One can stare at a photograph for a week and nevermore think of it. Or, you can glimpse an image that will haunt you for the rest of your life. - Joan Miro
Who hasn't ever dreamt of creating such imagery? Of being a professional photographer?
The real question is: how can you gain a foothold in this exciting field without necessarily partaking formal education, when the market is already saturated?
And, in these crowded conditions, how can you support yourself financially as an independent photographer?
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Photography The Right Equipment is Essential
Once you have mastered the basics of photography – light, sensitivity, composition and speed of image capture, all you need to do is practice!
Putting theory into practice is the first step into the world of independent photography.
To take that step, you should invest in quality photographic equipment.
Why, you ask?
Let us imagine that you have been contracted as a wedding photographer. You arrive, your camera bag replete with lenses and filters, tripod under your arm...
Only to find that the bride's eccentric uncle has a better setup than you do.
There goes your credibility as a professional photographer!
In a world where reputation makes the difference between getting hired or passed over, any tarnish on your name spells doom.
We're not saying you must buy top-of-the-line cameras and every type of lens available; just those that are up to the job.
And, that scenario is an exception, really. Would anyone at a wedding closely inspect and rate the photographer's equipment?
Let us reassure you: as long as you have reliable photographic equipment, you will be able to capture the moment the bride tosses her bouquet, thanks to your artistic flair and talent.
And, should an errant shadow mar that money shot, you can always spend a few minutes editing it out with PhotoShop.
If you are mad for film photography, a post processing retouch would be called for.
A well-equipped photographer usually has, at the ready:
- At least two camera bodies: should one fail, you will have a backup.
- Woe to the wedding photographer whose digital SLR (or 35mm Nikon) betrays him!
- An assortment of lenses and filters
- Attending workshops hosted by experienced photographers could help you select the ones for your specialty, so that you don't have to buy every type of lens or filter available.
- Camera flash, and other light sources; a light meter is a given
- memory cards... lots of memory cards!
- If you are a film photography buff, bring lots of film of different ISO speeds to your shoot. Don't forget black and white!
- Spare batteries for all of your equipment
- a monopod for action shots; a tripod for posed subjects.
- A case to carry it all
Being in possession of only photography equipment does not (necessarily) make you a professional photographer. Knowing how to manipulate images using computer software is the next vital step.
For this portion, we exclude the film photographer, with the full knowledge that s/he could scan developed images into the computer for editing, but... wouldn't that defeat the purpose of using film?
The shoot – the taking of pictures is obviously the fundamental part of the work of the photographer.
But then comes photo editing.
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Potential trouble comes when your computer bogs down, especially if you are working with Raw and/or Lightroom.
The more expansive the catalog of images, the slower they will be to load and edit. That could cost you precious time!
The antidote to that nightmare scenario would be:
- working on a computer that has plenty of processing power and memory. A high-end graphics card would help, too!
- Up-to-date image editing software: Photoshop, Lightroom, or others
- A calibration probe: there is nothing more frustrating than editing an image into a work of art, being proud of it... and watching it print lighter or darker than on screen
- Some form of backup storage, to keep on file the images already delivered to your customers: a cloud, but perhaps also DVDs, memory cards or external hard drives.
- Ideally, you should maintain client images readily available for 6 months to year, at the minimum. Should anyone want reprints of your copyrighted photos, you will be able to access them quickly!
A film photographer endures none of these issues!
After developing film in their chemical baths and retouching as needed, s/he would simply store the negatives. Should a client request reprints, the photographer would find that client's file and develop the negatives anew.
So far, this article has mainly been targeted to roaming photographers.
If being a portrait photographer – or studio photography in general strikes your fancy, you should invest in studio accoutrements: backdrops, studio lighting, props, posing tools and the like.
You don't necessarily need a diploma to become a professional photographer!
Go Pro: Choose Your Photographic Niche
Unless you are independently wealthy, one goal of establishing a career, in photography or otherwise, is to earn a living.
It is therefore perfectly acceptable to gravitate toward social photography: weddings, babies, baptisms; graduations, anniversaries and, yes!, even funerals.
These are the types of photography through which one stands to earn the most. Portraiture, of humans and of their pets, can also be quite lucrative.
