You have the skills and the passion and your goal is to become a professional photographer? Unfortunately there is no instruction manual but here are a few tips you may find useful.
1. Passion: Remember why you picked up the camera in the first place? Nurture that passion, but be aware that should you turn your passion into a full time profession, you could lose that passion. To prevent your photography from turning into a chore, keep and nurture your personal projects. They will help keep your passion for the craft alive, no matter what the commercial side throws your way.
2. Plan: You may start your photography business as a side business while keeping your full time job – and that’s a smart way to begin. This gives you time to decide if that’s what you want to do full time, and, more important, you will find out if your work is good enough to sell. Set a goal for when you want to quit that day job and be a full time photographer and then work towards that. You can adjust that goal – it’s your goal! And should you decide to keep photography a hobby, having a plan is how you will discover that.
3. Portfolio: Be discerning when putting your portfolio together. Only show your best work. Quality over quantity!
4. Rent: Don’t go into debt! In most countries it’s easy to rent specialty lenses for a day, a week or longer. Get the clients first, buy the gear later.
5. Persistence: No one becomes successful overnight. It takes years to gain experience and build a good reputation. Be persistent! Remember your plan and your goal. Don’t give up on your dream at the first rejection, or the second one. You will have good days and bad days, more bad days than good ones at first. You can sustain your plan and goal if you take baby steps.
6. Support system: Surround yourself with positive people, especially as you are starting out. They will support your decision and long term plan to turn your passion into a profession. Ignore the others and move on!
7. Balance: Chances are you work from home. It’s important to maintain a healthy balance between your passion for photography and your private life. Both are important to your overall goal! As for me, I live and breathe in pixels and sometimes that’s all I want to talk about! But put yourself in the shoes of your family and friends who might support you, but don’t experience the same passion as you. They will support your love affair with your camera, but remember they have their own passions, too.
8. Life long learning: Learn, learn and learn some more! As long as you keep clicking that shutter, you will always be learning. Once you think you know it all, you will stop growing. Read and educate yourself. Attend seminars and workshops. Stay informed with the latest technology and embrace it. Mentoring or teaching reinforces your own learning, so be on the watch for those opportunities. The world of photography is changing at the fastest pace ever, and you don’t want to be left in the dust.
9. People skills: You will get hired when people like your work AND your personality – I can’t stress that enough! And you will be much happier working with them, too. Commercial clients have told me how much they prefer working with me because I was approachable and friendly, easier to work with because their previous photographer was rigid, unfriendly or inflexible.
10. Business skills: Artists are not generally known for having good, solid business skills. If you aren’t a natural at accounting or marketing, you can either learn them or hire professionals for those important tasks – and they are important. If you can’t afford to pay for those services, maybe trade services at first. If you want to be a photographer full time, it is both an art and a business and be alert about the areas where you need help.
11. Be yourself: Don’t fake it or try to be someone else – it won’t last and you won’t be happy. Shoot with your heart and learn from your peers, but don’t copy them. Find your own style and consistency will follow. One way to discover your own technique is by expanding your technical knowledge, and your style will follow. Who knows – maybe others will learn from you one day!
12. Be resourceful: Expect the unexpected and be prepared for it – another reason to keep learning! And keep working on those personal projects especially in different genres of photography. Get outside of your comfort zone. The skills you acquire will serve you well on client shoots and may save your butt some day. Your clients don’t want to see you fumble with your settings or even scratch your head in self doubt while you practice a new technique. Plan ahead!
13. Be generous: Share ideas and tips with your peers. Competition can be good! If you’re good, you’ll get the work – don’t worry. I know so many photographers who are afraid to network because they are either shy or afraid to share their “secrets,” but all contacts are useful. Hey, I don’t shoot weddings, but when I get a request to do one, I refer that client to another photographer. Networking means referrals, but you must give to receive.
14. Be nice: Your best clients are the ones you already have and your potential clients are their contacts. Treat your clients with respect and professionalism as they are your key to success. Referrals are the best form of advertising – it’s a cliché because it’s true!
15. Be honest with yourself: Why do you really want to turn pro? Is it to look cool? Is it for money or fame? Is it gear lust? To impress your friends? For the pure love of the craft? To teach the art of photography? There is no wrong answer – and it’s okay to want to look cool and desire fame and fortune – but only when you are honest with yourself about your real intentions will you sustain your plan and reach your goal – and be happy! And should you chose to keep photography as a passionate hobby instead of a profession, that’s a good thing, too!
Be generous and share your experience with your peers by adding some tips in the comment section below.
Want more tips on Going Pro as a Photographer? Check out the dPS eBook kit – Going Pro: How to Make Money Through Your Photography.