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How to Become a Professional Photographer (10 Practical Tips)

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For many, photography is a hobby. But some want to take their hobby to a whole new level. They want to earn money and become their own boss as professional photographers.

Going pro may seem like a big jump. Becoming a professional photographer can be daunting. And it might look impossible from the start. So many people have their own cameras now, is there still a need for professional photographers?

While it may seem daunting, it is possible to pursue a photography career. Not only is there a high demand for professional photographers, but you can also earn a handsome salary in photography.

Starting a photography business isn’t easy. And it won’t happen overnight. You have to be realistic and work hard. But if you want it, a photography career can be life-changing.

If you’re ready to start your career as a professional photographer, we are here to help. That’s why we’ve gathered our favourite tips on how to become a professional photographer.

Photographer shooting outdoors over brown fields and a grey skey
Photo by Annie Spratt

10 Practical Tips On How to Become a Professional Photographer

Going from amateur to professional photographer can be a difficult road. But we’re here to help you on your journey.

1. You Need to Master the Basics

Learning the basics doesn’t mean learning how to take a nice picture of the garden on your DSLR. If you want to become a professional photographer, you need to be more comprehensive.

You need to know how to get the most out of your camera. You need to understand exposure and depth of field. And you need to understand light. The fundamentals of photography should become second nature to you.

You could arrive at your first professional shoot, and the conditions aren’t what you expected. It won’t look very professional if you look through the manual or research something on set.

Perhaps you have a college diploma or university degree in photography. Or maybe this is something you’d like to do. It can be a handy advantage. But it’s not essential for becoming a professional photographer.

The internet has become a valuable resource when it comes to photography. A quick search can provide you with information and tutorials. Whether it’s something basic or more advance, you can find it. And Expert Photography is a great place to start. We have a wide selection of photography courses, like our Photography for Beginners eBook, that will help you hone your skills.

Learn and practice as much as you can. Pick up your camera and try to challenge yourself. Try each technique and master it. If you have a lot of experience already, that’s great. But if not, give yourself plenty of time.

Before thinking about becoming a professional photographer, you need to become a competent photographer.

double exposure image of a model in a studio with several cameras held around him
Photo by Ben Eaton

2. Reach Out to Photographers for Advice

Having your own photography business often means working alone. You are your own boss, and you’re unlikely to have colleagues sitting around you. You won’t be able to swivel your chair and ask a colleague for advice.

That’s why it’s important to get advice from photographers who have already been through the process. Photographers that have gone pro can be invaluable sources of information. Their insight and experience will be handy for you on your journey to become a professional photographer!

Doing photography courses in college can be an advantage in this regard. They can provide access to photographers that have been through the experience of going professional. Sometimes they are the tutors, or perhaps they will participate in access programs for students.

But that doesn’t mean you have to go to university to become a professional photographer. Your friends are the best place to start. Maybe you have a friend that is a photographer. Or they have a friend that is a photographer. If not, you can research photographers in your area and get in touch. Try and arrange a virtual coffee with them. Or request to join them on a shoot. But be careful not to become a burden and be too demanding, or you’ll disturb their work.

Professional photographers are a gold mine of information. Many will be more than happy to help, and you should definitely try to tap into their wealth of experience.

model posing in a studio in front a photographer
Photo by Cody Lannom

3. Target a Niche to Make Yourself Unique

There are many types of photography and many career paths you can choose from. It can seem confusing. That’s why it’s important to narrow down your options and find the niche that suits you.

First, think about the kind of photography you enjoy. Then, use this as your basis for practice. And give yourself some freedom to try out different photography skills. Be experimental and discover your niche.

But you also have to be pragmatic. You need to think about the types of photography that will provide you with an income. Market research is essential to see where the demands are.

Selecting a niche is important as it gives you direction and focus. But you still need flexibility. For example, if you’re a portrait photographer, there may not be enough work doing headshots for actors. You can supplement your income by doubling as a wedding photographer.

There are practical considerations too. Where you live may influence the direction you take. If you live in a city, nature and wildlife photography won’t be the best option. And do you like working with children? If not, child photography likely isn’t the best gig for you.

black and white image of a portrait photographer shooting a female model outdoors
Photo by Harrison Hargrave

4. Carefully Invest in Equipment Based on Your Niche

Photography is big business, and there is so much gear to choose from. Nikon or Canon? DSLR or Mirrorless? Crop sensor or full-frame? The options can make your head spin.

Much of it is down to personal preference. But now that you’re becoming a professional photographer, you’ll need to think about what you need. Not what you want.

Finding your niche will point you in the right direction. This will help you focus on the equipment that will help you in that area of photography. For example, product photographers need specific lights. And real estate photographers need the right lens for the job.

You don’t have to put yourself in debt by buying a top-of-the-range professional camera. Your budget for equipment will increase as your business grows. But you will need to invest in getting the right gear.

Gear doesn’t just refer to your camera. You’ll need a good computer and the right editing software. Post-processing is just as important as the work you do with the camera.

It can seem like a big expense. But remember, this is an investment. Photography is your business, and you need to spend money to make money.

an image of a sample set of photography gear
Photo by Jacob Owens

5. Showcase Your Talent With a Professional Portfolio

A professional portfolio isn’t a collection of your favourite shots. It’s your body of work. Your portfolio needs to demonstrate your abilities as a professional photographer.

