need the skills to elevate your finished shot to the spec that the customer wants.

Top tips to become a professional photographer

Being a professional photographer doesn’t mean you get a great work/life balance or that money automatically pours in. It takes hard work and dedication to succeed.

That being said, these are my core tips for you.

  1. Learn the fundamentals and know them so well that you can automatically switch between manual and automatic. Work with any light changes or shift your style according to the customer’s needs.
  2. Practice practice practice. If you are photographing for customers 10 hours a week then you should be doing post production and delivery for at least 5 hours a week, working on your business for 20 hours a week and out there shooting every other hour. Practice makes you better.
  3. Take constructive criticism and implement it. Feedback whether positive or negative will build your business. The negative will make you better and the positive will bring you referrals. Treat them both as accelerants for your professional development. 

I have been a professional photographer for nearly 30 years. I have worked in multiple sectors, taught hundreds of photographers and spoken at events worldwide. 

If you want to get on the right track I would recommend you start with the Masterclass in Photography to give you that solid foundation all professional photographers need to succeed.