A photograph is not necessarily a lie, but it isn't the truth, either. It's more like a fleeting, subjective impression. - Martine Franck
It seems such a long time ago that film photography was avantguarde! Darkroom developing and retouching was a skill set few could master, and associated businesses, like galleries and framing shops, thrived.
At the dawn of the digital era, established photographers with solid reputations had to adapt to, and learn how to use the technology that currently drives the art of photography.
Even as the technology itself wasn't yet equal to the quality of images captured on film.
There is no such transition for beginner photographers in these modern times.
Young, passionate pursuers of perfection behind the lens, who are so very adept at social media and computer applications, capture images on digital SLR cameras as though the art of film photography had never existed.
In spite of the ease that technology has brought to the world of photography, is it an easy market to break into?
Can anyone become a famous photojournalist or documentary photographer?
Let Superprof guide you down the path, to the rarefied field of professional photography.
What Does it Take to Become a Professional Photographer?
One could hardly call themselves a photographer simply because they point a camera and captures images.
Sorry, selfie takers!
The professional photographer has several arrows in his quiver, of which taking pictures is only one - a small but vital part of the overall profession.
Besides pushing the shutter button - with all that that entails, they must:
Process images and, if needed, conduct post processing of colours and contours
Digital images would be treated using Photoshop or other software; analog prints would be retouched.
Market one's business
Advertise services, network and deal with customers; maintain blogs and social networks, online galleries and portfolios; satisfy reprint orders...
Finally, there are the logistics; those aspects of running a business of any type:
Accounting, insurance, studio rental; photography equipment and supplies associated with being a photographer; paying staff if you are so in demand that hiring assistants is warranted...
By this breakdown we see that a professional photographer must embody many qualities: creativity – not just behind the lens but also in writing about photography in blogs and on social media.
Said media requires one to be a good communicator, too!
In fact, photography is a form of visual communication: it is storytelling in pictures.
The best photographs evoke powerful emotions. Thus, in visual, written and spoken form, professional photographers are required to express themselves.
What about technique?
Yes, photographers are masters of composition, and know exactly how to set a scene for maximum effect.
Portrait photographers know how to pose their subjects; fashion photographers instruct models, and commercial photographers set customer's products to best advantage for shooting advert photos.
Technique alone does not a stirring photograph make! It must also be infused with passion.
You will supply the passion. For technique, we recommend either:
- a BA Honours degree in photography
- a Level 3 certificate
- apprenticing with an established, experienced photographer
It is possible to learn how to photograph simply by working with a professional, especially one who is renown in the type of photography you wish to specialise in.
A landscape photographer operates under a completely different set of parameters than, say a studio photographer or event photographer.
We will discuss the importance of specialising a little further on in this article on becoming a professional photographer.
Become a Photographer without a Formal Qualification
Let us emphasise: it is much easier to establish yourself as a professional photographer if you have proper education credentials.
However, it is entirely possible to become a professional photographer without attaining a degree.
If you are certain you have mastered the basics of photography, there are steps to parlaying your passion into a full-time occupation.
- Invest in quality photographic equipment: a DSLR, an assortment of lenses and filters; various supports for your camera – straps, tripod and beanbag; a case to carry everything in...
- master fundamental concepts and tricks you can use to increase depth of field; aperture settings and shutter speed
- the Internet is rife with video tutorials; both on YouTube and on various photographers' websites. View them all!
- Understand rules of composition: incorporate the rule of thirds into your technique; the idea of it being that, if the focus of the image is slightly off-center, it will be more attractive and engaging.
- Practice! Never leave your home without your trusty camera. You never know when something picture-worthy will present itself!
Again we affirm: knowing how to photograph is one thing; making a career out of photography is another animal altogether.
Besides gaining a formal education, you should build and maintain: a website, a portfolio, a loyal client base and assistants... be they models, or an extra pair of hands to help set up your shoots.
Check for free photography courses here.
When to Call Yourself a Photographer
So far, we've discussed what qualities and equipment professional photographers should have; now let us talk about the other components of photography masters and training as a professional photographer.
