How to become a professional photographer

A good photographer – amateur or professional – has a blend of technical expertise, creative talent and patience. A professional photographer also needs self-discipline and a good head for business. Although some professional photographers are fully employed by newspapers, advertising studios, government bodies etc., the majority are self-employed. This means varying schedules, irregular hours and more time spent on creating business, keeping up with new technology and processing images than actually taking photographs.

Obviously the basis for becoming a professional photographer is to learn the craft of photography.

Although many photographers are self-taught, there are also various courses in photography that lead to recognized qualifications. Having reached a competent level, entering images in photographic competitions, especially those which provide a clear feedback, gives a good indication of the level achieved and successful entries are an aid when looking for work.

At this stage, based on individual talents and preferences, the decision may already have been reached as to what type of photography appeals most. And there are several, such as photojournalism, scientific, commercial & industrial, portrait and fine art. A degree is virtually essential to get into photojournalism or scientific photography.

For commercial & industrial photography, a part-time job or an apprenticeship with a good professional is the best way to get a foot on the ladder. For other freelance photography, a part-time job or an apprenticeship with a good professional is also a plus, and taking a course or reading up on business management can save costly mistakes.

However, provided the talent is there, dogged determination will also bring results in the end. Compare your images with those taken by established photographers, look at websites, photo magazines, show your photos around, listen to criticism, be self-critical. Create a portfolio with outstanding shots, not just good, but truly outstanding ones. Keep submitting work to competitions. If your aim is portraiture, don’t be afraid of asking people to sit for you. Contact local celebrities, they may be pleased to have a good portrait. Consider a project of local shopkeepers or other businesses that a local newspaper may publish or that could be used for an exhibition. Submit, or if possible, arrange to present your portfolio to magazines and art directors. Get the latest copy of a free-lance photography marketing guide with information on magazines, greeting cards, book publishers etc. And above all stay focused on your goal.