Professional photography is an excellent career choice for anyone who wants to get paid for using their creative talents. It's one of the few fields where age and college degrees aren't as important as a good eye, a quality product, and self discipline. Photography is a competitive field, so be prepared to start small. Then perfect your craft and build a portfolio of your best work.
Find out how to become a professional photographer. Research the education and training requirements, and learn about the experience you need to begin a career in professional photography.
1- Focusing on Your Photography
1. Develop your photography skills. There is no “right way” or "wrong way" to become a better photographer. Some people take a class or get a college art degree with a photography focus. Others believe that college is a waste of time for becoming a photographer. You may find that you can teach yourself about photography from books and experimentation, or you may want to learn from other professionals. Whatever you decide to choose, if you work for it you can achieve it.
2. Obtain the appropriate equipment. The type of equipment you need will depend on the type of photography you are doing, but you will likely need one or two camera bodies and a variety of lenses for different situations. You will also need a quality photo editing software.
- You may need additional equipment for lighting or if you want to create an in-home studio. Again, this depends upon your photographic specialization.
- When you do need to purchase gear, keep track of it for taxes since it is a tax write-off.
- Read your camera’s manual front to back. The manual will give you a lot of detail about the features and function of your camera in a way that generic photography sources do not.
- To become really proficient, practice extensively at home. Experiment with light and shadow, try different settings on your camera, and learn the ins and outs of taking pictures with your available equipment.
- Make sure you are knowledgeable in how to use your other camera gear, such as a remote flash or different lenses. Having a background in these will significantly improve your photos.
7. Build a complete portfolio. In order to get hired by someone who isn't a close family member or friend, you will need to have a portfolio to show. Use photographs from multiple shoots with different subjects to highlight the range of your talents. Make sure that your portfolio is comprised of more than just five or ten photos. People will want to see the great work you've done.
- If you need to round-out your portfolio with modeling or posed shots, hire amateur models from local agencies. Offer free prints in exchange for free modeling.
9. Give clients what they want. You may like to take creative portraits of people, but your clients might just want to look pretty. Remember that, especially when you are starting out, you need to make money. The best way to do that is to have your clients buy prints (or digital images with rights to print). They are more likely to buy prints if they like what they see!
2- Creating a Business
1. Intern with a professional photographer. If you are an amateur photographer or you’re just starting out, you should intern or apprentice with a professional photographer to get a sense for how a photography business should be run. It’s likely that you won’t agree with the way your mentor does everything in her business, but it will give you a good idea of the “big picture” of running a photography business.
2. Develop your “people skills.” Much of running a photography business is working with people. You should work on your ability to talk to people about their visions and goals for a photo shoot, to calm down clients who are angry or disappointed, and to build repeat business.
3. Set goals. Create several long-term goals. Then, short-term goals that will bring you closer to achieving the long-term goals. The short-term goals should be measurable and have a time frame or deadline. For example, a short-term goal would be to book 5 new clients in the next three months. This could help you achieve a larger goal of having an established clientele within a year.
- Be sure to write down all of your goals. Studies have shown that you're more likely to complete goals that you've written down.
- Remember that one photo shoot includes drive time, photography time, editing time, meeting time, et cetera. Therefore, it is more than just a “1 hour shoot.”
- Create a watermark to protect your photos so that you can advertise them online. Allow your clients to use your watermarked photos for their own social media sites, essentially doing your advertising for you. Make sure your search engine optimization (SEO) is high for your website so that your business rises to search engine queries.
7. Network with everyone. You should take every opportunity to network. If you are working towards a specific specialization, such as wedding photography, network with everyone in your town who has an association with weddings. Talk to and give your card to wedding planners, cake bakers, caterers, other photographers (they may have a conflict and be asked for a referral), wedding dress shop employees, etc.
- Be prepared to network (professionally) at an event as well. For example, if you do a photo shoot for a wedding, take photos of the food and give them to the caterers. They may use the photos as advertisements themselves, and could recommend you as the photographer who took them.
- Riding on the bus, standing in line at the store, or sharing a table at a coffee shop are all great times for you to advertise your business.
3- Managing Your Business
1. Keep your day job at first. You will probably not be able to transition from an amateur photographer to a professional photographer in a manner of weeks. It will take time to establish and build business before you begin making enough money to support yourself. As such, you may want to keep another income source until you become established as a professional.
- This might make your life difficult for a while, but you may find that much of your photography work happens during non-work hours anyway. For example, many people schedule family photography sessions on weekends, when their children are out of school.
- Speak with a small business attorney for a better idea of the specific things you need. For example, if you plan on doing photography solely, make sure you have insurance covering your business. This may include equipment and health insurance for you and your employees.
- You should be meticulous about your record-keeping. Keep contracts, receipts, client emails, and invoices. Organize everything in a way that makes sense to you (by month, by client name, or by location) and consider keeping both electronic and paper copies of the most important paperwork.
- Make sure that you have enough money saved away to pay for at least one entire year’s worth of expenses. This way, should your business fall through or you have a business emergency, you'll have enough money to live on until you get another job.
- Be sure to keep receipts for all business-related expenses. Your accountant can use receipts to calculate tax deductions for your business expenses.
- Remember that (depending upon how your business is legally set up) your income will be subject to self-employment taxes; consider setting aside money from every photo shoot to pay taxes the following year.
- Have an attorney write a contract for you if you want to take the safest path. Joining a photography group also often gives you the opportunity to use a pre-written contract available for group members.
- Look up other local photographers and see what they charge for their own businesses. Then, base your own pricing based off your skills and abilities in comparison to theirs.