In as much as photo editing software requires a lot of processing power and memory, your computer system should have adequate amounts of both.
When working in RAW, lightroom and PhotoShop, your worst nightmare would be a system crash, followed closely by lock-ups from working expansive images on a sub-par system.
When you are working under a deadline, speed is of the essence. Thus, we recommend a suitable system – though not necessarily top-of-the-line.
That is just the pro photographer's first priority in going digital!
Next, you should ensure that you have:
- adequate and up to date photo manipulation software: many who have gone pro swear by Adobe products, although there are others out there.
- A calibration probe: imagine getting the client's images perfectly balanced: great contrast and optimal white balance, only to print said images and find the colour a bit off.
- A means of storage: external hard drive; memory cards or DVDs – one or several for each client. These can easily be retrieved should a client request additional prints.
- Cloud storage is also an option.
To get a return on your investment of all of this equipment, you will have to find and retain a stable of clients.
Pro photography implies the artist behind the lens is, at least in part, an entrepreneur: proving his skill behind a camera and promoting his images, all while attracting clients!
Once you've settled on a specialty, the very first consideration in going pro is: what to name your business?
That one is easy! It is your business; name it after yourself!
Evocative names like Olde Tyme Photography could get you in trouble if all of your equipment is digital.
Besides, when you create your website, you would want no confusion with any other services bearing the same name.
Try conducting a search for Olde Tyme Photography; you will find a multitude of hits!
You will want your site to stand out. Publicising under your name implies that you will stand by your products, and clients find that more trustworthy than any catchy name.
When you marry your name to your Wix, Tumblr or WordPress page, your customers will have several points of reference to direct them straight to you.
Getting to the point where you advertise your services suggests that you have decided what type of photography you will specialise in.
You could choose from:
- Portraiture, which might include family pets, or you may only want to photograph babies
- Macro photography – taking pictures of tiny subjects, like jewellery, insects, and machine components
- Commercial photography: taking snaps for adverts, for brochures, etc
- travel photography
- Animal photography
Whichever category of photography you settle on, know that you will have to promote yourself by every means possible.
On FaceBook, Pinterest, Instagram, LinkedIn: the more you are seen, the more business you will attract!
Search for "photography courses near me" and start learning how to take great photos.
Specialising in Animal Photography
Animal photography is a special branch of the art. If you love animals and want to take your photographic career to the next level, animal photography is one way to proclaim that intent!
There are no special qualifications or education required to become a wildlife photographer. However, it would be a good idea to apprentice with an established master, just to pick up on some of the tricks of the trade.
Or, you could go it alone: teach yourself how to capture magnificent beasts in their habitat.
To do so safely demands a thorough knowledge of your subjects' habitat and lifestyle.
You could put yourself in great danger, arriving for a shoot of bighorn sheep in the Canadian Rockies, only to discover young bucks leaping about and bashing each other in the head, in full rut!
That should be a close-up you would capture from a safe distance, with a telephoto lens...
Although stunning imagery of the animal kingdom inspires more than a few aspiring photographers into that field, the truth is that it is hard to break into.
Many wildlife photographers recommend taking on a different aspect of the metier for your bread and butter, or a different line of work altogether.
If you are adamant that wildlife photography is the career path for you, please heed this advice:
- Study your subjects well: know where and how they live, their life cycle and their temperament
- set up your shot with the desired picture in mind, to minimise stress on the animal and danger to yourself
- become mute; a part of the background
- do not try to sequester the animal or provoke a reaction from it
- be patient; ready to sit or squat for hours, if necessary, to get that money shot
Professional wildlife photographers generally use a 300mm lens as a baseline.
Even if your subject animal is of no particular danger to you, it would be best to follow their lead: stay as far away as possible, to avoid impacting its environment.
Two more ideas to consider about wildlife photography:
We recommend that you draw inspiration from animal photographers like Will and Matt Burrard-Lucas, who are committed to conservation and are fervent supporters animal and planet advocacy associations.
