How to Become a Professional Photographer: A Guide

Written by Robert Lowdon

Robert Lowdon is an internationally published commercial photographer based out of Toronto, Canada. He spends his time photographing architecture and industrial projects for the most part.

Published June 2, 2022

arches national park at sunset

If you’re passionate about photography and aspire to turn it into a career, this guide is for you. Learn the basics of what it takes to become a professional photographer, from finding clients and building your portfolio to marketing yourself and staying up-to-date with the latest technology.

With hard work and determination, you can make your dreams of becoming a professional photographer come true. Let’s get started!

Things you Should Know

Before starting on your journey to professional photographer, there are a few things you should know.

First and foremost, professional photography is a creative business. As with any business, it takes time, effort, and dedication to finding success.

Secondly, professional photography requires the use of high-quality equipment. This doesn’t mean that you have to go out and buy the most expensive camera on the market, but it does mean that you’ll need to invest in a good quality camera and lens (or lenses) that fit your shooting style.

Lastly, professional photographers must have both photography skills and people skills.

In order to take great photos, you need to know how to use your equipment and have an eye for composition. But even the best photos won’t mean anything if you can’t connect with your clients and make them feel comfortable in front of the camera.

Now that you know a little bit more about what it takes to be a professional photographer, let’s talk about how to get started.

Become a professional photographer
Your portfolio should be filled with the type of work you want to shoot.

What is a Professional Photographer?

A professional photographer is someone who takes photographs to make money, by selling their photographs as fine art, in photojournalism, or through commercial contracts.

Professional photographers use high-end cameras and professional-grade equipment to produce clear and detailed images. They typically have extensive knowledge of photography techniques, lighting, and composition. A professional photographer may work independently or be employed by a company. Most photographers specialize in a particular field while others work in multiple fields.

What are 3 Skills you Need to Become a Professional Photographer?

1. An eye for detail: You need to have an eye for detail in order to be able to capture the perfect shot.

2. Technical skills: In addition to having an eye for detail, you also need to have strong technical skills in digital photography. They need to know how to use their camera equipment and editing software in order to get the best results.

3. Creativity: You need to be creative in order to come up with new and interesting ideas for photos. They need to be able to think outside the box and come up with original concepts that will capture their audience’s attention.

Learn Photography First

If you’re serious about becoming a professional photographer, you need to start by learning the basics of photography. This means understanding things like aperture, shutter speed, and ISO. It also means knowing how to use your camera’s manual mode; after all, if you can’t take great photos, you won’t be able to get clients.

There are a number of ways you can learn photography, such as taking classes or reading books. But one of the best ways to learn is simply by practicing. Get out there and start taking photographs; the more you practice, the better you’ll become. And as you become more confident in your abilities, you can start charging for your services.

Education Requirements for a Career in Professional Photography

There are no formal education requirements to become a professional photographer, but completing a degree or certification program can give you the skills and knowledge you need to be successful.

Many photographers have a college degree in photography, art, or a related field. If you’re serious about becoming a professional photographer, consider completing a degree or certification program at a community college, trade school, or four-year university. These programs can teach you the technical aspects of photography, as well as provide you with a foundation in art and design principles.

Photography License & Certification

In some cases, you may need to obtain a photography license or certification in order to work as a professional photographer. For example, if you plan on working as a wedding photographer, you’ll need to be licensed in the state in which you’ll be working. Check with your state’s licensing board to find out if you need to obtain a license or certification. Whereas in Canada, you generally don’t need a license.

Similarly, if you want to specialize in a certain type of photography, such as newborn or food photography, you may want to complete a certification program. These programs are typically offered by professional organizations or colleges and can help you learn the specific skills needed to succeed in your chosen specialty.

Photography Certificate Programs

A number of colleges and universities offer certificate programs in photography. These programs typically last one year and cover the basics of photography, from camera settings to composition to photo editing. They can really vary in complexity.

Certificate programs are a great option if you’re looking to get started in photography but don’t want to commit to a full degree program.

Full Degree Programs

If you’re looking for more comprehensive education, you may want to consider pursuing a full degree in photography. These programs typically take two or four years to complete and cover a wide range of topics, from the technical aspects of photography to the business side of things.

A degree in photography can be beneficial if you’re looking to start your own business or work as a professional photographer. Some are better than others and you usually will only get out of them what you put into them.

