6 Things to Consider Before Becoming a Professional Photographer

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6 Things to Consider Before Becoming a Professional Photographer

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So, you’ve got a nice camera, you really love photography, and you’ve been thinking that maybe it would be nice to make a little bit of money from this passion you’ve discovered. Before you decide to make that leap, read on. You may be convinced to throw that idea out the window, or you may find that you truly are ready, and it’s time to try your hand at photography as a career.

Before we go any further, I have to clarify something about the photos in this article. First of all, I had to include photos, because every article is better with pictures, right? Secondly, this session was inspiring, fun, and an example of every reason that I LOVE being a photographer. This client does not exemplify any of the cons of the business. Also, for this article “professional photographer” is defined as someone who gets paid to take photos, particularly portrait photographers.

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1. You’re not good enough…yet

Maybe you love photography, and maybe you get a lot of compliments on your photos, but you may not be a good enough photographer to actually take money from people yet. Do you sometimes take a bunch of photos where the majority of them are garbage? Do you often say to yourself, “I’ll fix that later in Photoshop?” If your photos aren’t consistently in focus, exposed correctly, and great IN CAMERA, before you get to Photoshop, you’re not ready.

If you look at other professional photographers’ work and wonder how on earth they got their photos to look like that, you are not ready. I don’t mean that you have to be able to produce photos exactly like the photographers that you admire. I’m saying that you should have an understanding of how they achieve the look they get. You should know how light, depth of field, angles, etc., contribute to the photo. You should have an idea of how much of the photo is a result of post-processing.

Having a nice camera does not qualify you to be a professional photographer.

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2. You don’t have enough experience

This goes along with not being good enough, but experience is important. You have to be consistent every time. You have to know that every single session you do will result in good photos, and that you can roll with the punches if conditions aren’t ideal. You have to know your camera settings inside and out, because when you’re chasing a naughty toddler around, you don’t have time to try to figure out what your shutter speed should be.

I’ll admit that I didn’t have enough experience when I started. I did some sessions for friends and family, then requests started coming in. I didn’t really have the goal of making money with my photography, but when people started asking me, I thought, “Hey, why not?” Some of my early sessions are dear to my heart, but some of them I look at and cringe. I feel bad that people paid money for me to experiment and find out who I was as a photographer.

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3. You don’t want to lose the love of photography

Once you turn a passion into a job or career, you have a very real possibility of it turning into something you do because you have to, and not because you want to. I’m not saying this happens to everyone, but I’ve seen enough professional photographers burn out and quit, that I know it’s a very real thing. You may think that it will be fantastic to make money doing something you love, but are you ready for the possibility of not loving that thing anymore?

True confession here: I rarely get my camera out anymore for anything except a paid session. When I’m on vacation, sometimes the last thing I want to do is “work” while I’m there, and I certainly don’t want to drag my camera around when I’m supposed to be having fun.  Then, if I do take some photos just for the heck of it, they sit there on my computer forever, because I don’t really feel like sorting and editing yet another batch of photos. This doesn’t happen to every pro photographer, but I’m being real here. Sometimes I wish that I could just take photos because I love it, but the truth is, I’m often too tired after my paid sessions for the week to get my camera out again. I still love photography, but it’s more that I love my job; I love the photos and what I can create, I love working with people, but I don’t love photography just for photography’s sake anymore.

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4. You don’t want to deal with business stuff

Taxes, business licenses, contracts, equipment upkeep, scheduling, email, phone calls – it’s all a very real part of running a photography business, and it takes far more time and effort than you’d like to believe. Being a professional photographer is not just happily snapping some photos, collecting money, and then spending all of that money on anything you’d like. There are expenses, lots and lots of expenses. There are boring, repetitive tasks. There are hours spent doing behind the scenes stuff.