Now, on a lighter note...
While shoot is a perfectly acceptable and correct synonym for taking a photograph, please do not use it in conjunction with animals!
Saying “I went to shoot mountain lions today” just might incur the wrath of ecologists and animal protectors everywhere!
The Fundamentals of Freelance Photography
Unless employed by a business, every professional photographer is, in essence, a freelancer.
If you are new to digital photography, are an amateur photographer with high-reaching goals, or only just learning photography, here is some food for thought.
As a freelancer:
You would have no studio overhead; virtually no overhead at all, since you already own the equipment.
Your job would be primarily to promote your services, and then, once on contract, to go on location and capture the desired images.
The downside to such a position is feast or famine.
The independent photographer has to stand out among others this crowded field, advertise and network ferociously and, in the end, may still not earn enough to live comfortably, even if they copyrights every image for future revenue from reprints.
The good news is that you do not have to come up with a business plan, pay employees or account for a failed business.
As a freelance photographer, you could arrange for your shoots to take place when you are not scheduled to your bread and butter job.
The Established Photographer
This artist maintains a studio complete with posing tables, lighting equipment and, possibly, has assistants at the ready.
They could work exclusively in her brick and mortar establishment as a portrait photographer, go out on location – maybe as a wedding photographer, or a combination of both.
Her sub-specialty might be landscape photography or night photography, but studio photography would be her true money maker.
They may give photography training to a few apprentices in return for their service as assistants, or might host workshops on studio lighting or photographic techniques for a fee.
They may even host an online photography course!
Whether you are freelance or established as a bona fide business, you will have to register with HMRC and pay taxes on your earnings.
In all, it would be best to start your career in photography as a weekend freelancer, advertising your particular brand of photography and taking your best shots on nights and weekends.
If you are successful – at photo editing, at marketing your skill, at completing any assignment, you may later give up your day job and focus exclusively on bringing more beauty into the world.
If you don't meet the level of success you hoped for...
Nothing ventured; nothing gained.
You own the equipment, and nobody can take your talent at capturing images away. In short: you have lost nothing by trying.
Let's say you are adamant about someday running your own photography studio, and no platitude will ever dissuade you. If that is the case, take a look at our blog for independent photographers.
Photography Courses: the Best Route to Going Pro
Although photographers in the UK are not required to take formal education in the discipline, it would be most helpful for you to attend photography school.
Here is why:
You will learn not only how to use every feature and setting on your digital camera, but how to manipulate images, using Adobe lightroom, among others.
But then, you advance further into the world of photography by learning:
- the history of photography
- how to use natural light
- exposure times, and other camera settings
- photography composition
- image editing
- marketing your images
- how to protect your images: copyrighting your work
After your three years in photography class, you will obtain a degree that will open doors to your future career that you would not have access to without that formation.
Look up some photography courses online.
Among other benefits, many photography schools in the UK offer job placement and ongoing mentoring, even after graduation!
To sum things up:
- You do not need to take photography lessons in a classroom; the UK does not require any special licensing or certifications to freelance or go pro as a photographer.
However, you stand to gain much – in reputation, in credibility and in mentoring, if you to earn a degree that attests to your photography skills!
- It does little good to capture a money shot if you do not have the skills and equipment necessary to process and edit it.
Film photographers need a darkroom and chemicals; digital photographers require Photoshop lightroom or an equivalent computer program.
And, speaking of computers: yours should be powerful enough to handle the job!
- To more effectively market yourself, you should specialise: pick a branch of photography that you are particularly passionate about.
Conversely, you could opt for those that pay better, such as commercial photography or being a wedding photographer, if photography is all you want to do.
- Consider hiring an agent or, at least, an assistant.
Maintaining social media pages and your web site; promoting your images, showing them and hustling for jobs...
On one hand, a photographer is a pragmatic business person; on the other, an artist. It can be distressing to reconcile the two, in order to make a living at photography!
That is why it makes sense to have a business partner for the logistics, while you produce art.
Has all of this information helped you find your way into the career of your dreams?