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How to Become a Photographer
Turn your passion into a job and make money with photography
People find themselves wondering how to become a photographer at lots of different ages and levels of experience. Perhaps you're at school and have just discovered how fun taking photos is! Perhaps you've graduated from college and have no idea what's next. Perhaps you're coming out of a career break, or have finally decided to do something creative, or just need a change...!
Sometimes people discover how to sell photos in their spare time and gradually wake up to the fact that they have a business on their hands!
But whatever your background, photography is definitely the kind of career that can accommodate a range of people of all ages, with diverse interests, lifestyles and priorities.
The one thing all photographers must have in common is the love of taking pictures! So if you are excited by the thought of making money with photography and turning your creative passion into a career, let's take a look at how to become a photographer...
Are all photographers self-employed?
No. But the vast majority of photographers I know do run their own business.
Generally it's photojournalists and photographers working for advertising agencies (product photography etc.) who are employed. But even they rarely do a conventional '9-5' day's work. It's chasing business or chasing news!
What does working for yourself / freelancing actually involve? Basically just building your business around the niche that you are most interested in. There are lots of options available and most freelance photographers diversify their income streams.
What are the main areas of photography I can work in?
Whilst you can carve your own unique niche, the following are the major areas to be aware of if you are thinking about becoming a photographer:
- Photojournalism - Photojournalists usually require a degree to land a job with a good paper, magazine or news agency. From cats up trees in local papers to war reporting for international news agencies, there are lots of options open to photojournalists.
- Portrait photography - Open your own studio and photograph anyone who needs a high quality picture. Families, couples, models, business people, actors, politicians, celebrities - there are lots of potential clients.
- Fine Art Photography - Sell fine art prints of your work from a range of outlets. Sell them locally and from a website. Most photographers sell prints, whether as their main income stream or as a supplementary one.
- Commercial / Advertizing - Work for businesses and advertising agencies to help them promote products and services.
- Wedding / Event - One of the first things that comes to mind when wondering how to become a photographer is weddings! Frankly, all you have to do is flash a DSLR in public for a few seconds and someone will come screaming 'Can you do my wedding!!!?' There's certainly demand for it, and if you like working with people it's a good option. Birthdays, corporate events and so on fit into the same general category.
- Stock - Almost always a supplementary form of income, stock photo websites should nevertheless be on every photographer's radar. Again, check out the section on how to sell photos online for more details. This is a great way to make money with photography.
How do I get there / What education do I need?
Photography is about the end result - the image. That's where all the skills show themselves. So if you have a strong portfolio and have learnt how to take great photos you're ready to become a photographer!
But since you're researching how to become a photographer, you're probably interested in how to polish your skills, learn everything you can and fill in all the gaps in your knowledge. So here are the options:
Do a photography degree. This is of course a brilliant way to develop your eye, learn about the industry and develop a sound technical knowledge.
Assistant / internship work. Many great photographers began their careers working under the aegis of an already well established photographer in their studio. This is sure to be a learning experience that will accelerate your own development.
You could also do internship work with a newspaper or magazine.
Equally good alternatives:
Photography really is a career open to anyone. There are lots of ways to pick up the knowledge you'll need to make money with photography. So don't worry if you haven't got a degree in the subject.
Read the best guides to photography and taking better pictures - these are my personal favourites.
Absorb all the information you can about photography equipment and the gear that is required to produce technically excellent photos.
Discover the work of famous photographers and emulate the ones you admire to help hone your own style and visual approach.
Do a part time course and join photography clubs to gain feedback and get ideas from other keen photographers. Can't spare the time? Do them in your own time with a personal tutor to help out. It could be a good first step in learning how to become a photographer.
Enter competitions and start to develop a good reputation. Try to find a style that will mark you out from competition and be your selling point, or your personal 'brand'.
Research the photography industry and find out how to become a photographer through reading about other people's stories. These are 3 books on the business of photography I have personally really enjoyed.
What about the portfolio?
Whether you study photography formally or develop your skills independently, all aspiring photographers should put together a strong and well organised portfolio.
Clients differ in their preferences for viewing work, so a portfolio should exist both on a CD and in hard copy. I also think it is wise to have a professional portfolio displayed on your own website. Here is my guide to the best and cheapest photography website templates available.
Be sure to register your portfolio with your national copyright service to protect against infringements.