No matter how great of a photographer you are, if you aren’t good at the business side of things, you are going to struggle as a photographer. It’s hard. It’s frustrating. Sometimes it’s overwhelming. Some days horrible things happen, like The Cloud losing your entire photography calendar (yes, speaking from experience). Sometimes you have to ask people for money, and that’s not easy for everyone. You have to be able and willing to run a pretty tight ship with scheduling, collecting money, and sticking to your policies. You have to decide your policies, and your fees, and how you are going to do business beforehand, because believe me, people will ask you to change all of it for them, and you have to be ready for it.

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5. You don’t like to deal with difficult people

Luckily for me, I actually really love working with people, but even then, sometimes some people are hard to deal with. When people are paying you money to photograph them, sometimes they expect you to do anything and everything they want, and sometimes, even when you’ve done your best, they aren’t happy with you. If you are sensitive, like I am, that kind of criticism can be very hard to take.

Most of the people you will take photos for are fantastic, wonderful people, who love your work, and love you, which is why they hired you. That doesn’t happen every time though. Sometimes you have to spend lots of time on the phone talking to a worried client (what about the weather? what about junior’s bad haircut? what about clothes they’ll wear? what if they smile awkwardly?). Or someone who has lots of ideas they saw on Pinterest, and wants to discuss every one of them with you, in depth, even if they aren’t even remotely your style of photography. Sometimes you’ll show them their gallery and they’ll say they love it, except can you photoshop every single wrinkle off of their face? Questions are great, and most people don’t have unreasonable demands. But, you have to know that sometimes people are just not on the same page as you are, and you have to be able to work with them, and do your best to keep them happy.

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6. It isn’t the fairytale job you think it is

I hear from people all the time about how much fun it must be to be a photographer, and how much they wish they could be a photographer too. Many people who jump into the photography business, without doing a lot of research and self-evaluation, get a harsh slap to the face when they realize that it’s work. A lot of work. Many people pop in the “professional photographer” scene on a whim, and pop right back out of it within a year or two, and sometimes don’t even last a few months. It’s work to get clients. It’s work to keep clients. They don’t just fall in your lap, waving hundred dollar bills and smiling their pearly whites for your camera.

You’re going to have competition, and sometimes criticism from others. Sometimes the world of photographers can get pretty nasty. You will find wonderful people to collaborate with, and those who encourage you, but you will also find some that will tear you down if they get the chance.

There are many benefits of running your own business, but it’s also hard. You have to know what you are doing, and if something goes wrong, it’s all on your shoulders. Being a professional photographer is much more than loving to take pictures. When you realize all of the work it’s going to be, you might decide that taking photos for the love of it, and because you’re an artist, may be much more fulfilling in the end.

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Do I sound a little bitter? I know that I might, but I want to be realistic here. I think being a photographer is such a romanticized notion, that there are oodles of people just itching to jump into photography as a business, without really knowing what they’re getting into. I’ve learned so much over the years, and sometimes I wonder if I would have even started had I really understood all of the cons.

Then, remember why I do this. Yes, it’s a job, and it’s hard. Yes, I hate the business side of things sometimes. Yes, some days I want to go hide in a hole and bury my camera there. But most of the time I feel blessed beyond measure to be a photographer. I love the people I get to work with. I love creating beautiful photos, and capturing real personalities. I love happy clients, and I love that I can create memories for them that will last forever. Right now I wouldn’t trade this job for any other, because now, that I’ve learned and lived through the hard parts of my job, I know that it’s all worth it, for me.

Now you get to decide: will it be worth it for you?

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Melinda Smith was born to be a teacher. She teaches violin lessons and fitness classes, as well as photography classes and mentoring. She lives on a mini farm in Eastern Utah with her camera, husband, kids, chickens, horses, bunnies, dogs, and cats. Visit her at Melinda Smith Photography.

  • DrThomas Varghese

    Hi there,
    Wonderful article, I am a neurosurgeon, got fed up with the long hours, the stress, the empathy part and lack of social life…. I fell in love with photography, thought a second career as a photographer would be great….. But some of your thoughts did occur to me and I hesitated, now after reading this article, I feel I took the right decision not to quit neurosurgery…..I carry my camera always with me and all my colleagues and family and friends tease me about it! But it’s my second love and I am passionate about it.. Thanks Melinda!