Your niche will determine the content of your portfolio. You should highlight your skills in the area of photography you want to pursue. You might have a group of photographs you’re proud of. But if they are too off-piste, you have to remove them. Include some variety, but stay focused.

Even if you don’t have any paying gigs, practice as much as possible and add your best practice shots to your portfolio. You can build a studio at home and practice with friends and family. Or you can build an infinity curve for product photography.

Your portfolio is your shop window. Be creative, but don’t lose focus. It’s about showing potential employers what you have to offer.

photographer facing the camera with a dark grey background
Photo by Colin Lloyd

6. Share Your Work Online to Establish Your Brand

Having a strong portfolio on hand is important. But you also need to expand your photography brand online. For modern professional photographers, building your online profile is an essential part of the business.

One place to start is with your website. You don’t need to be a web designer to have your own site these days. A company like Squarespace has plenty of templates you can choose from. They vary in price, but they are all at a professional standard.

If your budget can’t stretch to that yet, start with social media. Instagram is a great place to display your work and get some exposure. There’s lots of inspiration there too.

It’s not all selfies and mimosas these days. Many photographers use it as a professional platform for promoting their work. And using hashtags is a great way to get more views and followers.

Tumblr is another social media platform for sharing creative work. And LinkedIn is excellent for getting connected within the professional community.

When it comes to social media, you need to remember that it’s a professional account. So keep things serious and think about the direction you want your business to take. Don’t post anything you might regret.

image of a woman using a MacBook
Photo by Avel Chuklanov

7. Get Organised and Behave Professionally to Succeed

The idea of becoming a professional photographer can seem glamorous. But it’s not all about stunning locations and beautiful photography. There’s a lot of work behind the scenes too. It might be boring, but it’s just as important.

Some professional photographers do have contract jobs, where they have fixed hours and income. But the majority of photographers are self-employed and freelance. Registering as self-employed can be complicated, so do your research.

Invoicing is another essential part of freelance life. Learn how to format one before you need to send one to a paying client. There are free templates online, but make sure they do look professional.

When photography is a hobby, being a bit disorganised isn’t much of a problem. But if you want a reputable photography business, you need to get organised. Create special files and label everything. And always back up your work.

Find a space for your administrative work. It can be at home or in a shared office space. But it needs to be uncluttered and free of distractions.

Even if a gig is low-pay or unexciting, you still need to treat it with respect. Be prepared and arrive early. You should act like a professional no matter what you’re doing to build trust and a solid reputation.

black and white photo of a female model posing in a studio in front of a photographer
Photo by Maxim Tolchinskiy

8. Be Proactive to Find Work and Clients

You might have an excellent portfolio, and maybe you’re getting new Instagram followers every day. Your home office is nicely organised. But that doesn’t mean the phone will start ringing.

As a freelance photographer, you need to understand that the work won’t always come to you. Especially when you’re new to the business, you’ll have to be proactive and go out and find the paying gigs.

Once you do get a few jobs, your reputation will grow. As will your portfolio. This will have a snowball effect, with one job leading to more paid work. But this might take time, so always be on the lookout for more.

photograph of a camera viewfinder taking a shot of the seaside
Photo by Bailey Mahon

9. Seek Out Opportunities in Your Local Area

We all dream big when it comes to our about our careers. Aspirations drive and inspire us. But you also have to be realistic.

Let’s look at fashion photography, for instance. If you email Vogue asking if they need a photographer, you probably won’t get a reply! With no experience and a limited portfolio, there’s no point going straight to the top.

But there could be plenty of opportunities near you. For example, vintage stores or small-scale designers need commercial photography to sell their wares. All you need to do is contact them, showcase your skills, and offer your services.

And this is not just in the fashion industry. Restaurants and bakeries might need a good food photographer. Local craftsmen might need product photography for their online store. And estate agents know the value of professional real estate photography.

It’s all about getting yourself out there. Be proactive in your local area. Your reputation will grow, and you’ll develop a base for your photography business. While it may not be Time magazine, but your local paper is a great place to start.

photograph of a person reading a local newspaper while holding a cup of coffee
Photo by Mattias Diesel

10. Always Ask for Compensation for Your Services

You should never work for free. Volunteering for professional experience might be good when you’re starting. But when it comes to your own photography business, you’ll need to change your mindset.

Be confident about your work, and don’t give it away for free. If photography is going to be your livelihood, it needs to pay.

This may sound extreme. But the payment may not always be financial. When starting with local jobs, you can’t charge top-end prices, especially if you’re working for a small business or charity.

But there are other things you can ask for that are as important as payment. For example, you can ensure that your client shares a link to your website and credits you for your photographs.

Having this attitude will set a standard. Potential clients will know that they can’t take advantage of you. And if you know you’re getting compensated, you won’t let your quality slip.

image of a photographer facing the camera while under leaves
Photo by Tom Pumford

Conclusion

Many people are making a career out of photography right now. There’s no reason you can’t do it too.

Going professional is not a decision that should be taken lightly. It won’t always be easy, and sometimes you might not know where your next paycheque is coming from.

Don’t dive straight in. Master the fundamentals of photography first and do your research before you quit your day job. And start acting like a professional photographer, even if you haven’t been paid yet.

Be realistic and pragmatic. Don’t shoot for the stars straight away and treat every photography job with respect. Instead, give yourself a clear career trajectory and work hard to achieve your goals.

We hope our list of practical tips on becoming a professional photographer has been enlightening for you. Finally, we wish you the best of luck on your photography journey!

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