How to Become a Professional Photographer



Professional photography is an excellent career choice for anyone who wants to get paid for using their creative talents. It’s one of the few fields where age and college degrees aren’t as important as a good eye, a quality product, and self discipline. Photography is a competitive field, however; so be prepared to start small, while you perfect your craft and build a portfolio of your best work. The tips below should help get you started.

 Method 1 of 2: Focusing on Your Photography
  1. Become a Professional Photographer Step 1 Version 2.jpg

    Know your gear. A major misconception about professional photographers is that you must have a fancycamera body or multiple lenses in order to be successful. While having a great camera certainly does improve your business, being a successful photographer has more to do with knowing the ins and outs of camera basics. Before considering photography as a business, you need to know your camera and gear like the back of your hand.[1]

    • Start off with a basic camera before jumping into buying a camera ranging in the thousands of dollars. A good photographer can take photos with a lower-end camera model, so get comfortable with a basic body first. As you begin to understand the camera and lenses, then look into purchasing new additions.
    • Read books, magazines, and online articles for the most up-to-date information on camera settings and tips and tricks. These will help to teach you new ways to use your camera and lenses to create great photos.
    • Make sure you are knowledgeable in how to use your other camera gear, such as a remote flash or different lenses. Having a background in these will significantly improve your photos.[2]
  1. Become a Professional Photographer Step 2 Version 2.jpg

    Build your portfolio. In order to get hired by someone who isn’t a close family member or friend, you will need to have a portfolio built up to show off your best work. Use photographs from multiple shoots with different subject matter to show the range of your talents. Make sure that your portfolio is comprised of more than just five or ten photos; people will want to see the great work you’ve done.

    • Take photos every day to hone your skills and provide a wide range of images to choose for your portfolio. These photos don’t have to be of planned photo shoots; they can be from scenes in everyday life.
    • Hire beginning models for free from local agencies in exchange for free prints to use for your portraits. This gives you the opportunity to pose someone however you would like without having to pay them.
  2. Become a Professional Photographer Step 3 Version 2.jpg

    Decide on your forte. If you love doing portraits, then advertise yourself as a portrait photographer. If weddings are your favorite, then get the word out that you are a wedding photographer. Find your area of expertise and use it to your advantage in your business.

    • Try multiple areas of photography before settling on one as your favorite, and don’t exclude any business opportunities simply because they aren’t in your realm of expertise.
    • If you are incredibly opposed to a certain type of shoot – for example, many photographers refuse to do weddings because of the high stress levels involved – don’t feel forced into it because it represents a business opportunity. Only do photography that you enjoy and feel comfortable with; you will begin to dislike your business otherwise.[3]

Method 2 of 2: Managing Your Business

  1. Pay Less in Taxes Step 5.jpg

    Get your documents in line. Before you can begin working as a professional photographer, you need to get your business license and start making yourself a business(wo)man. Research your state/county’s requirements for a business license and the documents you need to have in order to call yourself a professional, legally.

    • Look into speaking with a small business attorney for a better idea of the specific things you need.
    • If you plan on doing photography solely, make sure you have insurance covering your business. This may include equipment and health insurance for you and your things.
  2. Become a Professional Photographer Step 5 Version 2.jpg

    Start managing your money. You’re setting up your own business, which means you need to get money-savvy quick. Set up a separate bank account, create a ledger to balance your finances, and get yourself a calculator. Every week, you should update your ledger with all monetary exchanges you made throughout the last seven days.[4]

    • Before you quit your day job to do professional photography, make sure that you have enough money saved away to pay for at least one entire year’s worth of expenses. This way, should your business fall through, you have enough money to live on until you get another job.
    • Have some extra money set aside solely for your business in case of emergency. This pays for broken gear or a last-minute second shooter you have to hire for a big photo shoot.
  3. Become a Professional Photographer Step 6 Version 2.jpg

    Make your goals. You know you want to make a career out of your love of photography, but you need to set some boundaries first. Consider a time frame in which you would like to have earned a certain sum, had a total number of shoots, or sold a certain number of prints. This will keep you on track and give you a quantifiable goal to reach.

    • Set dates with your goals rather than just a general time frame and mark these on your calendar. Instead of stating “my goal is to have 20 shoots in two months,” state “my goal is to have 20 shoots scheduled by August 31.”
    • Set a date that you must have earned a total amount from your business by. Then, if you reach this date without having reached your goal, you can reconsider the course of your business. For example, state that you must make $50,000 by the end of two years in order for you to continue photographing for business.
  4. Become a Professional Photographer Step 7 Version 2.jpg

    Set up a schedule. Photographing professionally is a job best done on the side, but can be a stand-alone career. Before you quit your day job though, consider your ideal schedule and the amount of time you need for a single shoot.

    • Remember that one photo shoot includes drive time, photography time, editing time, meeting time, et cetera. Therefore, it is more than just a “1 hour shoot.”
    • Do you plan to only work weeknights and weekends? Do you have any times that are off limits? What would your schedule be if this was your only job?[5]
  5. Become a Professional Photographer Step 8 Version 2.jpg

    Create a contract. Before you agree to go into any photo shoot with someone, make sure that you have a business contract that they must sign. This should include everything that their money is paying for and the things you are and are not liable for.

    • Have an attorney write a contract for you if you want to take the safest path. This will make things easier in the long run, and also helps lighten your workload. Joining a photography group also often gives you the opportunity to use a pre-written contract available for group members.
    • Clarify what it is that your photography package includes as well as what you are not responsible for. For example, make clear if you hold liability for photos that are accidentally and irrevocably deleted, or if after signing the contract it is no longer a problem of yours.[6]
  6. Become a Professional Photographer Step 9 Version 2.jpg

    Decide on your rates. Consider the amount of time required for each shoot, the cost of your gear, and the cost of the prints/CD you make with your images as the end product. These should all help determine the hourly or per-session rates you charge.

    • Look up other local photographers and see what they charge for their own businesses. Then, base your own pricing based off your skills and abilities in comparison to theirs.
    • Avoid pricing your photography sessions too high or too low. A price that is too high will scare away most clients, while setting a price very low makes you seem desperate or unattractive as a photographer.
  7. Become a Professional Photographer Step 10 Version 2.jpg

    Advertise your business. The most important aspect of becoming a successful professional is advertising your business. Create a website, make business cards, network with locals, and talk about your photography business with everyone you meet. People will hire a photographer that has been recommended to them, that they have heard of before, and that has a great personality; make sure that you have all three.

    • For example, if you do a photo shoot for a wedding, take photos of the food and give them to the caterers. They will likely use these photos as advertisements themselves, and will recommend you as the photographer who took them.
    • Create a watermark to protect your photos so that you can advertise them online. Allow your clients to use your watermarked photos for their own social media sites, essentially doing your advertising for you.
    • If you have a website for your business, make sure that your search engine optimization (SEO) is high so that your business rises to search engine queries matching your tags.
    • Always keep business cards and sample photos on hand to give out or show off to anyone you may encounter. Riding on the bus, standing in line at the store, or sharing a table at a coffee shop are all great platforms for you to advertise your business.[7]