Many things go into becoming a successful professional photographer. It takes a lot of hard work, dedication, and skill to make it in this industry. In this article, we will discuss some of the key things that you need to do to become a professional photographer. So if you are thinking about making photography your career or business, read on!
Have a strong understanding of photography principles
First and foremost, to be a professional photographer, you must have a strong understanding of photography principles. This means more than just knowing things like aperture, shutter speed, and ISO.
To this end, you should have a firm grasp on the connections between these items and how they are related to one another. You should be able to anticipate the repercussions of changing one on the other without needing to consider it.
You need to be able to take great photos in any lighting situation. If lighting is poor, you need to understand how to take control and manipulate available light or introduce light and understand the consequences of doing so.
You need to have a good grasp of composition, the rules that you can rely on, and when to break those rules to create tension or intrigue.
It’s only when you have an understanding of what makes a good composition, that you should feel confident enough to be able to break them and still make your images work.
Some photographers have made a name for themselves by being able to break away from the norm and set new trends. But they didn’t do this before fully understanding the main photography principles of light, how to manage it, control it and use it to their advantage.
A prime example of this is Jonas Peterson. Jonas made a name for himself by taking the wedding photography industry by storm some 10 or so years ago.
Back then the industry was fairly traditional with a movement toward photojournalism and shooting weddings in a documentary style.
Jonas took this to a whole new level with a very artistic, creative approach that set his work apart and made him a sought-after artist in his industry. You can check out his work here.
Learn how to use different types of photography equipment
You should try to be proficient in using different types of photography equipment. This includes everything from different camera types (SLR’s mirrorless, medium format) to lenses (primes, zooms, specialist lenses like tilt-shift), on and off-camera flash, and all kinds of light modifiers (reflectors, diffusers, dishes), etc, etc.
Getting a good understanding of a broad range of photography kits will provide you with fundamental knowledge that will stand you in good stead no matter what type of photography you decide to specialize in.
There is nothing worse than finding yourself in a situation that you have no solution to, or the solution you have is yielding poor results.
You may be thinking to yourself “but I’m going to focus on landscape photography, why do I need to know about lights?”.
I get it.
Let me tell you about a close friend of mine who is a terrific landscape photographer who sells his work to many galleries in his area, from his website and to galleries around the country.
He sounds successful, right? Well, unless you’re a very sought-after artist you’re going to find it a challenge to charge the sort of prices that makes this a lucrative business. Plus, in times of recession, photography (particularly landscape photography) is a luxury item and they are the first thing that people cut back on when times get tough.
My friend found himself in such circumstances, and to bolster his income he learned how to use lights effectively and used these skills to add a service to his landscape photography business.
He started to take accurate, color-correct images of artist paintings in his surrounding area and he made prints for them on his fine art printer. This service grew so much that it earned far more than his landscape photography work.
The bottom line is that if you have a good range of skills within your market you are less likely to struggle for work.
Get to know your photography equipment and how to use it effectively
Once you know what genre of photography you want to pursue, you will have a fairly focused range of kit that equips you to tackle it effectively.
Know that kit inside and out!
Not only do you need to be able to use it, but you should also master it, and understand how it works and what its limitations are.
Knowing exactly where to go within your camera’s settings or lighting rig to access and achieve your desired outcome is priceless. Not to mention the time-saving and the confidence that you’ll be imbued with fully knowing your kit.
This also inspires confidence from your client and anyone interacting with you on the photoshoot.
Develop your unique photographic style
It is also important to develop your own photographic style. This will help you to stand out from the competition and make you more recognizable as a professional photographer.
What is important to understand here is that developing a personal style does not mean copying someone else’s work or trying to emulate another photographer’s approach.
It should be something that is unique to you and represents your take on photography. Experiment with different techniques, processes, and approaches until you find something that feels authentic to you.
Be careful though not to be so unique that your work opportunities are narrow due to a very specialized and specific look.
Taking this approach to the extreme can work for and against you. Your work may be sought after by a narrow group, but you may be able to charge more for it as a consequence.
Once you gain experience you’ll get a feel for the potential of this.
Be able to market yourself and your business effectively
This is a big one!
