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Creating professional quality photos has never been easier in some ways, with improvements in camera technology and the instant feedback available on the back of the LCD screen. However growing and sustaining a photography business is incredibly difficult as the market is so competitive and dynamic.
To help any budding professional photographers out, I have created a road map to help you on your journey. It is only meant as a rough guide to help you along the way, possibly giving you ideas that you may not have considered.
Download the full How to Become a Professional Photographer Infographic.
Editor’s note: Sleeklens has published a great article on getting started: How to Start a Photography Business – The Complete Actionable Guide.
Specialize in one field
The first thing you need to do is niche down and focus on one area of photography that you enjoy. Sure some of the principles and techniques used in different fields do overlap, but if you focus in on one genre, your progress will be much faster and you will be able to charge more for your skills.
Master the basics
Having a strong understanding of the basics is essential if you want to progress on to more complexed techniques.
Studying a photography course at college or university will give you a great understanding of the basics. This option can be quite expensive with no guarantee of a paid job at the end, however it will provide you will the free-time to focus and learn, which you may not have if you are working full-time.
I have got a Masters degree is photography, but to be honest once I graduated I was no closer to being a photographer than before. The first job I got after graduating was as a sales assistant in a camera shop. It took me several years to develop my portfolio and learn how to market myself to get paying clients.
If you are currently in full-time employment, enrolling in an online course or workshop can be a great way to boost your skills. This can be a great option as you will be still covering your outgoings and can learn in your free-time.
Learn specialized skills if required
Once you have mastered the basics of composition, depth of field, aperture, shutter speed and ISO, now it is time to progress onto learning any specialised skills within your field of photography.
Let’s say that if you wanted to be a fashion photographer, it is essential that you learn about fashion, posing and studio lighting. If you are unsure about which skills to learn it maybe a good idea to reach out to a well-respected photographer in that field and ask for suggestions. They may also be able to give you some feedback on your work.
Keep shooting and refining your work
There is a general theory within the arts, stating that it 10,000 hours to truly master a skill. So the more work you put in the better your results will be sooner. Doing personal projects can be a great way to work on your skills and improve your portfolio.
Fast and efficient post production skills
It is also important that you take the time to learn how to use Adobe Photoshop and Lightroom. Learning how to cull and edit photos quickly will save you time and money in the long run. You can also give a signature style to your images, which may make them more saleable.
Get peer review feedback or a mentor
Now that you are starting to develop and refine your portfolio, it may be a good idea to get some feedback on your work from other well-respected photographers in your field.
A few cold emails or calls may be all you need to do to arrange this, but if you are struggling posting your work on specialized photography forums can give you a lot of feedback when you are just starting out.
Create an online portfolio
As your goal is to become a professional photographer, it is important that you have a strong web presence in 99% of cases. Having your own website will create a much better impression then showcasing your only on Flickr or Facebook pages.
Photography requires a lot of self-promotion, it is important you have a great brand. Unless you come from a graphic design background, it is probably not the best idea to create your own logo. Hiring a professional designer either locally or online would be a better option.
Creating your own website
Solutions like Squarespace and Zenfolio are easy and cost effective solutions but WordPress is likely your best bet. You will need to buy your domain name and hosting as well. The quality of WordPress themes has improved dramatically in the last few years with many cheap, responsive themes now available from StudioPress (affiliate) or other market vendors.
Refining and checking your online portfolio
When you are showcasing your work online, it is important only to show your very best work, less is more in most cases.
It is also very important that you spell check your copy and check for any broken links or pages on your site. Grammarly is a great google chrome extension that lets you do this.
Landing a job
If you are luckily enough to be in a photography sector with full-time well-paying jobs available, now is the time to start applying for them.
Often jobs will not be advertised and you will need to reach out to local studios or photographers to see if they have any vacancies available. Don’t expect this part to be easy, as in many cases professionals will not want to hire additional staff and train up potential business competitors in the future.
It is well worth chasing up any emails you send out if you do not hear anything back, even if it is only to introduce yourself and ask for feedback.
Second shooting or work experience
If you are lucky you may be able to land a work experience gig or a job second shooting. These jobs are likely to be unpaid or part-time, but may provide you with a great opportunity to develop your skills and get your foot in the door, so to speak.
Probably need to become self-employed
For many of you, the only way to earn a decent living as a photographer in your field is to become self-employed. This stage is extremely difficult, growing and sustaining a business. You will earn a living off the quality of your work and your ability to marketing yourself.
I would only advise you to become self-employed once your earnings from photography are the same as your day job and only taking on paying clients when you are 100% confident that you can deliver the goods.
Learning business and networking skills
Sadly as the photography marketing is so competitive you will have to spend a great deal of time marketing yourself and your business.
The better your work is the easier this part will be. People are more likely to share and discuss your work if it is great. Learning some basic business skills is a great idea. I am sure you have all heard the story of a great photographer that is struggling financially as they can not marketing themselves effectively.
Life as a small business owner
As you have already got your portfolio online, getting paying customers it is just simply a case of getting the right type of people to your website.
Defining your ideal customer
Figuring out who your ideal customer is can be quite difficult, it is important that your give this some thought as ideally your portfolio and branding will reflect this. Say if you wanted to specialize further and become an alternative wedding photographer, it is important that your branding, copy and photos on your website reflect this.
To attract alternative wedding couples, you will need to showcase examples of rock and roll bride types on your website. If your copy and branding are “edgy” as well this would help.
In a lot of cases your ideal client, will be a reflection of your personally, as you will naturally have a great rapport with these clients.
Driving traffic to your website
There are loads of ways you can drive traffic to your website, some free and some paid. If you are just starting out Facebook ads and Google pay per click campaigns can be a great way to get you started.
If you are on a bit of budget, search engine optimization can also be a great alternative. However there can be a bit of lag time between doing the work and seeing improvements in your search engines rankings and driving traffic to your website.
Search engine optimization
Search engine optimization or SEO as it is commonly called, is the technique of refining your website so it is well received by the major search engines like Google, Bing and Yahoo.
Google gets the most traffic so most people focus almost exclusively on their organic rankings in Google. Typically photographers will target terms like “portrait photographers New York”.
Refining your website and sales funnel
Now that you are getting qualified traffic to your website, I would suggest refining your sales funnel further. One of the easiest ways to do this is to install a tracking script from Hotjar, which lets you watch video playbacks of people on your website.
This easily allows you to find and sort errors in your website and sales funnel. With the goal of getting a higher percentage of people that visit your website enquiring about your services.
If the genre of photography that you are in does not have repeating clients, you will probably have to spend a good proportion of your time marketing yourself to get that flow of new clients through the door. Then it is simply a case of consistently producing great work and keeping your clients happy. Start with Zach’s 80 mostly-free marketing ideas.