I often get asked what it’s like to work as a professional photographer. Here are my top 10 tips.
If you want to work as a professional photographer, be prepared to work hard.
It seems like obvious advice, but I can’t underestimate it. Working as a professional photograper is hard, hard work.
Photography is one of the most popular hobbies in the world, so it would make sense that there would be a lot of people who would love the idea of finding a way to make a living from the thing that they enjoy the most.
The reality, however, is that photography as a hobby and photography as a job are two very different things.
Know the difference between shooting images for pleasure, and doing it for a job.
The taking of images as a professional photographer is really just one small part of the actual job – and often it’s by far the easiest parts.
To work as a professional photographer, you have to be able to work with a huge variety of people, in different environments, in all sorts of timetables. You have to find the work, or be prepared to work under the conditions that an employer would present to you; you have to deal with the co-ordination of shoots; invoicing costs, paying bills and the administrative side of running a business. When you photograph for pleasure, you shoot what you want, when you want – and where you want. You also get to pack up and go home when you want.
When you work as a professional photographer, you photograph what’s required, when it’s required, where it’s required. It can be one of the most enjoyable jobs in the world – and the opposite on other days. But I guess most jobs are like that.
Don’t believe social media – it’s not nearly as glamorous as it looks.
Again – this is probably true of most things!
Social media is a great invention – and I believe it’s brought a lot of good to the world – but you need to have wisdom when you scroll and have the ability to read between the lines.
That picture of the Taj Mahal may look magical, but behind the camera is a photographer who has 2 seconds before they’re pushed out of the way by the hordes of tourists who want their turn. That same photographer is also possibly a little homesick, suffering from a bit of Delhi belly, and paying their way around the world. I know that’s true – #beentheredonethat.
Photography is a difficult industry to make a living in – and I think it will probably only get more difficult. Diversification is something that I see from a lot of other photographers – and it’s a sensible idea.
Diversification is a great way to fill in the peaks and troughs that a photography career can often throw your way. The alternative financial income is useful, but the ability to enjoy what you do is definitely the biggest benefit. As a photographer, people need you to be creative – and you need to be able to enjoy what you do in order to be as creative as you can be. You need to be able to enjoy your work as a professional photographer.
If it’s not working, that’s ok. Not everybody can make it work as a professional photographer.
Surround yourself with people who can be honest with you. That may sometimes mean that you get told things you’d rather not hear, but that’s better than being in a false economy. You will always have people around you who tell you that your photos are the most beautiful they’ve ever seen – that may be true – but it also might be your friends and family being, well, friends and family. Find people who don’t need to be nice to you – and listen to their advice. The biggest compliment people can pay you is by using their wallet; then you know they mean it!
Photography is very, very competitive, and it’s also really hard to work as a photographer. When I was studying photography in 2005, I was told that there were more people studying photography at that point in time than there were people working in the whole industry combined. No doubt that figure has risen since as more people explore digital photography – so it’s important to be realistic about what the job prospects are.
It’s not impossible to work as a photographer, but it’s also rare. Better to photograph for pleasure and enjoy it, than try to do it for money and not.
Photograph subjects that you don’t want to photograph
This. This is great advice.
If you want to be working as a professional photographer, then you should photograph subjects, people and environments that you don’t want to.
Taking photographs of things you enjoy is great fun and great therapy – but it won’t push you out of your comfort zone in the way that photographing subjects you don’t want to photograph do.
By being pushed out of your comfort zone, you learn how to deal with those environments, and hopefully how to manage them. I’m a better photographer now because of the difficult jobs that I’ve had to photograph in challenging situations. Probably not my favourite days of shooting, but definitely some of my most valuable.
Know your value – and your cost.
Those first few pounds that you make as a photographer are some of the most enjoyable – and some of the most valuable.
The excitement of selling your first photograph is worth more than what you are likely to get paid, but it’s important to understand the value and cost of your work if you want to earn a living from photography.
Every business model will be totally different, so set your own – but keep in mind that this is a business and will attract business costs. For every pound that I aim to earn, I aim to turnover two. That will pay for the costs of running a business, paying taxes, national insurance, pensions, kit – all the fun stuff.
You will be surrounded by people who want to use your services for ‘free exposure’; it’s not always a terrible idea, but offer the same option back, and see who sticks around to take you up on the offer.
Photography is an expensive hobby – and it’s an expensive career. My photography tutor once told me that the best way to make a small fortune in photography was to start out with a big one, and he was right!
That being said, investment is no bad thing. This isn’t just about spending money on kit, but investing in time to learn, time to practice, time to study, time to get out and meet people – it’s all worthwhile.
Don’t get too tempted by kit
Cameras and kit are addictive. To fall in love with the captured image is a life long relationship – but it can also be an expensive one!
Camera manufacturers are always releasing new kit, and they’re always promising how this new camera is groundbreaking and better than the previous ‘groundbreaking’ new camera that they released 10 months ago. It’s often true – but you can resist.
Learning to make do with the equipment you have will often make you a better photographer as it forces you to learn how to use the equipment you have to its full potential.
When you do decide to upgrade your kit, you’ll find plenty of great options at many of the trade-in websites – especially Ffordes Photographic and MPB. Renting a piece of kit can also be a great way to try out a new camera before you commit to the purchase. I’d recommend Hire a Camera for that purpose.
Know how to market yourself as a professional photographer
This advice is perhaps more suited to those who want to pursue a career as a freelance photographer – it’s all about marketing yourself and finding those clients.
Spending the time (and money) to market yourself as a photographer can be a huge drain on resources, so it’s something you should only really commit to if you are open to the risk that there might not be a return.
People often ask me where I find my clients – and I can understand why – but the honest answer is really that you have to go out and find your own. Personally I find work from a range of sources – unfortunately, photography work tends to be a ‘one-time client’ with weddings etc. – so it’s important to be constantly marketing yourself to provide the level of work you need to both pay for your salary and your associated costs.
I am a professional photographer based in Inverness, the capital of the Scottish Highlands. I shoot a range of subjects in a range of places – concentrating on working with overseas clients who are travelling to Scotland for projects. I also shoot some travel assignments each year – usually spending approximately 5 weeks of each year overseas.
I’ve now been working as a professional photographer since 2005 when I took my first paid assignments working with some of Scotland’s leading broadsheet newspapers.
You can view some of my travel work here, my wedding photography work here and my commercial photography portfolio here. I do a lot of work with couples coming from overseas to get married in Scotland, and you can view some of that work here.
I wrote this blog post because I am often asked how you can get started working as a professional photographer – I hope it’s of help on your journey!
P.s. The answer to the most important question? I shoot Canon.