6 Things About a Photography Career that You Only Learn Through Experience


For some people, a career in photography is their dream job. After all who doesn’t want the opportunity to take photos in a sector that they enjoy. For most photographers, their career is a learning experience that never stops. Whether that is photographically, personally, or even on the business side of things, they constantly have to learn from their experiences, develop, and become better and more efficient. Here are six things about having a photography career, that you’ll learn only through experience in this industry.


#1 Doing freebies

It’s no secret that fees for photographers have fallen over the last 20 years or so. This has been partly due to the advancement and affordability of cameras and also to the subsequent launch of smartphones. There has never been more competition. As a result, clients know that they can either get photos on the cheap or even for free. It’s not just individual photographers who are pressured into selling their work for less than the going rate, even some of the biggest stock agencies in the world are guilty of undercutting each other.

But, after you have been doing photography for a while, inevitably a client will come along who will offer to use your photos in their publication, website, etc., in exchange for giving you a photo credit. I always find this incredible and compare it to asking a builder to work on my house. In return, instead of money, he gets a sign on the lawn to say who has done the work. It’s up to you if you decide to work for free, but would you if it was any other business?


One of my first ever commissions was for a restaurant. They offered me lunch in return for photos. I negotiated a fee as well as the lunch.

#2 You won’t get rich

Photography is an incredibly tough industry with lots of competition. Very few photographers will go on to become wealthy purely from photography. However, that shouldn’t put you off this industry as most professional photographers will tell you that they would not want to do anything else. If you find your passion and are doing something you love, then you won’t care. But the reality is that to make photography a successful business you will need to ensure that you treat it as such. If you are looking for wealth then you might be disappointed.

#3 Technology moves on

When I was first starting out and was looking to buy my first full frame DSLR, I spent so much time researching the different models and manufacturers that a newer model was released. I then went back to the drawing board and began researching that one when a set of new lenses came out. While research is important, the moral of this story is that you will never be able to keep up with technology.

As I write this article Canon have launched their next model. Trying to keep up with technology will just end up leaving you broke. As you become more experienced you will realize that it doesn’t matter if you have the latest equipment or not. A great photo is great photo, regardless of whether it’s taken with a top of the range DSLR or a smartphone.


#4 Your love versus client’s love

One of the great elements of photography like any other art form is that it is subjective. Everyone has different views on what they like or what makes a great photo. This is no different to picture editors and clients. The reality is that sometimes things or images that you love are not necessarily the same as those that clients like.

For example, I was recently speaking to a founder of a British travel magazine and she told me that most travel magazines tend to use images with blue sky and/or blue sea on their front covers. The reason being that over the last 25 years they have seen that magazines with these sort of image sells better. Now, you may be the sort of person that likes to photograph stormy weather and that is absolutely fine, but if you want to sell front covers to these magazines you will need to adapt.

That’s one of the reasons that you often find photographers who work on personal projects as well as client work.


Photography is subjective, this image was rejected by one of my stock agencies but sold multiple times by another.

#5 Being a Jack of all trades

While you should always try to focus your actual photography expertise in one or two genres instead of being a jack of all trades, on the business side of things you will pretty much have to run everything by yourself.

You will be responsible for finding new clients, as well as being your own marketing manager, social media guru, web developer, finance director, customer service manager as well as retoucher and administrator. This is all the other part of running a photography business that a lot of newbie photographers often don’t think about. Some of these skills are things that you will pick up through experience, while for others you may wish to hire someone to help. But

But, in the end, many professional photographers have to do most of the work themselves. That’s not necessarily a bad thing. After all, who can sell you and your brand better than you?


#6 Budget constraints

Arguably these are the two words that most photographers hate – budget constraints. Those two words have a tenancy to come up frequently in conversations with clients. While this is often unfair to photographers, the reality is that clients are under pressure themselves.

So instead to despairing about it try to look at the positive and make the shoot work if you can for their budget. Obviously, it’s important that you still make money from any work but by helping a client out on one shoot you may get a bigger budget for the next one.



Photography is a tough industry that has been the victim of the digital revolution. But, while it has taken a hit, it is still one of the most rewarding industries to be involved in. There is nothing like seeing your work in print or online and with hard work, determination, and perseverance you can go a long way. The experiences you pick up on your journey will be invaluable and if you get the chance to learn from others then it would be foolish not to do so.

What experiences have you gotten in photography? Please share your thoughts and experiences below.

