Your Step-By-Step Guide on How to Become a Professional Photographer

Learning how to become a professional photographer will keep you busy, like this photographer at a photo shoot.

So you like to take photos. In fact, you take photos to the point that you are annoying to other people who beg you to stop taking pictures long enough to eat something.

Friends and relatives have admired your work on Facebook, Instagram and Snapchat. People ask you to take pictures of them all the time. You’ve even been paid money for some of your photos. You think you want to become a professional photographer, but you’re not sure how to do it.

Luckily, we can help.

10 Steps To Becoming a Professional Photographer

We have some tips and suggestions for you as you work towards becoming a professional photographer. Before you know it, you’ll be handing out business cards and shooting pictures for your clients.

  1. Start Doing Your Research

    It seems easy to say just start researching, but in reality, that’s what you need to do. Whichever camera you have chosen to shoot with,you need to grab the manual and become really familiar with it, learning all of the manufacturer tricks and shots they suggest. Become familiar with the vocabulary of cameras and art photography. Look back at some of your photos you have already taken, and make some notes on the parts of photography that you like, as well as the parts of the photos that you don’t like, or you think you could have done better. Look for photography blogs that you like, and start following them, because they might be able to provide you with tips you can use in your photography.

    Depending on how much experience you have taking photos, you may want to take some photography classes. Many cities or communities have classes in photography for free or nearly free. You might be able to find classes at community colleges, colleges or community colleges,as well as in libraries or art centers. Have a look around and see what you can find in your area. These classes can help you become a better photographer.

  2. Study Your Pictures

    Don’t wait until you are finished taking classes before you start taking pictures. Because you are now going to be taking pictures for your job, and those pictures have to look good for your clients, you need to practice — a lot. Practice on auto mode, play with shutter speed and aperture settings. Shoot pictures to help you practice timing and composition.

    While you are working and practicing your craft, begin a online journal or blog that’s 100% dedicated to displaying your photos. Once you’ve uploaded the photos, list the things you like and don’t like about each photo, because only then will you be able to get additional training and practice to focus your photography skills.

  3. Develop a Close, Personal Relationship with Your Camera

    Your knowledge of your camera has to be so good, your camera should be an extension of your arm. For that reason, you need to have a relationship with your camera as close (or almost as close, because that would be weird) as your relationship with your family or friends. You should be able to answer these questions quickly. How can you quickly adjust your camera’s ISO? Can you auto bracket on your camera? Are you able to take time-lapse pictures? What about double-exposure pictures? What is the fastest shutter speed, and when should you use it? How wide open can your lens be and still get a good shot? What is the sweet spot of your lens? We get that it sounds tedious, but if you want to be a professional — as opposed to an amateur — you have to know all of these features of your camera without even thinking about it.

    When you understand all of your camera gear, you can then assess its strengths and limitations. If you know the exact place on your lens where you get the sharpest pictures, and you know the limits of your ISO, you will be able to become a better photographer, even with your basic camera model.

  4. Become the Master of Your Domain

    We’re not talking about the Seinfeld episode, of course, but in order to become the master of your camera, you need to master the fundamentals so that your camera is on auto mode as little as possible. In order to do that, you need to be familiar with three essential parts of your camera: shutter speed, aperture and ISO (or International Standards Organization). These are called the essentials of your camera because their settings affect whether your image is in focus or not, and whether or not your image is too light or too dark. There are only so many things you can do with photo editing software to make your pictures look better, so you have to learn the basics. They’re kind of like the foundation for a house, the fundamentals help hold your pictures up and makes them look better.

    As you learn the fundamentals, you will need to take pictures to practice what you have learned. Try your aperture on many different settings to see how it affects your picture taking. Take different pictures at different shutter speeds. All of these things will help you learn your camera better.

  5. Move on to the Intermediate Level

    Now that you’ve graduated from the elementary school level of photography, let’s move forward and learn some more advanced techniques.

    First, there’s lighting. You need to discover that lighting is an essential tool for great photography. With lighting, a photo can turn anyone into Meghan Markle. If you can’t figure out lighting, your pictures will never be good enough to impress clients who are willing to pay you. Great photographers know that light manipulation allows them to make their own luck and take amazing photos whether the light is good or not.

