How to Start a Career in Photography – An Essential Guide

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learn to start a career as a photographer.

Have you ever wondered how to start a career in photography? Working as a professional photographer for over 15 years, at one time, I was in your very same shoes. I couldn’t imagine working in an office or for anyone else but for myself. It was a long road, but I now work full time as a photographer living my dream job every day with my own business! This article will explore the ways you can do the exact same thing!

Things to Consider Before Becoming a Full-Time Professional Photographer

Professional photography is a passion for so many people, and many of you are scared to take the big leap into going into a full-time photography career. But it is possible! Take a look at these first steps to get started today and go full-time in the photography industry.

Cost of Gear

First, before you quit your day job, make sure you crunch the numbers to see if you have enough money to invest in the gear your photography niche requires. Whether you want to get into wedding photography, landscape photography, wildlife photography, or a variety of other niches, you need the right gear.

A great place to get started is to Google the niche of photography you love and look at what type of gear you need to get started. Remember, you don’t have to spend big in the beginning. You can invest in the basic professional equipment to get you started. Your camera gear should include a professional photography camera body, a few lenses, and a flash if your genre requires it.

Take a look at what other photographers recommend in your niche and research what you can afford to buy outside photography being just a hobby. If you can afford the necessary equipment, such as an expensive camera, keep going!

Your Niche

Next, you need to decide on which niche you want to specialise in. Many professional photographers just do wedding photography or family photography because they can be the highest money earners. But that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t explore other options you enjoy, such as real estate photography, pet photography, or fashion photography, for example.

It’s best to keep in mind that just because you love taking photos of your pets as a hobby doesn’t mean you will enjoy that as a full-time career in photography. So make sure you explore all niches and even volunteer to work for free for other local photographers to see if you like that niche as a freelance photographer before investing too much time and money in your photography business.

professional photographer with a client.

Your Income can be Inconsistent

Also, when you first get started, you need to be aware that your business income will not be consistent. For example, as a wedding photographer, you may make all your money in the spring and fall. With this in mind, you need to budget for the rest of the year when money becomes more sparse.

Even if you have your own studio, you need to plan for high and low periods of business and prepare yourself as well as your family to live in periods of income. Ask yourself, is this a lifestyle I can live in? Many professional photographers fail in the first 5 years because they discover they simply can’t earn enough year around. So take the time to crunch your finances and income to see if a photography career can work for you.

Do you have the time to commit to a full-time business?

So you took the time to learn photography, and you love the idea of making digital photography a business, but do you have the time to fully commit to running a photography business? Many photographers don’t realise when they first start out that you have to wear many hats as a photographer. You cannot simply go out with your photography gear, take photos and call it a day.

You have to be an accountant, social media manager, administrator, networker, and much more. As your business grows, you can outsource some of these jobs, but more money comes with practical experience. So make sure you have a solid foundation and the time to commit to running a photography business full time and not just in your free time.

Preparation for Starting a Career in Photography

Here are a few tips and tricks you can use to prepare your photography business to launch full time. These are things that are sure to make you feel confident in your work before you start asking for paying clients.

Find a Mentor

Finding a mentor is one of the most important things you can do to prepare for professional work. You will learn such skills as how to find potential clients, industry standards, and if the career path is right for you by studying under someone who is already working full time as a photographer.

Even better, many photographers are looking for help, especially a wedding photographer or other high-stress photography genres. By working for a small fee or for free, you will learn many other aspects of the job that you may not learn on your own before.

photographers practicing their skills.

Get Professional Education

Online courses are a great way to better prepare yourself for your career choice in photography. There are several courses to choose from, but some of the best cover everything you need to know about the business of photography, including marketing, accounting, outsourcing, and even how to choose a business name.

What are the qualifications needed to become a professional photographer?

A professional degree is not required in the industry to be accepted as a photographer. Most people take online courses to learn new skills. When you learn online, you can find time easily to devote to learning instead of having to go somewhere on a set schedule, such as a university. If you are currently a photographer working on weekends, taking courses is a great way to fast-track your photography career.

Learn Film Photography

This may seem backward in your photography career path, but it’s actually a very useful skill to master before starting a full-time career in photography. By learning film, you will get a feel for the foundations of where photography originated from and the simplicity of using shutter speed and other exposure settings to create images.

You want to get the good practice of not over shooting, which film photography helps you to do as well. Lastly, many clients love the idea of mixing film with digital photography for their images. This can be something special you offer the clients that will help you beat the competition.

Certificate Courses

If you want to have a good career in photography, you need to find ways to set yourself apart from the thousands of other photographers in your area. Apart from freelance work, look into certificate courses that help you learn valuable skills that local photographers may not know, such as how to operate a drone or work with complicated lighting setups.

Some photographers still don’t understand these concepts, and it will help you to feel more confident in your own work as well.

Join Photography Groups and Communities

Being a photographer is a lot more than just taking photos. It’s important that you join groups to learn what is trending in the photography market. Also, you may feel inspired by photographers or find someone to assist. You can also connect with photographers in an online group to find inspiration and indulge in creative discussions.

Be helpful to other photographers, especially other pros. A career as a professional photographer is a very difficult way to make a living, so help out. Share info and equipment if you can. Be tolerant and friendly to amateur photographers who ask for your help. They show their love and respect for something you believe in.

Once your own business grows, you will have a group to refer to for other photographers to assist you or sell your old equipment. Connecting with other people and especially photographers is one of the best things you can do for your career in photography.

a group of photographers.

Photography Business – Basic Steps

So you have your social media accounts set up and a lot of photography gear, you’re ready to go? Right? Stop right there, and take a look at these basic steps to start your business as a photographer.

