4 Things You Must do BEFORE Becoming a Professional Photographer


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.

John Lee Maverick

By John Lee Maverick

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.

Jonathan Chie

By Jonathan Chie

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.

Kenny Louie

By Kenny Louie

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.


By vintspiration

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?

Read more from our Tips & Tutorials category

Suzi Pratt is an internationally published Seattle event and food photographer. Her photos appear regularly in Eater and Getty Images. She is also a prolific blogger who teaches others how to run a successful photography business.

  • Good advice, one thing to bear in mind though is that Nikon Pro Services (not sure if Canon is the same) requires that you own specific, expensive gear, in order to qualify. For pro photogs looking to get started investing $15k in Nikon bodies and lenses to qualify for pro services is probably not worth it. Especially when competitors like Sigma are now putting out better glass than Nikon at a lower price point.

    I’d also add a #5 to your list that is: “Have gear redundancy”. you don’t need the most expensive gear but be sure that you can still maintain your quality even if a key piece of gear is lost, stolen, or damage during the shoot. Which means having a backup body at the very least as well as more than one lens.

  • Thanks for the comment, Ryan!

    The same is true for Canon Pro Services — a big investment in accumulating high value gear before you join, but still something to keep in mind for those who progress with their photography careers. It even took me a couple years before I had bought enough gear to join!

    And good call on gear redundancy! Having a second body or having a nearby rental source (ie. a store, friend) can be a lifesaver when you least it expect it!

  • I live in Japan, owns 3 Nikon cameras and 5 lenses. My issue is that I need to regularly repair/fix/clean my gear and that is simply way too expensive. It is the first time today I come across this “Nikon Pro” Service and I wonder: how much discount do they apply to your repair? Generally?

    The alternative would be to find an insurance, I think we have one in France for photography gear but in Japan I don’t think we have any unfortunately…

  • Michael Owens

    The offer of a second shooter is here. Still. Lol.

    I’ve never been to Seattle. Neither has the wife. So you know. It’s logical. 🙂

  • Guest


  • Derek Blake

    This seems to me to be a way of extorting money out of people, and for what? In 2009 I retired to Greece, and at that point dumped my mass of bodies, lenses, extenders, flash units, and filters. Then I invested not much in a really good Fuji bridge camera, a fraction of the cost of the equipment that I sold. I was surprised at the results and after a couple of years could easily afford to upgrade.

    I still got work producing images for websites, travel books and advertising, my clients were very satisfied with the results and I with the money. I have truly stopped, and retired, now, although I continue to shoot. The average client does not know the difference between a Pentax and a Hazleblad in the quality, unless you intend to blow up the cinema size.

  • I agree with you Derek that amazing photos can be taken with much more affordable gear these days. I myself am hopeful that mirrorless will one day be an option for me. In the meantime, I think investing in Pro Services is still not a bad option for those of us who have already invested large sums of money in expensive gear.

    I hope you’re enjoying the Fuji! I get to experiment with a x100s from time to time and I’m continually impressed with Fuji’s quality and affordability.

  • Hi Jordy,

    I can’t speak for Nikon’s services, but certain levels of Canon Pro Services (CPS) offers a 20-30% discount in addition to free shipping on one or both ways.


    I’ve always had gear insurance and only recently bought in CPS when I had a major repair needed; at the very least, I found that the free (and expedited) shipping ended up making the membership worth it for me. I also really appreciate the maintenance option they include.

  • Excellent article zusi!!! Great information. I am an amateur photography but hope to one day be in your shoes and this was some very good insight:)

  • I will ask Nikon Japan directly next week-end, I guess they can give me the answer I am looking for 🙂 Let’s see what they say. You lucki to have gear insurance, that is something I would really like to have.

    By the way, I know your website and I would like to contact you to try a plugin I have just made. That is a very different subject but can I contact you about it?

  • D. Brent Walton

    That’s a start, but most importantly is legal and social responsibility. Here’s what I’d list as the top 4:

    1 – Contact your local municipality and state regarding permits, licenses and collecting sales tax. An innocent business transaction can turn in to a fine, infraction or misdemeanor if you haven’t taken care of the legal requirements to do business.

    2 – Purchase a business liability insurance policy. Here’s an example of how this can protect you. You’re at a client’s home and their child knocks over your light stand and starts a fire. Their homeowner’s insurance, upon hearing you were conducting business at their home refuses to cover the damage and refers them to your business insurance. However, you don’t have business liability because you mistakenly thought your homeowner’s would cover you. As a result, you end up facing a large lawsuit due to the damage.

    3 – Get educated about business practices. Know how to calculate return-on-investment and if you don’t, work with a CPA who will help you figure out the financial end. Then, charge so that you cover all of your capital investments, your expenses and your salary. Run you business as though your life depends on it.

    4 – Get involved with an organization like PPA and enter print competition. Order a review of your entries so you can get feedback. If you keep doing the same thing over and over your work will not improve. By receiving feedback from these jurors you can get professional tips on what you need to change for your work to become better.

  • Forgot to list ASMP.org, which is a MUST have membership for anyone serious about becoming a pro. Learning to properly license your images should be everyone’s #1 priority regardless of being a pro or not:

    ….Also the article forgot to mention that folks need to familiarize themselves with the paperwork needed for various genre’s of photography. (To avoid being sued). These 3 classes are a must watch for both hobbyists and future pro’s: http://acorner.net/blog/2015/1/photographers-paperwork

    ….I made another post here talking about what’s needed to be a pro and make money with it too, after the last GRID episode that was pretty crazy to watch:

    AND The article forgot to mention post processing too…It is part of your job regardless of needing it for removing dust spots or street signs, or pimples….

    Post processing can actually differentiate yourself from the rest of photographers in your area if you create your own unique style through color, backgrounds, attire etc. There’s a photographer up north somewhere I forget the city, but he offers senior portraits(NOT high school, actual 80 year olds) dressed in period clothing and the guy is making a killing financially…Brilliant idea…

    As far as CPS is concerned, I am not thrilled with them at all. I would find a local camera shop that can clean my camera etc, because I live in FL and my only choice is to send my equipment to New Jersey…that’s like sending a baby to a pediatrician in another state…I am not comfortable doing that, and I heard many people complaining that after they sent their cameras to be cleaned at that Canon facility the camera came back with more dust…so, I’d be careful with that. JMO

  • DITTO! Yeah, for sure do all that if you want a trouble free photography business, too many people are sue happy in America.

  • PPA.com has the best insurance for photographers at this point.

  • Raj Mohan

    help me 550d camera resolution correction

  • ???


  • Marian Murdoch

    Competitors are getting wise and reporting photographers to the IRS and/or the state for not having a business license and paying their taxes.

  • Agreed! I know several photographers who stayed under the radar for many years, but it eventually caught up to them and now they have to pay back what they owed. Definitely better to be doing it right when you first start.

Join Our Email Newsletter

Thanks for subscribing!

DPS offers a free weekly newsletter with: 
1. new photography tutorials and tips
2. latest photography assignments
3. photo competitions and prizes

Enter your email below to subscribe.
Get DAILY free tips, news and reviews via our RSS feed