Read more from our Tips & Tutorials category

Kav Dadfar is a professional travel and landscape photographer based in London. He spent his formative years working as an art director in the world of advertising but loved nothing more than photography and traveling. His images are represented by stock agencies such as 4Corners Images, Robert Harding World Imagery, Getty, Axiom Photographic, and Alamy and they have been used by clients such as Condé Nast, National Geographic, Wanderlust travel magazine, Lonely Planet, American Express, and many others.

  • Mat

    Very thoughtful article, Kav.
    I’m still young in my photography career, but have wrestled with much of this.
    In regards to doing freebies, I weigh the decision in different ways.
    1) Can I expand my skill set or portfolio with this free work?
    2) Can I help out a community that truly does not have the funds to pay me?
    3) Would this make an interesting personal project?
    If I can answer yes to two of the those, I’m often willing to take the freebie.
    You’ve got a very nice Instagram page, Kav!
    Thanks for sharing your experience with newer photographers!

  • nan.woods

    I usually make roughly six to eight thousand dollars every month from working on the internet at home. If you are ready to do simple computer-based task for some hrs every day from your home and gain solid checks while doing it… This is ideal for you… http://korta.nu/NDe

  • lucia_hall

    I am gaining in the span of $6k-$8k /a month working on the internet. If you are considering to do basic online tasks for few hours every day at your house and make solid income while doing it… This is an opportunity for you… http://korta.nu/NDe

  • wrldtrvlr

    I’m in photography school now, and while I have always loved photography since my teen years, and have traveled and worked throughout the world since college, my profession that paid the bills and bought the homes was clinical social work & management. Now after retirement with a retirement income, I am pursuing my dream. While my school seems only interested in assisting the young fresh out of high school photographers with internships, my experience would certainly offer far more for the money, but where do I search out photography career opportunities in a smaller city?

  • kraged

    I’ve been a photographer for a while, but really just started thinking about doing paid work recently, whether is portraits or more creative gigs. But really, I’ve been having a hard time finding good ways to break into the market. My pro photographer friends have commented that my photos are of good quality, so it really boils down to marketing myself and putting myself out there. Any advice for getting started in the field?

  • walwit

    Thank you Kav for sharing your experiences, I would like to add, If I may, that producing great quality photos should be a factor to override the big spread of digital cameras nowadays, in other words: quantity will never win over quality in this business.

  • walwit

    Your case similar than mine, I’m about to retire and thinking about a photography post-career.
    Here on DPS there are many articles about how to step into professional photography.

  • wrldtrvlr

    Thanks I’ll search for them.

  • Anil Shakya

    Kav, I find your articles very easy to read and making sense. I am not a photographer by any means. But, I have DSLR and two high quality lenses and a nice enough flash for 8 years. Took over thousand photos of my kids and wifey. I get praises at times. But the lesson I learned is that a photographer’s client might most likely expect you to put yourself in her/his shoes when you shoot.

    My wife worked very hard to prepare a garland of Yomaris (sweet syrup filled bread) for our son’s fourth birthday per Nepali tradition. I missed to shoot a closeup of the boy with full focus on his cute face decorated by the garland of bread this client of mine (my wife 😉 ) prepared. She never explicitly asked me to make sure that there was such a closeup shot. However, it turned out she thought that I would realize that she would want such a shot, regardless.

    No matter how many other good enough shots were there, this client was disappointed.

    So, I realized that being a photographer may be challenging also because of this sort of expectations of a clients.

  • Kav Dadfar

    Hi Anil, glad you enjoyed the article. You are right in that a client may sometimes not have expressed exactly what they wanted, that is why it is key to ensure they have set a good brief. Kav

  • Kav Dadfar

    No worries, thanks for reading! Kav

  • Kav Dadfar

    The first bit of advice is not to get disheartened. In this industry you have to have full belief in your ability and just keep going. The next bit of advice is to really set yourself a plan of action. Try to focus into one small element and grow from there. As an example you could just focus on doing portraits but really try and market yourself to the business sector (i.e. corporate). Once established you can then expand to other areas. Most photographers will give the same advise which is to keep working at it and not give up and remember to do what you enjoy. Good luck.

  • Kav Dadfar

    Hi, the first thing I would do is to speak to the school. Just because someone is younger doesn’t give them any more right to education in the same environment. But as I mentioned in the other comment, for me you need to try and focus on one niche sector and then expand from there. And NEVER GIVE UP! Good luck

  • Kav Dadfar

    Hi, that’s a nice way of looking at it. You have to weigh up the pros and cons. When you first start you do naturally do free jobs but as you become more experienced then they become less (other than the charitable work). Thanks glad you enjoyed the article and instagram page. Kav

  • Anil Shakya

    Thank you, Kav.

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