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How Aspiring Photographers Turn into True Pros

Feb 25, 2007

Few things are more exhilarating than realizing that a beloved hobby can become a professional calling. Many established and successful photographers started off their careers as dedicated amateurs. But as with anything in life, there are pitfalls to watch out for and best practices to follow. If you’re ready to step up your game from a “labor of love” snapshooter to a “day job” professional photographer, here are a few things you need to keep in mind:

Always Be Prepared

Compliments from friends and family on your photos are great, but aren’t enough to seriously consider making the leap to paid work. If you’re serious about becoming a pro, your portfolio should reflect that. Clients want to see something of a similar quality to what’s published in magazines and on TV, which means that you’re not ready to launch your brand until you’ve taken a serious, in-depth look at both your skillset and your body of work. Better yet, a photography workshop or critique session with some local photographers (or failing that, an online community of professionals) will yield valuable insight on techniques you need to strengthen to be truly competitive. Additionally, portfolio reviews are generally available at many professional conferences. I do them regularly, both at conferences and as one-on-one private sessions.

On a similar note, a flashy website isn’t the guaranteed, client-grabbing solution that many think. Yes, your brand should be attractively displayed — but even the prettiest Web 2.0 facelift won’t help if you lack both the breadth and depth of technically proficient, aesthetically appealing shots.

Master the Fundamentals

You should be rock-solid in your core competencies — particularly lighting — before ever printing a business card. All too many aspiring photographers start branding before they fine-tune their craft. “Natural light” photographers often let their passion for natural lighting become an obstacle, and never learn the intricacies of using flash either in the studio or especially in the field. Sure, you can take stunning images in natural light — but a professional photographer can’t go on a shoot relying on the weather to cooperate with his/her artistic intentions.

Invest In Your Brand — Not Yourself

“Awesome!” you may think to yourself. “Now that I’m a pro, it’s time to go out and buy all that fancy equipment!” Don’t be so hasty — overinvesting in expensive equipment is a common pitfall for aspiring photographers. Expensive gadgets are no replacement for a deep knowledge of photographic principles, and every purchasing decision should be in your business’s long-term interests. Put down that single-use specialty lens and consider your basic setup first. It should always be remembered that the camera is nothing more than a tool. And as with all good tools, it is the operator that makes the difference.

That being said, don’t go too far in the other direction. If you’re an aspiring photographer and you’re serious about being paid for your services, having a minimum of one backup kit and lens is non-negotiable. The last thing you want is to be on a shoot (perhaps with a deadline) and see the dreaded “ERR-99” pop up on your only camera. There are many Internet guides that can help you balance cost with reliability — peruse a few of them and choose a second shooter, for both your business reputation and your peace of mind.

If you’re looking to turn your hobby into a profitable career, we can help. You’ll learn the basics of light and landscape photography from professional landscape photographer Jim Steinberg, and have the opportunity to network with other aspiring photographers. Visit our homepage today to learn more about our affordable classes, guided adventure trips, and wide selection of prints.

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