Are you considering making the leap from being an amateur photographer to a professional? Join the club!
There are many pro photographers today making a living off of the craft, but of course there are a fair number of challenges that come with the job. I’ve been a successful full-time professional photographer for two years now, and like most others, I have my share of things I wish I had done to prepare for the lifestyle. Here are four basic things that every aspiring professional photographer should do before they make the leap.
1. Determine what kind of professional photographer you want to be
The most important thing you should carefully detail is what type of photographer you strive to be, and who is your ideal client. Do you want to shoot weddings and families, corporate events and head shots, or creative portraiture for editorial or advertising use? The answer to this question is crucial to help you identify if the market segment you choose is profitable, and if so, who is your target audience and how best to appeal to them to hire you. You wouldn’t market wedding photography services in the same way that you would sell corporate headshot services because your ideal client is different.
Once you determine the photography skills you want to market, the next step is to make sure that you have demonstrated skill in that area. Do you and the current clients you’ve worked with feel that your photography work to date demonstrates commercial viability (in other words, would enough other people pay for it)? If so, then it’s time to build an online portfolio of images demonstrating your creativity and skill. Make sure your portfolio not only contains a fair number of unique images, but also some words that introduce yourself and establish the qualities that set you apart from your competition. Don’t skimp on the words – remember that some people connect better with words over images.
2. Establish your baseline expenses and make sure you have some savings
One of the biggest challenges that professional photographers can face is the instability of a reliable paycheck. Unless you can strike up long-term photography contracts with clients or find a steady stream of clients, there’s no guarantee you’ll be getting a monthly paycheck. Even if you do get clients, there’s a huge chance that payments will come in later than expected (to compensate in these instances, be sure to charge a late fee).
As a result of potential payment instability, it’s important that you assess your monthly baseline expenses and know how much you absolutely need to be making in cash each month. Next, match these expenses to how much you currently have in savings and make sure you would have enough saved away to cover yourself in case you don’t bring in enough revenue. Give yourself about six months to a year to establish your business and generate regular income; if over time you can’t cover your baseline expenses with your savings and sales, that’s the first signal that your professional photography career might need some reconsidering.
3. Buy and insure all of the gear you will need, and know where to rent if needed
As a professional photographer, you should own, or have regular access to, all of the essential camera gear that is needed to fulfill the photography jobs that you are seeking. For example, wildlife and sports photographers absolutely need to have telephoto lenses, whereas real estate photographers need to have wide angle lenses. Do your homework and know what kind of gear you’ll need, and start acquiring it, or at least know where you can rent the gear that is too expensive or impractical to own. If you’re lucky, you’ll have a brick-and-mortar camera rental center in your town or a nice friend willing to loan out gear; if not, there are several gear rental options online worth looking into.
If you do purchase your own gear, be sure to get insurance on all of your equipment to aid in covering the expenses of needing to fix broken gear or replace stolen gear. As an amateur photographer, you’ll likely be able to have your equipment covered by personal property insurance, which is usually pretty affordable. However, as a professional photographer, you’ll need to get professional or business insurance coverage of your gear, which tends to be a bit pricier, but also more inclusive of business-related problems that could occur such as liability issues.
4. Get professional photography memberships
As a professional photographer, you’re entitled to some benefits if you know where to look. One of the first memberships you should look into is Canon Professional Services (CPS for Canon shooters) or Nikon Professional Services (for Nikon shooters) – there will be a membership for your brand in your country, just do some searching. The benefits of each vary but can include expedited shipping on repairs, equipment loans, and on-site support at certain events. To enjoy the full benefits of Professional Services, you’ll have to prove that you are a full-time professional or that you own a set amount of professional gear, and in the case of Canon pay an annual fee. But the value of having quicker repairs is immeasurable for professionals.
Another membership worth looking into is with the Professional Photographers of America (PPA). A non-profit association with over 27,000 members in 50+ countries, the main benefits of membership are equipment insurance and discounts and savings from select vendors, all of which are included in PPA’s annual fee. There are of course many other photography associations, distinguished mainly by the types of photographers they serve, each offering its own set of benefits. Examples include the American Photography Association, National Press Photographers Association, and North American Nature Photography Association, to name a few. This is again when it becomes pertinent to specialize in a specific type of photography. Look for similar groups in your area or country.
Are you considering becoming a professional photographer? What other questions are on your mind as you prepare?