Everything you Always Wanted to know about a Career in Photography but were Afraid to Ask


Before I get into this article, I want to set the stage by saying that the objective here is not to diminish or make light of the concerns and questions that novice photographers have. In fact, at some point in our careers, we have all asked similar questions – sometimes out loud, and sometimes just in the solitude of our own minds. There is no wrong or silly question, and there are no right or wrong answers. These are in no particular order, and the views expressed here are solely based on my own experiences.

Memorable Jaunts DPS Article What you want to know - Beach sunset photos

One of my favorite images to date happened by pure accident – I saw the image in my mind even before I took a single frame.

Where can I learn about everything related to photography for FREE?

We are both lucky and unlucky to live in the era of the Internet. Any google search, on average, yields thousands of pages, articles, and YouTube videos. If you have a burning question about anything and everything, the easiest way to learn is via the Internet.

Sites like our own Digital Photography School are a great resource for almost any topic related to photography, from a beginner to an experienced photographer. Other sites like Creative Live offer many classes on various aspects of photography, as well as other creative genres. While most sites provide a great overview of a particular topic, any in-depth research requires time and money. There are number of virtual, as well as live workshops, all over the world covering all aspects of photography. A few that come to mind are The Design School and Clickinmoms (I have used both services and am very happy with the level of instruction provided there – this is just my personal experience).

You could also check out our dPS ebooks and online courses.

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I learn a lot online, in the comfort of my own home, but every once in while, I like to take a live workshop – not just to update my portfolio, but also to learn from and meet others in the industry!

How do I shoot in manual mode?

Shooting in manual mode is one of the most intimidating things that most amateur photographers face. If you have a DSLR camera that has a manual mode, it is really not that hard once you get the hang of it. The best thing you can do in learning to shoot in manual, is to understand the exposure triangle and how the three key components of photography – shutter speed, ISO and aperture work – independently and with each other. Here is a good article that digs deeper into photographing in manual mode. Remember this too take time and practice. There is another interesting article here in the Digital Photography School archives that explains all three shooting modes and is worth a read.

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Mastering manual mode is important, especially for images like this – backlit golden hour images…this is SOOC (straight out of the camera).

What lens will give me a blurry background?

If I had a penny for the number of times that I get asked this question from other photographers, as well as my clients who are looking to upgrade their DSLR cameras, I would have an overflowing piggy bank! Blurry backgrounds, or bokeh as it is know in the photography space, is actually a function of aperture (i.e. f-stop), focal length, and distance of the subject from the background. Check out How To Achieve Nice Bokeh [In Plain English] from the dPS archives that addresses this issue specifically.

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A wide aperture on 50mm lens gives a shallow depth of field where most of the background is blurry.

How much money do I need to spend to get started with a photography business?

There are again any different ways to answer this question. You can essentially spend as much, or as little as you want, to get started. At a bare minimum you will need a good camera system (good is a very relative term here, there are several prosumer cameras on the market today, at various price levels). In many places in the world, particularly in the US, there are several rental companies that offer various cameras and lenses for rent. Borrow Lens, Lensrental and LensProToGo are a few that come to mind. You can also check with your local camera shop to see if they offer rental services.

You do not need the latest and greatest camera system to be a professional photographer. While gear is definitely a plus, skill and the ability to work with what you have to get the results you need are far more important, especially when you are just starting out. Once you develop your own shooting style as well as what you want to focus on, you can slowly build up your gear by adding equipment based on your current needs.

How can I make money from my photography, and do it fast?

Sorry to burst your bubble, but the short answer here is that you cannot make money in anything fast. Everything takes time, practice, and patience. Just like any other career, the more time and effort you invest in your photography, the more experience you will gain. With experience comes confidence and recognition. So if your end goal is to be a internationally recognized photographer, treat it like a career and a business and invest in yourself, your education, and your experience. Don’t be afraid to roll up your sleeves and do the hard work – and in time, you will reap the benefits.

How much should I charge for my photography?

This is again something that is very subjective. What you charge for your services depends on many factors like your skill level, the value of photography in the area that you live in, and the buying capacity of the clients that you are targeting. Another thing to understand is the monetary value of your time. Remember your time is not just the amount of time you spend photographing the client – also take into account any travel to and from the location, editing time, and backend work like backing up photos, uploading galleries, and other administrative tasks. Once you have a handle on all these factors as it relates to your situation, charge an amount that makes it worth your while to photograph your clients. If you are looking to earn a living through your photography, then treat it like a business and not just a hobby. Read: 7 Things That Keep You From Charging What You’re Worth (and how to get over them).

What kind of photography should I focus on?

The easiest way to answer this question is to ask yourself what you enjoy photographing. Write down all the genres of photography that interest you, and try them all out if possible. Ask family and friends to model for you, if you are interested in portraits. Photograph different locations at different times of day if you are interested in landscape photography. Experiment with different types of food and styling if you are interested in food photography. Once you have a reasonable amount of experience in these categories, pick one or two to focus on, and give it your best. Don’t be afraid to experiment once in awhile in other genres, just to flex your creative muscles.

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I am a wedding and lifestyle photographer – that is what I enjoy doing the most. But mixed in my portfolio will be a bit of travel and editorial images that help me flex my creative muscles.

How can I get clients?

This is another big one that I get asked a lot, and I wish there was an easy answer. In fact, this is something that even I still struggle with, six years into my business. Getting new clients, and keeping a steady stream of clients is hard work. You have to constantly market yourself and your services at every opportunity you get. When you meet new people, don’t be afraid to say what you do. It took me a long time to introduce myself as a professional photographer, but once I said it often enough, I realized that I got more confident in not only my photography skills, but also in my business skills. Network and connect with your competitors, as well as other businesses in your area. Do a trade for images if appropriate, and remember not everyone you meet will be interested in getting pictures taken, and that is totally okay.