  • Wonderful article, Melinda. Nicely put up too. 🙂
    I found my passion for photography and would soon want to take it as a full time profession.
    I am still in the process of learning the business stuff and your experience will ease me out for sure.

    Thanks a ton for sharing your experience with this wonderful post. 🙂
    Best Regards
    Anshul Sukhwal
    ClicksToRemember

  • Thank you for your comment, and best wishes in your new endeavor!

  • Thank you for your comment!

  • My advice is to practice, learn all you can by doing and listening to others, and enjoy the journey. 🙂

  • Tammy

    I have had friends and family tell me that I should go pro but I thought I could not deal with difficult people. I would also be afraid of losing the passion that I have for photography. For me, photography is more of a release and I will always continue to view it as my hobby. Thank you for a great article!

  • Johan Bauwens

    Saying ‘I quit my job and turned into a professional photographer’ may sound sexy, but if you earned 2000 euro a month in your office job and now you make 1000 euro a month as a photographer, it’s not exactly a good carreer switch !

  • Shanon P

    How depressing… I’m sorry you don’t love photography anymore. I hope that doesn’t happen to me.

  • Alberto H.

    Don’t know why she is in the business

  • Eddy

    Johan Bauwens, you may be right but how about the joy of having your own personal time and deciding when to rest or not?

  • Eddy

    Thanks for the write up especially 5 & 6 experiences that I felt bad sometimes too

  • My answer is in the last paragraph. 🙂

  • Thanks for your comment, Tammy!

  • Johan Bauwens

    I rest at work too :-).

  • Phila Madondo

    Great article Mel (albeit scary reality).

    For me, the scary side of going pro is having to deal with people (which will always be part of the trade) as well as the business side of photography (which one can learn). While weddings are a most popular area that new photographers want to try their skill at, weddings are too much work and a pain in the butt (once again due to the people interaction element).

    I’m also still new in photography, and I have done a few weddings for my friends (usually for a very minimal fee – to convince my wife that I’m actually gaining some returns on the expensive gear that I purchase from time to time) – but I will soon quit doing weddings altogether. My goal is to do landscape photography (no humans to deal with there during production, just the elements of the outdoors), and put up my photos online and maybe sell them at some local gallery. I hope that will work (financially), but I will tread carefully and not quit my day job yet, especially after reading your beautifully put article.

    Thanks for sharing your experience.

  • RoryC

    I don’t understand the ‘if you don’t have a formal eduction in photography’ part. As far as I’m aware, a formal eduction isn’t a requirement for anything, anywhere, except for legally being allowed to claim you have a formal eduction when selling services. If you don’t have one, and you tell potential customers that you do, that could constitute fraud.

    But, with regards to the ‘registering’ part, as Melinda already pointed out, regulations vary from place to place with regards to such. Where I’m from, for instance, as long as you’re doing business under your own name and you take in less than $30k in revenue annually (that’s total revenue, not profit) from your business, there’s no sort of registration that’s required with anyone. If you take in $30k or more, you’ll need to register for something called a Business Identification Tax Number. Or, if you’re doing business under something other than your own name, you’ll need to register the business name. So, if you’re doing business as, say ‘Joe Smith, Slp.’, no need to register. If you’re doing business as, say ‘Super Happy Fun Best Photography’, you’ll need to register the name and have a Business Identification Number assigned to it for tax reporting purposes.

    Of course, no matter what, you always have to follow the tax code and properly collect taxes and report earnings in accordance with it. But, as far as ‘registering’ with any government body, in my area, it’s not always a requirement in order to be able to legally do business.

  • Douglas

    #1 is on point. Just having a nice camera does not make you a pro, nor is everyone WITH a nice camera, a pro either. Have I wanted to turn pro, of course, but then reality slaps me in the face, and makes me read articles like this. Will I turn pro one day? Maybe, maybe not, but for now will just enjoy my photography, and if someone wants to pay me to take photos for them, then great. If not, also great, will continue to have fun, keep up the inspiration, and just take photos.

  • Thank you for your comment!

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