You can have all the talent in the world but if no one knows you exist there’ll be very little success.
Learn how to market yourself and your photography business effectively. This includes understanding things like social media, creating a website, an effective portfolio, networking, and more.
There is a wealth of information on Youtube on how to market yourself and gain some online visibility for your website. Google provides local businesses with tools such as Google Business Profile which can help you to get your photography business in front of potential local customers.
You can build your own website using easy-to-use tools such as WordPress, and learn basic SEO skills to optimize your site and its content.
Or you can pay a professional web design and marketing agency to do it for you if you have the funds to do so.
Take criticism well and use it to improve your photography skills
You will inevitably receive criticism at some point during your photographic journey.
Some of it may be valid and helpful, while other bits may not be so useful. It is important to take all feedback (constructive or not) with a grain of salt and use it to improve your photography skills.
Remember that not everyone will like your work and that’s okay. As long as you’re happy with it and you’re continuing to develop your skills, don’t worry about what others think. Take it on board, process it, glean the important parts and use them to benefit yourself and your skills.
Stay positive and motivated.
Have a strong portfolio that showcases your best work
This is one of the most important things you can do to help market yourself as a professional photographer.
Make sure your portfolio is up-to-date, and that it showcases your best work. Whichever photography that you specialize in, or even if you cover multiple genres, push yourself to produce and display your best work.
If you don’t have enough good work to fill a portfolio, then start taking more photos and refine your skills.
It’s better to have a small portfolio of excellent images than a big portfolio that has a smattering of very average images. You will be remembered as much for the average ones as you will for the great ones.
Cull your portfolio regularly and update it with ever-increasing quality if you can.
Be able to work under pressure and meet deadlines
As a professional photographer, you will often be required to work under pressure and meet deadlines.
This could be anything from needing to turn around a set of photos for a client in a few hours, to having to shoot an event that is happening in real-time.
Make sure you can manage your time effectively and have processes in place to help you work quickly and efficiently.
Many photographers (particularly in the wedding and portrait fields) outsource their image processing so that they can focus on shooting and growing their business. This isn’t for everyone and depends entirely on your outlook and feelings towards your images and business.
Have excellent customer service skills
This is another important one, particularly if you’re looking to work as a professional photographer in your own business.
Make sure you can communicate effectively with your clients, whether it be via email, telephone, or in-person.
Be able to understand their needs and wants, and be able to deliver on what they’re expecting. A good way to manage expectations is to make sure that they are familiar with your work and have a good idea of your style and ability.
Be proactive in terms of customer service and always go the extra mile to make sure your clients are happy.
No one really remembers a good review but EVERYONE will remember a bad one.
Be a good problem solver
This is another key skill that you will need as a pro photographer.
There will be times when things don’t go to plan or when problems arise that you have never encountered before. You must be able to think on your feet and come up with a solution.
This could be anything from fixing a technical issue on-location, to coming up with a new idea for an image that you can shoot quickly.
Stay up-to-date with the latest trends in photography
This is something that you should be doing anyway, even if you’re not looking to change your style. Being aware of style changes within your industry will help you stay current even if you don’t adopt those trends.
This could be anything from the types of images that are popular right now, to new post-processing techniques.
Attend photography events
This is a great way to network, stay current, and make connections in the industry.
There are usually workshops and events available for all levels of photographers, so there is something for everyone.
Always be prepared to learn
This is essential.
No matter how long you have been shooting, there is always something new to learn. This could be anything from a new technique, to learning about a new camera or software.
Never stop learning and expanding your knowledge base; it will only make you a better photographer.
Patience and persistence
Building a successful photography business takes time and a lot of hard work. It’s doubtful that you will see success overnight, no matter how talented you may be.
It’s important to have patience and persistence in order to keep going when things get tough and to keep working towards your goals.
Go for it!
Do you have what it takes to be a professional photographer? If you possess the skills and traits listed in this article, then the answer is likely yes!
These are some of the most essential qualities that you will need to be successful as a pro photographer. So if you’re willing to put in the hard work, then go for it! The photography industry is a great place to be, and there are plenty of opportunities out there waiting for you.