    Like everything else we’ve talked about, in order to become skilled at light manipulation, you need to practice. You need to practice shooting with the sun in your face, and at your back, as well as right overhead. Practice with natural light and your photography subjects. Try creating silhouettes, and then try to shoot without creating one.

    In addition to learning about natural lighting techniques, professional photographers also work with strobe lighting, flashes, and reflectors. You will need to play with all of those studio lighting techniques to better your skills. While you are playing with the lighting, you also need to figure out how much money you will have to spend to get lighting kits appropriate for what you are doing. This might be a good time to read those photography blogs to see what they recommend, because why would you spend thousands of dollars for a lighting kit when you could possibly spend a hundred?

  6. Find Your Niche

    Now that you are taking some serious steps towards your photography business, you need to think about your photography focus. While it isn’t a bad idea to have a couple of areas you are good at, such as wedding and portrait photography, you will need to narrow down your focus. Is there a specific area you want to focus on? What kind of photography is your favorite? I have a friend that has made a career out of photographing people with their pets, because she is an animal lover and can always get the best out of people and animals.

    That being said, you need to think about your location and how many photography businesses are in your area. For example, if you love taking wedding photos, but there are dozens of wedding photographers who are already established in your area, you need to either choose a different area of expertise to begin with, such as portrait photography and then branch out once you’re established.

    When you have picked a couple of areas to focus on, you need to begin working on those specific skills that will make you stand out in your area. For example, if you want to photograph children, you need to work on your skills with children, especially getting them to sit and pose for you. If you are going to shoot real estate, you will need to practice shooting indoor and outdoor photos of homes and businesses. Wedding photographers have to be good at portrait photography as well as being able to photograph a wedding at daybreak, midday, dusk and evening.

  7. Master Editing Software

    It is not enough to take good photos, you have to be a master of editing as well. I’ll give you one (of thousands) good reason why. I shot a lady who wanted to do a portrait for her husband for their wedding anniversary. She wore a great outfit, and looked beautiful, but when we looked at the unedited photos, you could see some cellulite bumps on one of her legs. She was horrified. However, photo editing software helped me smooth out the bumps, and my customer was thrilled — so was her husband.

    Whether you work with Photoshop or Lightroom, get used to all of the ins and outs of the photo editing software. You’ll be glad you did, and so will your photos, because sometimes the software puts a little extra magic in your photos that sets them apart from the pack.

  8. Pay Attention to Feedback

    I really hope you are not too sensitive. If you are, being a photographer will be really hard for you, because you have to learn to take criticism and learn from it. If you consider that feedback on your photography skills is a way to help you get better rather than to hurt your feelings, you’ll get farther. That doesn’t mean, of course, that all of the feedback on your photography skills will be constructive.

    Find a skilled photographer, either a mentor for you, the teacher of your photography class, contest judges or even people in an online photography group. You are looking for objective feedback so that you can get better. Once you have received some feedback, and done a little crying, make a list of the things you need to improve on, and continue to shoot. You can always go back and get additional feedback once your self-esteem heals.

  9. Create A Portfolio and Outline Your Business

    While building a portfolio takes time, you can start with some of your practice shots that you or one of your feedback fans told you were particularly good. You can also add to your portfolio by staging a shoot for a friend, or offer friends discounted sessions so that you can use the pictures for your portfolio.

    Once you have your portfolio completed, the next step is to get your portfolio out there. Find photographer websites to put your portfolio on. Use the power of social media to share your work online and get other people interested in your photography. The more people who view your portfolio, the more likely you are to get jobs. Networking within photography clubs and photography interest groups is also a good idea.

Finding a business strategy is difficult, but not impossible. First, you need to begin with your mission, vision and goals for your business. What makes you passionate about photography? What do you want to accomplish with your photography? Think about coming up with a brand or logo, and begin to advertise your brand. There are lots of ways to get your name out there for advertising purposes without costing you a lot of money.

Perhaps one of the most important things about becoming a photographer is that even though you are practicing your craft as part of your business, you will still need to shoot and reshoot in order to learn new crafts and techniques that can only help your business grow. Try shooting objects and types of shots you’ve never done before.

With more skills, and constant advertising of your business through social media, networking and contacts, your business will continue to grow and prosper. Just think, before you know it, you will be working at a job you love, and paying yourself for doing it.

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Stephanie Walsh