Photography is a great hobby. Actually, it is much more than a hobby – it’s a passion. Ordinary people like to take photos to capture important and/or beautiful moments in their lives. Photography lovers are trying to capture a glimpse of eternity. Yes, I know it sounds a little bit cheesy. But, a story told through a photograph can be more intriguing, alluring, and provoking than sight in front of our eyes. And I am not talking about fine art or landscape photography.
Freezing the right moment in time or some lighting tricks can tell a better story than the one that unravels in reality. Just think of wedding photos. All weddings are alike: happy people mingling, talking, and enjoying wedding meals. But, in photos, you can see romance, tension, expectation, genuine happiness, and fake polite smiles. Or food photos: food always looks more exquisite and yummy than it really is. And I can keep on like this for a long time.
Every hobbyist photographer has probably wondered at least once if it is a good idea to turn a hobby into a career. The universal answer to this question doesn’t exist. It depends on your motivation and vision. If you’re a brain surgeon and have a great eye for photography, chances are you won’t give it all up to pursue a career in photography. However, if you are considering a career in photography, I’ll share some thoughts, tips, and guidelines with you. I will consider possible obstacles as well, so you can understand what lies ahead if you decide to join the club of professional photographers.
You have an eye for detail, you have a decent technical knowledge, and you’re capturing great photos for years. So, do you need a formal education to start a career as a photographer? The simple answer is no. It is not necessary to have a degree for most jobs in the photography business. At the same time, it’s better to have it. Let me put it like this. There are many accomplished, virtuoso guitar players without formal musical education. They just played the guitar since forever and learning some rules and techniques along the way. There are many more examples in other arts or crafts. But, that’s the harder way and it requires a lot of talent.
A decent education will give you some advantages. First, you’ll get some framework and the most effective order of skills to improve quicker. That way you can avoid some trial and error experiences and save some time. It won’t hurt your CV, either.
“Success is not final, failure is not fatal: it is the courage to continue that counts.” – Winston Churchill
Anyhow, if you have experience but not the education, it might be tricky and time consuming to go back to school. So, try to educate yourself. Actually, you can get your degree online these days. There are also many reputable courses to take.
None of this is a must, but it is recommendable. Solid fundamental knowledge is the best springboard to help you improve.
Find Your Niche
No matter how talented you are, you can’t excel at all photography genres. Furthermore, you need to have your target market. That will help you to focus and advertise better. Otherwise, you will have uncontrollable chaos. However, choosing your field of expertise is rather difficult. You need to consider genres that you excel at, but you also have to analyze commercial potentials. For example, if you’re interested in wedding photography and your town is flooded with wedding photographers, you might want to try something else. Maybe event photography, or pre-wedding sessions and family photos.
The way you see your photos doesn’t necessarily reflect other people’s opinions about your images. Show your photos to your friends. The more feedback you get, you will have a better picture of what do other people appreciate about your photos.
“You cannot possibly hit the shutter without leaving a piece of you in the image.” – Joe Buissink
At the same time, don’t limit yourself too much. It is also a good idea to keep your options open. So, focus on one or two genres, but keep working in other genres occasionally. These ventures out of your basic business plan may improve your budget in the beginning. Experimenting with different techniques and approaches improves your skills overall. And you never know. These side gigs may turn out to be more lucrative and easier to lend.
Create a Business Plan
This sounds obvious, but I’ll mention it anyway. You already know that every shooting session needs careful preparation and planning. An action plan will help you track your progress and execute the right steps at the right times. For example, chances are you already have some decent equipment. But, as a professional, you will need to invest in gear to cover all possibilities. Buying all that you may ever need is too much of an investment for your start. So, you should make the priority list, buy the most important gear and upgrade it over time as your business grows.
The rest is the same as for most businesses. Set realistic, clear, and measurable goals. And don’t worry if it isn’t working exactly as you planned. It never does. Sometimes it works better, though.
Connect with Other Photographers
Communication skills are very important for photographers. For starters, you’ll need to connect with as many people as possible. It is the way to get more opportunities and to spread your name around. Connecting with fellow photographers is a good idea.
Try to set up meetings, show them your work, and ask them about their experiences and opportunities in your area. Not all of them will be ready to share, but you may gain some friends and colleagues. You may offer your services as a second shooter to more experienced photographers. It’s a great way to gain some experience and learn your business.
Portfolio and Social Media
Back in the day, it took a lot of effort to approach potential clients. You needed to set up meetings to show your work, visit parties and places where potential clients gathered and stuff like that. Today, everyone’s on social media. When people are looking for a photographer, chances are they would search Instagram first. While there’s nothing wrong with old-fashioned meddling and connecting with people in the real world, your online presence is a must.
So, before you even get started, invest some time and effort to create amazing social media accounts, especially Instagram, portfolio website and a blog. You can’t really overestimate the online presence. Most clients will start the conversation asking about your blog and how many people follow you on social media. Social media will make your work visible for thousands of people. It is a timesaver, not to mention your energy and effort. Actually, in this modern era, the majority of deals are made through social media.
In the past, a portfolio used to be, probably the most important piece of the puzzle to land jobs. It still is, but it became a part of your larger social media campaign. While you grow your portfolio, focus on quality instead of quantity and express your style. Your portfolio is not just a collection of your best works. It should also tell a story about you and your original style.
While digital portfolio allows you to get even more creative, you will still need a good old-fashioned printed portfolio as well. Some clients prefer printed versions so it’s better to have it all covered.
I could talk about this all day long. I can think of dozens of more specific tips and tricks that might be helpful. But, I decided to stick to the basics. Too much information can be overwhelming and counterproductive. Tips are helpful, otherwise, I wouldn’t be writing this article, but at the end of the day, it all comes down to your skills and talent. Useful guidelines can help you avoid some common mistakes. I like to look at it as a sort of framework that keeps your projects from scattering and falling apart. But, the essence is your talent and your vision. Ultimately, it is not the framework, but honing of your skills and gifts that will bring you success.
So, follow your vision, practice and persevere. I can’t promise you that it will be easy, but it will be worth it.