Bachelor of Fine Arts in Photography

A Bachelor of Fine Arts (BFA) in photography is a four-year degree that covers the technical and artistic aspects of photography. This degree program can include classes on composition, lighting, and photo editing, as well as business courses. A BFA can be beneficial if you’re looking to work as a professional artist.

A BFA can really be all over the place depending on the school you choose. Some BFA’s only offer a specialization in photography and might just be a small part of the full degree.

Really do your research on which school is right for you. Maybe in a future post we will list these.

Master of Fine Arts in Photography

A Master of Fine Arts (MFA) in Photography is the highest level of education you can obtain in this field. These programs typically take two to three years to complete after a bachelor’s degree and include both coursework and a thesis project. An MFA, or Master’s Degree can be beneficial if you’re looking to teach photography or pursue a career in academia.

Related: Why Get an MFA in Photography?

Professional Photography “Accreditation”

Accreditations are offered by certain “professional photographer organizations” unfortunately most of these are nothing more than a vanity plaque to hang on your wall. Do your research on these. There are some really great photography organizations out there and some not great ones.

No photographer organization will ever get you work, but there might be other benefits that help you run your business. Or it might just be a social outing and that’s ok too, because photography can be a bit lonely.

Photography Courses Can be Helpful

In addition to formal education programs, taking photography courses can also be helpful in your journey to becoming a professional photographer. These courses can provide you with a more in-depth look at various topics, such as lighting or portraiture.

However, keep in mind that while courses can be beneficial, they aren’t typically required in order to become a professional photographer. Make sure they are highly specific courses taught by working professionals. There are a lot of false photographers out there in plain sight. If you want my specific recommendations you can use the contact tab above.

Find Your Photography Specialty

One of the first steps to becoming a professional photographer is finding your niche.

What type of photography do you enjoy most? What are you naturally good at?

Do some soul-searching and figure out which area of photography you’d like to focus on. Once you’ve found your specialty, it’s time to start building a portfolio of your own work.

What Types of Photographers are There?

There are many different types of photographers. Below, I’ve highlighted some of the most common types of photography specialties:

Portrait Photography: Portrait photography involves taking photos of people, whether it’s a family portrait or a headshot for a modeling portfolio.

Wedding Photography: Wedding photographers capture the special moments of a couple’s big day, from the first kiss to the reception dance.

Landscape Photography: Landscape photographers typically focus on outdoor scenes, such as mountains, forests, and sunsets.

Wildlife Photography: As the name suggests, wildlife photographers take pictures of animals in their natural habitats.

Sports Photography: Sports photographers capture athletes in action, whether it’s a football game or a track meet.

Portrait Photography: Portrait photographers take photos of people, whether it’s a family portrait or a headshot for a modeling portfolio.

Product Photography: Product photography is used to showcase products for advertising or online retail purposes.

Food Photography: Food photography is all about making meals look as appetizing as possible.

Still Life Photography: Still life photographers take pictures of inanimate objects, such as flowers, books, or clothing items.

Photojournalism: Photojournalists document newsworthy events, from political protests to natural disasters.

Commercial Photography: Commercial photographers take pictures of products, people, or places for commercial use.

Fine Art Photography: Fine art photographers create images that are intended to be viewed as works of art.

Toronto skyline
Toronto is the hub of professional photography in canada.

Build a Photography Career

A lot of people start their photography career by working as an assistant to a professional photographer. This will give you a chance to learn about the business and gain experience using professional equipment. Once you’ve built up your skills, start marketing yourself as a professional photographer.

Create a professional website or portfolio that showcases your work, and make sure to list your contact information. Start by working with local businesses or individuals to build up your portfolio. Once you’ve established a good reputation, you can start branching out and working with larger clients.

Building Your Portfolio

One of the most important things you’ll need to do as a professional photographer is to find clients. To do this, you’ll need to create a portfolio that showcases your best work.

Start by putting together a collection of your favorite shots, digital is generally preferred. Print is ok too, but it is expensive and not necessarily best nowadays. If you have pre meetings or sit downs with clients print still trumps digital.

Once you have around 30-40 images, you can start showing your portfolio to new clients. How you get in front of them will depend on your marketing.

Your portfolio needs to contain shots of the type of work you want to get. Avoid pet photos and anything that is off topic. It might take you a long time to build a portfolio and that’s ok.

