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How To Become a Professional Photographer in 8 Steps

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Are you passionate about photography? Then why not turn your passion into a profitable business?

Becoming a professional photographer is not so hard as it may seem. It’s due to easy access to cameras, editing software tools, and online sharing. But is this enough to become a professional photographer? Of course not.

You still need some smart tips. So check our quick guide below to take your photography from amateur to pro!

Woman shooting with a Canon DSLR camera

8. Do Your Research!

Start with Self-Inquiry

Any business starts with research and needs analysis. Want to do it the smart way? Research yourself in the first place. Photography is art, and any form of art involves self-inquiry.

Ask yourself the right questions. What motivates you to become a professional photographer? What do you want to gain from your work? What makes you stand out as a photographer? Which genre of photography attracts you most?

As an emerging photographer, you may not have ready answers for all these questions. No worries. This is action research. Practice with different genres of photography. Shoot something each day. This will let you re-discover yourself as a photographer and improve the quality of your work. You will also be able to make informed decisions and career plans.

Do Market Research to Assess Your Best Options

You also need to take a look at your local market, as well as global trends in photography. Study how other professional photographers in your area work. Try to discover the gaps that you can address.

You’ll also want to know what genres of photography are common in your area. For instance, there may already be many wedding photographers. This doesn’t mean you can’t enter this field of photography. Just work hard on your quality and develop your unique style.

Don’t let competition scare you. Neither underestimate your competitors. Learn from them. It’s always good to get to know different professional photographers! Connecting with them helps you build your support network.

Make sure to look at the rates that photographers charge for various packages. Use this info to figure out the average market prices. You’ll need this as you set your own photography business pricing.

A professional photographer taking a product picture in a studio

7. Check Your Local Regulations

Establishing a Business

Some clients don’t trust unregistered businesses. Yes, paperwork sucks. But that’s what a photographer needs to set an official photography business.

Business regulations vary from country to country. Explore what rules apply to your area. Seek advice from your professional photographer friends, business counsels, lawyers and accountants.

Find Out What You Can Shoot

To put it another way, what are you allowed to shoot? In most countries, shooting pictures in public places is legal. Yet, many areas deemed as public are in fact private. For instance, in my country, you can’t shoot in subways. So check these regulations to avoid “candid exchanges” with the police.

Create a Photography Contract

A professional photographer must be professional in all aspects of work. The photographer-client relationship is a vital aspect to consider. Managing your client relationships is key to success. Make sure to learn what people expect from you. Also, explain the scope of professional services you’ll provide.

It’s safer to translate your oral agreement into a photography contract. Photographers often keep a contract template and adjust it for each project. If you hate paperwork, the contract will be an extra burden for you. But believe me, it’s worth it.

A close up of a professional meeting

6. Choose the Right Gear

Don’t Invest Before You Earn

Start with what you have and work with that. The artist is far more important than the machine. Yes, the right camera for the genre of work you’re doing can help up your game. But you should perfect your technique and quality as much as your current gear allows.

Post-processing, editing software is also important for your work. Adobe Photoshop and Lightroom are among the best tools used by professional photographers. Both have trial versions for free.

Benefits of Renting

A high-end order may call for more than what you own. Consider renting in those cases. This is also a good option if you’re unsure what camera to buy. This way you can test a number of gears and see which one suits you. Rental fees can be very reasonable. There are even online rental websites that will send the gear straight to your door.

Seek Advice from Other Photographers

Consider if there’s a specific niche that you want to work in. You’ll need different lenses for corporate events than for macro photography. This is where a network of local professional photographers comes in handy. You can ask other photographers to recommend the right gear for you.

Camera gear

5. Pick a Niche

There’s no limit to the number of genres you can explore. Yet, as you become more professional as a photographer, you need to focus on a particular niche. This can be portrait photography, product photography, event coverage, wedding photography, etc.

Thus, you have a wide choice.

Commercial Aspects

Your choice will depend on your professional interests and internal drive. But don’t neglect the commercial side. Want to know how much photographers earn per year? Well, it depends on how good and how popular they are in the niche they practice. Also, note that some niches pay well, others don’t.

For instance, the street genre is not in high demand, whereas portraits are. Things get even sadder when it comes to insect photography. Your tiny models are unlikely to pay you. So you’ll have to work twice as hard to produce quality work. In that case, you can sell them to external customers like media outlets.