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A casual conversation at a networking meeting led to an epic family photoshoot and I gained a good friend too.

How can I build a portfolio of my work?

The length of time you invest in yourself and your photography skills is directly proportional to how long you will take to build your portfolio of work. If you constantly focus on learning and improving yourself, the more confident you will become, and the more opportunities you will find to create work that you are proud of. I have a few general rules that I follow in my photography journey

  • Photograph something every week if not every day – the objective here is to learn new techniques and perfect things I already know with respect to my gear.
  • 10:1 ratio – for every 10 minutes I shoot, I want to produce at least one image that I am proud of.
  • Spend time on personal projects – my mantra here is create for the sake of creation.

For me, this is an easy way to constantly update my portfolio with work that I am proud of, and which also represents my creative style.

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Creating for the sake of creation is a great way to update your portfolio as well as connect with other vendors and creatives in your space.

This is just a small set of questions that I found helpful when I was starting off on my career in photography. If you have others that have helped you navigate the photography waters, feel free to list them in the comments so others can benefit as well.

If you have different questions that you’ve been wanting to ask, this is the place to do it. Let’s see if we can’t get them answered for you as well.

Editor’s Note: This is one of a series of articles this week that are Open for Discussion. We want to get the conversation going, hear your voice and opinions, and talk about some possibly controversial topics in photography.

Give us your thoughts below on the article above and watch for more discussion topics.

See all the recent discussion topics here:

Read more from our Tips & Tutorials category

Karthika Gupta is a lifestyle, wedding, and travel photographer based in the Chicago area. Her images are fun, fresh and natural and her love for nature makes it way into most of her images. She also has a Free Travel Photography Demystified E-Course a 5-Day video series to help you improve your travel photography.

  • Katy Sparrow

    Many (not all) just starting out today want their career in photography to be free, fast and make a lot of money! Add to that that a portion of this group think it is upcoming and artsy to shoot an event as technical and important as a wedding with their smartphone camera. Give it to me on a silver platter. I refuse to pay for it BUT I want to charge big bucks for it. I refuse to admit that I must learn my craft and, oh by the way make me famous fast. Yeah. Right. Then one day they wake up to the fact that success is earned not given. No one is privileged. No one is exempt. A professional career takes time, money, dedication, education, sweat, endurance, physical and emotional pain and will cost money to learn. Learn, Pay your dues. Exercise regularly and keep your body in good condition. Intern with professional photographers. Buy the best gear you can afford. Be personable and a good sales person. Network. Charge according to your skill level. Get paid and pay on time, don’t stiff your vendors but pay yourself first. Shoot like your life depends on it because, if you plan on it being your livelihood, it does.

  • Barbara95595

    I currently earn close to 6-8 thousand dollars monthly for freelancing at home. If you are willing to work simple freelance jobs for 2-5 h /day at your house and make good payment while doing it… This is a work for you… http://ur1.ca/p7vwh


  • I have been a wedding photographer for about two years and started shooting in raw and manual mode comfortablely about a year ago. I have about $9000 in equipment. Wedding photography requires you to be good at shooting all aspects of photography, portraits, landscapes, journalists, street, indoors and out, know lighting (witch I have been working on for awhile). I am getting the flash off the camera more often.My two questions are, if I have a good histogram and my internal light meter is somewhere close to the middle , does it matter where my settings are. A lot of the article’s I read about the triangle make it sound like you should know how many stops to adjust when you change another. The thing that I ran into when shooting in auto or in other semi modes is the camera setting’s change drastically and there is know consistency. The second question is for the camera setting when using speed lights. Is it just a trial and error think or is the a actual way to do this, I get by with the way I am doing it but need to learn the easiest and quickest way to manual flash setting for fast paced weddings. I know I need to get a light meter but would like to learn it without it. Thank You if you can help me with this or point me in the right direction.

  • Melissa396584285

    I currently get paid approximately 6k-8k bucks /a month with my online job. Anyone prepared to do simple online jobs for 2-5 hours /day from your couch at home and earn good income while doing it… Try this work http://self92.com

  • mable_abraham
  • KC

    Great questions. Weddings are not my specialty, but they are similar to photojournalism type of “shooting”. I have to generalize a bit since I don’t know what equipment you have. It does sound like you’re getting too wrapped up in the technicals and variables. Step one: get the image. There’s no step two. OK, I’m being a bit silly to make a point.

    Know the latitude of your camera, the dynamic range of JPEG and Raw for your camera. Know the depth of field for your lenses. If there’s no markings on your lenses, there’s apps for that.

    You brought up histograms and metering. Camera meters can be good, or hopeless, depending on the setting. They’re trying to “average”, or emulate a gray card, a fixed variable. They’re not necessarily “seeing” and calculating the same area as the focus point. That’s great-if you’re photographing gray cards.

    This part is going to dive into history, pre-camera meter. Handheld meters either measured the light reflecting from, or falling on, a scene/subject. They weren’t focused. It all worked.

    This can go very long and technical, so let me cut to simple answers: meter a gray card or get a handheld incident meter that can read flash output. After a bit, you’ll spot a trend: this type of situation=that exposure.

    If you have the option to tether or review an image quickly outside of the camera, do it. The review screen on the back of a camera is very limited in what it can show (as well as being small). Most phones have a better screen these days.

    Something else to keep in mind: printing is going to lose a lot of dynamic range and “flatten” an image. Soft proof. If you’re not printing in-house, ask your print house for their profiles and load them on your editing computer.

    It’s a big topic, but it really does come down to managing as many variables as you can.

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