Photographing events such as those is a good way of paying your dues; of getting your name out there: of marketing yourself and your photography skills.
To build, grow and retain a loyal customer base.
Let's suppose one of your faithful clients asks you to shoot his upcoming football match for his team's regional newsletter.
Sports photography is not your bailiwick!
Does client loyalty mean you can never say no?
Of course not!
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In fact, your customers would more greatly appreciate your honesty in turning down the job. They will respect your integrity.
So, even though the commission would pad your pocketbook, feel free to turn down jobs outside of your area of expertise!
In fact, calling a trusted colleague on your clients' behalf would cement their undying loyalty to you, their personal photographer.
It is better to turn down a job outside of your field of specialty than wing it, and possibly ruin your reputation.
With your expertise in a given area of photography well publicised, your chances at winning contracts grows exponentially.
French photographer Amélie Soubrié targets her business to expectant mothers and babies under 15 days old.
Does that seem a narrow field to you?
In fact, she is most in demand, for the very exclusivity that makes her seem inaccessible.
Bear in mind that 'exclusive' does not mean constant refusal of any other photography assignments.
We are all familiar with Andy Rouse's animal photography. However, when not chasing down hippos and bears, he occupies himself by photographing airplanes!
Plenty of niche photographers embrace a sub-specialty, or even other avenues of creative expression altogether!
The venerable and talented Mr. Rouse has published no fewer than fifteen books, whose sales generate a constant trickle of income.
Some photographers engage in commercial photography, macro photography or food photography between gigs, because those types of art expression are more reliable as an income stream.
Sub-specialising is a nifty way to network; to expand your client base. Those same clients might contract you later to request the type of photography you are most passionate about!
Every customer you meet in the course of commercial photography is a potential client for your special brand of photography.
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Qualities and Competences: What makes a Good Photographer
Let us right now disabuse your stereotype of the curmudgeonly artist who throws things around the studio, yet somehow manages to maintain a client base and take fantastic pictures.
Foul temper is not a desirable quality in a competent, professional photographer!
Whether you have successfully completed a university course in photography, attained a Level 3 certificate online, or whether you are self-taught: you should only call yourself a pro if you possess a measure of the following qualities:
Creativity and inventiveness
Ansel Adams, renown photographer of the American west, had no formal education in photography.
What drove him to capture the stark, poignant images was his father's emphasis on Ralph Waldo Emerson's urging to minimalism.
Shooting exclusively in black and white, making use of the available light; he made history by depicting nature scenes from a minimalist's perspective.
Excellent Communication Skills
By its very nature, photography is visual storytelling.
As such, the act of taking pictures means you are communicating your visions to the public. But the art of reaching out doesn't stop there.
You will have to know how to talk to clients, subjects and assistants. If you are a fashion photographer, you will have to instruct models; if you are a freelance photographer, you will have to convince prospects of your skill.
Even if you are an animal photographer, you still have to maintain public relations skills in order to sell your images; in order to earn any money.
The professional photographer must be able to adapt to all situations, all demands and all hazards.
Let us suppose that a landscape photographer has been contracted to shoot the Orkney Islands for an upcoming travel exposé.
The weather in that northernmost part of Scotland is famous for its changeable clime and rough seas.
The photographer cannot wait for favourable conditions; the work must be done by its deadline!
Photojournalists routinely encounter dangerous conditions: in war zones, in natural disasters, even in street photography; nevertheless, the lensing professionals regale us with visions that we are perhaps spared in real life.
That is why we aver that photographers must surround themselves with trustworthy people for any photoshoot in order to progress and evolve, in business and in the art itself.
Patience and Confidence
Wildlife photography, baby photography, pet photography and night photography all demand the same quality of their photographer: patience.
Working with unpredictable subjects, like babies and pets, requires posing and reposing them, or employing tricks to stimulate the desired reaction out of them.
Patience is a very important virtue in this profession, as well as diplomacy and trust. Be nice to your customers so that they feel comfortable posing in front of you!
Last but not least, a professional photographer needs...
Be curious. Be interested in current events surrounding the art of photography, in terms of material, image editing, techniques...
Attend photography workshops. Watch video tutorials online. Join a photography club or society; meet with others who share your passion; swap photography tips with them.