When you are a new photographer, you will almost always have to set up personal projects to get the shots you need. Clients will always hire you based on your past work. So, build out your portfolio with the work you want to get.

Related: The Best Photo Shoot Locations in Toronto

Tips for a Strong Photography Portfolio

A digital photography portfolio is a great way to showcase your work as a photography professional and attract more clients. But how do you build a strong portfolio? Here are a few tips:

1. Start with your best work. Include only your strongest images in your portfolio. You can add more as you create new work, but make sure that the quality of your portfolio is high from the start.

2. Be selective. It’s better to have a small portfolio of amazing images than a large portfolio of average ones. Choose only your very best work to include.

3. Organize your images well. Your portfolio should be easy to navigate and understand. Group similar images together, and make sure each image is labeled clearly.

4. Keep it updated. As you create new work, be sure to add it to your portfolio. This will keep your portfolio fresh and relevant, and it will show potential clients that you’re an active photographer.

By following these tips, you can build a strong professional portfolio that will help you get the work you want.

Related: What is The Best Photo Editing Software?

Portfolio Website

It’s absolutely vital to have a website where prospective clients can view your work. Be sure to include a contact form so that interested parties can easily get in touch with you. Have a services page and a bio also.

In addition to your website, it’s also a good idea to have an online portfolio on a site like Behance or 500px. These platforms allow you to showcase your work to a wider audience and can help you attract new clients.

The thing is you never really stop building your photography portfolio. As your career progresses you work will get better an you will seek new challenges. You might want to change your style or type of work you do.

Robert Lowdon

Marketing Yourself

As a professional photographer, you’ll need to do more than just take great photos; you’ll also need to market yourself. There are a number of ways to do this, both online and offline.

One way to market yourself is by creating a brand identity. This can be as simple as coming up with a catchy name for your business and designing a logo that represents your style. You can then use this branding on your website, business cards, and other marketing materials.

Another way to market your photography business is by getting involved with social media. Platforms like Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram are great for sharing your work with a wider audience. Be sure to post regularly and interact with your followers; this will help you build a strong social media presence.

Finally, don’t forget the power of good old-fashioned word-of-mouth marketing. When you do a good job for a client, be sure to ask them to leave you a positive review on sites like Yelp or Google. And of course, don’t forget to tell your friends and family about your business; you never know when they might need a photographer!

I also strongly recommend you check out different marketing books. Gorilla Marketing is an industry standard and you would be good to start there.

Pricing Your Services

One of the most important aspects of running a photography business is pricing your services. When determining how much to charge, there are a few things you’ll need to take into consideration, such as your overhead costs, the time you spend on each shoot, and the level of experience you have.

It’s also important to find a balance between charging too much and too little; if you charge too much, you may scare off clients, but if you charge too little, you won’t be able to make a profit.

It is important to charge a price that presents a lot of value to your client. Meaning the price should correlate to the quality of the work.

Can you Make a Good career as a Photographer?

Yes, you can make a good career as a professional photographer. It will take hard work, dedication, and talent, but it is certainly possible to make a living from photography. You will have to define what a successful photographer looks like to you.

Part-Time or Full-Time Photographer

There are many options available for those who want to become photographers. You can choose to work part-time or full-time, and you can also decide if you want to specialize in a certain area of photography. There are many different paths you can take to becoming a professional photographer, so it’s important to figure out what works best for you.

How Much do Professional Photographers Earn?

Professional photographers earn a variety of incomes, depending on their level of experience and the type of photography they specialize in. Many factors, such as the location of the photographer and the demand for their services, will affect their earnings.

Generally speaking, professional photographers who work in corporate or advertising settings tend to earn higher salaries than those who work as freelancers.

In 2018, the median annual wage for a photographer was $34,000. The lowest 10 percent earned less than $19,110, and the highest 10 percent earned more than $76,840.

Like almost all careers there is a wide range of incomes in the photography business. Some photographers have a very high net worth, some barely make a living. It’s a combination of many factors that leads to success, sometimes even luck.

Related: Check Out This Guide by the Government of Canada

Start your Own Photography Business

One of the best ways to make a career as a photographer is to start your own photography business. This will allow you to be in control of your own schedule and work with clients that you choose.