1. Domain Name

First, take some real time when choosing a domain name. This name should be easy to spell, connect to your brand, and easy to remember. If you have a hard-to-spell name, maybe rethink the name of your company.

Also, many website templates come with an easy-to-buy domain system. Check out sites like SmugMug, Pixpa, and WordPress to explore a variety of options and templates for your website and domain name.

2. Branding

During the course of your career, you need to create a unique brand that sticks. When you pick up your camera and show up to any shoot, you should be able to easily tell customers who you are and what you do. Branding comes down to every detail of your company, including fonts, colours, images, logos, and much more!

First, start off by exploring inspiration sites such as Pinterest or Instagram to see what local photographers are doing. Choose the top three and ask yourself why I am attracted to their branding? Then find ways to work that into your own branding.

Of course, do not steal people’s ideas, but instead, spin them around to make them work with your portfolio and website. Look for tips from others that can help you grow your own branding.

3. Identify your Dream Clients

If you want your business to be successful, you need to really narrow down who your dream customers are. You should know everything about them. Where do they live? How much money do they earn? What are their interests? What is their career? What problems can you solve for them through your photography?

If you feel unsure, learn how to find your dream clients and define who they are. This is one of the most important steps you will take in your business.

building your professional photography portfolio.

4. Portfolio

Next, to stay on course for success, take a long hard look at your portfolio. You should never post a single image you don’t love on your website. You need to be very picky about what you are sharing with your potential customers.

As Hemingway once said about his books “kill your darlings”. Only show your best work that will surely connect with your dream customers. If you are feeling unsure, ask your past customers or family and friends for feedback. Take it a step further by paying a professional photographer to critique your portfolio.

5. Pricing

Pricing the services is one of the top parts of the business that makes photographers uncomfortable. They don’t know their own worth. How much should you charge? Well, this is a question that comes on many levels. First, you need to consider what your customers are willing to pay for your services?

Next, consider what they are getting besides photography. Include in your pricing things such as your years of experience, courses, certificates, personality, specialties, and film cost. You should never only consider your photography services alone in your pricing, it’s about so much more than just that!

legal contract for photography services.

6. Contracts

You may think you don’t need a contract. Think again. No matter what type of photography genre you decide to jump into, you should always have a contract with your client to protect you and your customers.

If you don’t know where to get started, head on over to or professional photographers of America. PPA offers members free legal advice and lawyers to go to work for you when you need help most. The membership is worth that price alone.

7. Unique Selling Points

What makes you different from other photographer businesses? Are you great with kids? Do you make your customers laugh? Do you shoot film? Do you know how to use a drone? Sit down and write out some things that are unique to your personality and your work.

This list is the special skill set that is going to propel you to greatness! You need to figure out your unique selling points so you can push them in everything from your branding to your networking. If you are unsure, ask your family and friends what special traits they think are unique to you.

photographers networking.

8. Network Network Network

Lastly, the key to starting your own photography business is networking! You need to go out and tell everyone who you are and what you do.

Come up with an elevator pitch to help people learn about your business. Go to networking events, photography workshops, wedding events, family fairs, and much more. Depending on your niche, you should be spending half of your time working with others and helping them learn about your business.

When people need a photographer in your genre, your name should be the first one to pop into their brain because they met you and liked you. Networking doesn’t have to be just in person either, and you can network on social media and other internet platforms.

Rules of Professional Photography

You must never be a part of the situation you are shooting, whether it is a wedding or a news event, or a family gathering. You must learn to be an unattached observer or you alter the purity and honesty of the events before you. You must not photograph people when you are in a private place unless you have their permission. That is an invasion of privacy and against the law.

If you get their permission you are well advised to tell those folks what you intend to do with the photo. In fact, you may not sell that photograph for commercial purposes, even though you received permission to photograph the person, unless you have a “Photo Release” form from that person, giving you the right to use the picture for commercial use.

If you are on public property and manage to photograph something that transpires on private property you may use that photograph for your personal use, and have it published in a legitimate media – like a newspaper or Internet website – however, you may not sell, or use, that photograph for the purposes of making money off of it.

Being a photographer carries the responsibility of never altering a photograph. (You can lighten, darken, sharpen, or crop the image and be safe. To alter is to “Make or become different in some particular way, without permanently losing one’s or its former characteristics or essence (compromising the purity and integrity of the art). Photography has an inherent quality of honesty and you must have the courage to stand by the image.

family portrait.

Final Thoughts on Getting Success in Your Photography Career

There you have it! All the steps you need to reach real success in your photography career. Becoming a full-time photographer is so much more than just earning extra cash. It’s really about showing up to a career every day that you love and growing as a person.

Your creativity will be sparked, you will inspire others, and you will create a vision for others they may not have been able to create themselves. So pick up your camera today and go out there ready to reach success. You are your only real obstacle, and by following these steps, you are sure to kick start your career as a photographer.

Whether you want your photos shown in National Geographic or call your home your office, there is a photography job out there for everyone with a little patience and time.

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Krystal Kenney is an award-winning photographer residing in Paris, France. She has been photographing for over 10 years and enjoys teaching others about the craft. She spends most days shooting events, portraits, and weddings around Paris and working on writing new books.
Krystal Kenney is an award-winning photographer residing in Paris, France. She has been photographing for over 10 years and enjoys teaching others about the craft. She spends most days shooting events, portraits, and weddings around Paris and working on writing new books.

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  1. Hi Krystal
    I am looking for to learn new techniques on photography and editing images. Can you please help me how can I start. What should be my first step?

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