In order to progress, never stop learning: it is the key to success.
Selling Your Freelance Photography Skills Online
Surely you did not buy that new DSLR and enrol in photography classes simply to point your camera and press that shutter!
Going pro in photography means marketing yourself: to find clients, to build a customer base, and to sell your work.
The first step in generating interest in your business is naming it.
Nothing necessarily catchy; in fact many aver that they now resent the clever name they've given their studio.
While Lamplight Studios and Broadway Studios have a certain nostalgic appeal, harkening to days of photography in a time that the DSLR camera was unthinkable, most photographers prefer operating under their own name.
It is your work, talent, skill and passion for sale; why not put your name to it?
Our second recommendation to promote your business: show your work!
One of the best ways to showcase your talent to create a website.
Mounting a range of shots, from beginner to your more advanced photography work, with a short narrative attached to each frame, will prove your stripes to anyone who has a need for your brand of creativity.
Whether you are wildly experienced a creating a digital portfolio, or a novice to the intricacies of creating a viewing platform, there is an online photography application for you.
- For a quick and dirty establishment of your work, you could set up a profile and show your best shots on Wix or Tumblr
- the drawback to those sites is that you must accept their templates and other restrictions of design
- If you have a firm idea of the backdrop you wish to contrast your work against, WordPress is the place for you.
- You will have more control over templates and site design, and a greater range of colours and features.
- If neither of these options quite suit your fancy, you can enlist the help of a professional web designer.
- You could establish a work exchange programme: you provide photos for that web designers' work; s/he sets up and maintains your site for free!
Bear in mind that, like you, web masters are trying to make a living. While workflow exchange could be mutually beneficial, be prepared to pay for services rendered.
After all: with the proliferation of websites offering free, attribution-only downloads of imagery, a professional web page designer might not want to trade work for exclusive photos.
Remember: your homepage picture should represent your type of photography!
If you are a landscape photography artist, greet your future clients with your most stunning panorama!
If you are a commercial photographer, a mélange of shots – from adverts, of pets and people, would be the better home page for you.
Here is one more suggestion to get your photography business off the ground: offer photography tutorials.
Your site could be a sort of photography school for the amateur who doesn't have the time or means for photography lessons; who perhaps wants to learn how to use a digital camera to its full capability.
While you've got your computer booted, why not establish profiles social media?
Facebook, Pinterest, and especially LinkedIn are guaranteed outlets to gain exposure and recognition as an expert in photography and digital imaging.
If your passion is film photography, think of the waves you could make in the sea of digital images with the richness and tone of images captured on film!
Word of mouth is still the most powerful and effective means of advertising, and it offers a cost benefit: getting liked and forwarded on social media is absolutely free!
One other outlet for your best images that we put forth: photo banks, such as Fotolia, where you can sell images for future attribution and royalties.
Taking the place of an agent, such sites serve not only to promote your art, but they get your name out to the greater public, far beyond your immediate surroundings.
Each attribution is another mention of your name: another costless form of advertising!
Not only does your name get publicised but you stand to gain royalties from each of your snaps a subscriber downloads.
Let your photographic talent shine! Give yourself every opportunity to have your work viewed, appreciated and used!
A professional photographer has suitable, reliable equipment: at least 2 camera bodies and and assortment of lenses and filters; an adequately fast computer to process images on, some sort of photo editing software, and a calibration probe to ensure accurate printing.
Adobe ranks particularly high among photographers of all types!
Specialising in a particular type of photography is essential!
Going on assignment as a photojournalist sounds rather glamorous, but how does such a photographer earn between jetting off to far-flung locations?
Sub-specialising is a good idea, if being behind the camera is all you want to do. Otherwise, you could be a digital photography instructor, taking beginners to the next level by broadening their skills sets.
Patience, creativity, adaptability and being a master of human relations are key qualities every professional photographer must embody!
Finally: knowing how to package, promote and sell your work is absolutely essential.
Being a master of photography composition is great, but will earn you nothing if you can't unload any images.
Perhaps hiring an agent, or seeking the services of a webmaster to build your site would be the way for you to manage your marketing.
Now that you have so much to consider, we close this article and look forward to seeing you, everywhere in cyberspace!
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