To start your own photography business, you’ll need to create a portfolio, website, and marketing materials. You’ll also need to decide what type of photography you want to specialize in. Once you’ve got your photography business up and running, make sure to keep your marketing efforts ongoing in order to attract clients.

What is a Freelance Photographer?

A freelance photographer is a self employed professional photographer who works on a contract basis. Freelance photographers are not employed by a specific company but instead work independently. They typically have their own studio or equipment and set their own schedules.

Freelancers often specialize in a particular area of photography, such as weddings, creative portraits, or commercial photography. Many freelance photographers also teach photography classes or workshops, they might also have a day job.

Learn to Pitch your Work

As a professional photographer, you’ll need to be able to market your work in order to find clients. This means learning how to pitch your services and sell your photos.

Start by creating a portfolio that showcases your best work. Then, practice pitching your services to potential clients. Be clear about what you can offer, and be confident in your prices. Remember that photography is a business, and you should treat it as such.

Use Personal Projects to Get Clients

One of the best ways to get photography clients is to work on personal photography projects. These projects show potential clients that you’re passionate about your work and that you have the skills to produce high-quality photos.

It is one of the best ways to develop a creative concept for a future photo shoot. By using your own creativity, you can develop future clients that will eventually lead to paid work.

You can also use shoot portraits and elaborate scenes to build up your portfolio and attract attention from people who might be interested in hiring you.

The colors of bryce canyon glow in the orange landscape
It often pays off to shoot your own work. Not only will it help you get better, you can develop multiple revenue streams.

Is it Hard to be a Photographer?

While professional photography requires a certain level of skill, it is not necessarily a difficult field to break into. With the right education and training, as well as a strong portfolio, you can be successful as a professional photographer.

However, it is important to remember that professional photography is a business. This means that you’ll need to be able to market your services and sell your photos in order to find clients. You’ll have to earn enough money to live off.

If you’re not comfortable with self-promotion, professional photography may not be the right career for you. But if you want the freedom and understand photography it might be the right fit.

How do I Take Pictures like a Pro?

There is no one formula for taking professional-quality photos. However, there are a few things that all professional photographers have in common. They have an eye for detail, technical skills, and creativity.

If you want to take pictures like a pro, start by studying the work of successful photographers. Then, practice taking your own photos and perfecting your technique.

It’s not just shutter speed or aperture, it is about creative vision. Many find inspiration in taking pictures of what they know and love.

With time and effort, you can develop the skills necessary to be a professional photographer.

Keep Up to Date on the Photography Industry

If you want to be a successful professional photographer, it’s important to keep up with the latest industry news. Read photography magazines, attend trade shows, read photography blogs, and network with other photographers.

This will help you stay up-to-date on the latest trends, techniques, and technologies. Additionally, it will help you make connections with other small business owners who can help you further your career.

Keeping a Healthy Work-Life Balance in Photography

Photography can be a demanding career. It often requires long hours, irregular workdays, an almost impossible work schedule, and travel. This can make it difficult to maintain a healthy work-life balance.

To stay sane and happy, it’s important to set boundaries between your work and personal life. Make sure to schedule time for yourself and your loved ones, and stick to it. Additionally, learn to say no to work requests that will throw off your balance.

It’s also important to take care of your physical and mental health. Use your free time to get plenty of sleep, eat healthy meals, and exercise regularly. If you’re feeling overwhelmed, consider seeking out counseling or therapy.

By taking care of yourself, you can avoid burnout and maintain a healthy, successful photography career.

Photography Takes Time and Practice

Like with anything else, it takes time and practice to become a skilled photographer. It doesn’t happen overnight.

Start by studying the work of other professional photographers, and practice using your camera. Experiment with different techniques, and don’t be afraid to make mistakes. The more you practice, the better you’ll become.

The best advice I can give as a would be professional photographer is to never quit. So many quit right before they see success in this industry. It can be hard, but if you have nothing to loose it’s hard to be defeated. Try your hardest, and don’t quit if you want it bad enough you will do it. If you don’t that’s ok too.

Robert Lowdon

Becoming a professional photographer takes time, effort, and practice. But if you’re passionate about photography and are willing to put in the work, you can build a successful career doing something you love. And remember this is a marathon, a business grows over time.

I hope these photography tips have helped you on your journey to becoming a pro photographer. Let me know in the comments what path you are on.

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