Some photographers also offer photography courses. This lets them earn extra money and extend the professional network. So, once you feel confident as a photographer, you can start teaching others.

Branding and Marketing

Specializing will make your branding clearer to your audience. Thus, the right clients will have a much better chance of finding you!

You’ll most likely still take on jobs that are outside of your speciality. This will help increase revenue early on. But you don’t have to include all you shoot in your professional portfolio. It’s better if a particular genre of work is predominant there. Your niche can also reflect in your brand name. Another option is to use your personal name.

If you are professional in your niche, you’ll be competitive even in saturated markets. Market yourself in a way to stress your competitive advantage. For instance, another wedding photographer might not include a video in the package. Thus, as a professional photographer, you can aim for a wide scope of services. But the quality should not suffer from it.

A man levitating and reading a newspaper for professional photography

4. Create an Online Portfolio

Don’t have a photography website yet? Then it’s a bit early to call you a professional photographer. Potential clients typically ask samples of work from a professional photographer. Thus, it’s vital to have a website to direct potential clients to.

Make Your own Website

A free website with basic sections will serve in the beginning. You can post there your bio, major projects, and photos. Each of these can form a separate section. The ‘About’ section must feature a brief introduction to your work and your contact details. Make sure your website has capabilities for large, easy-to-navigate galleries. Group your website images in themes.

Here are our 5 steps guide to creating a professional photography portfolio.

instant photographs on a yellow background next to a Fujifilm Instax Mini

3. Promote Yourself to Grow Your Network

Order photography business cards. They will come in handy when you tell people about your new venture! Start with your friends, colleagues and family.

Open a professional photography page on Facebook, Instagram and/or another platform. Post at least one picture a day.

Attend local events for casual networking. Introduce yourself as a professional photographer. Offer taking portraits of the attendees for free. Later you can send them to their emails. Be sure to include your website and social media links in those emails.

This is a good way to extend your network. Besides, some of the attendees may want to hire you for a paid photoshoot, if they like your work. How much you’ll earn per year depends not only on the number but also wealth of your clients. So, pay attention to what kind of events you go to.

Don’t put pressure on yourself to find clients immediately. At the same time, be ready to get out of your comfort zone. Telling people what you are doing can make the difference. If you have a large number of clients, you will practice more to extend your experience. Experience is one of the key things amateur photographers need to become professional.

Two professional photographers sitting around a laptop

2. Practice Even When You Don’t Have Clients

It should go without saying, but be sure to practice as much as possible. The harder you work, the more you’ll grow as a professional photographer.

You’ll be able to update your photography website and social media with new content. You will also improve your technical skills as you gain more experience. And it will give you more courage as you get out and about more.

Of course, you should be shooting for clients. But a professional photographer doesn’t wait for a client. So go and shoot portraits outside. Your potential client may be waiting for you just around the corner. In a word, shoot something every day!

A great way to do this is to create a 365 project for yourself, where you shoot one photograph a day for one full year. Don’t forget to feature this on your website.

Polaroid pictures on a map

1. Educate Yourself

Prepare for Lifelong Learning

Henri Cartier-Bresson, Joel-Peter Witkin, Annie Leibovitz… These names tell you nothing? Then it’s high time to study the works of these iconic photographers. In photography, learning never stops, and it’s especially vital when you’re starting out! Educational activities can take on many different forms.

Consider online photography courses, in-person workshops and internships. You may also want to find a mentor to guide you. This will keep your digital photography to its highest standards.

You can try one of our very own courses, such as Effortless Editing with Lightroom, to boost your skills. Photography magazines can also be a great source of inspiration and education. Keep in mind that they won’t provide local information.

Invest in Business Education

Consider also educating yourself on the business aspects of being a professional photographer. This has the potential to elevate your photography career.

Many of the photography magazines on the market today talk about business aspects. Reading them can make you a well-rounded business owner. You’ll manage to tackle all sorts of issues that may arise in your photography business.

A close up of a professional photographer typing on a laptop

Conclusion

Deciding to turn your hobby into a professional venture is exciting. It can also seem overwhelming at first.

Running a successful photography business requires much more than what we discussed here. But these simple steps will get you started when you first dive in!

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