If you are reading this article, chances are you have thought about photography as a career at least once. Perhaps you have dreamed about becoming the next Mario Testino or Annie Leibovitz, with your work gracing magazine covers and billboards worldwide. Or perhaps you dream of running a small but successful boutique portrait studio, capturing beautiful memories for your local clients. Whatever it is, there are many things to consider before making the jump from hobbyist to photographer who makes a living solely from photography and nothing else.
Build Up Your Portfolio
In order to be booked for jobs, photographers must be able to show that they are capable of obtaining great results. This means, you need a portfolio (a collection of images, either printed or online) which demonstrates all of your skills. Where doctors need certificates and degrees in order to prove their skills, a photographer relies on his or her "folio". A portfolio should include your best images, that show your technical and creative skill set, as well as your personal, unique style.
Photographers are expected to be able to take a decent shot of almost any subject matter, have a strong understanding of light, camera technicalities and an ‘eye’ for great composition. Potential clients also want to see something creative, that will set you apart from the crowd.
Photography is a very hard industry to break into, and it’s important to know this before dropping everything to facilitate the jump. A good way to go about becoming a photographer full time is to ease yourself into it, rather than drastically moving from one career to the next. Give yourself a transitional period, where you can slowly gain clients and develop a name for yourself. Chances are, you're not going to have clients lining up outside your door overnight, so holding a part-time job while your build up your network will stop you becoming penniless and desperate for work. Trying to win clients and run a business becomes much more difficult if you are battling financial pressures. The length of the transitional period will depend on how quickly you are able to grow your business.
Assist Other Photographers
Assisting working photographers is one of the best ways to accelerate your career. Choose a photographer whose work you admire (preferably in an area that you would like to work in, such as food or weddings) and become their assistant. You’ll learn many skills this way - especially things that cannot be learned from schools or textbooks. Assisting not only teaches you about camera settings, lighting and post production, but it also gives you an insight into the business side of photography. Seeing how successful photographers deal with clients, manage jobs, and go about their workflow, can provide you with invaluable practices that you can implement in your own business.
Get Good At Business
Photography is not only about taking great pictures and working to a brief. The business side of things is equally important (if not more) than the actual taking of the photos. Having some background knowledge of how to operate a business is essential if you want to be a photographer full time, particularly if you want to freelance. There are many photographers out there with less talent than others, but who are very successful because they are brilliant business-people. If you aren’t so great at business, get some advice from someone who is, or study or take a small business course to better inform yourself.
Work For A Studio
If you are really hopeless at business and want to be a photographer without worrying where your next paycheck will come from, then working for a studio is a great idea. At a studio, you can do many photography related jobs, and work as part of a team to meet briefs. Depending on your role, you may not have to worry about gaining clients, or ensuring a constant flow of work. Studios that cater to heavyweight brands, or specialise in product photography or e-commerce, often hire one or more photographers to keep up with the workload. Sometimes these photographers are contracted, and other times they are on a salary. Either way, aligning yourself with a studio will maximise your chances of regular work.
Another way to bypass the stress of finding your own clients is to gain representation from a creative or photographic agency. Like a modelling agency, these kind of agencies will have a select few photographers on their books, for whom they find jobs. Getting represented is very difficult, and usually only very experienced photographers are accepted. Agencies will make a commission on jobs that they book their photographers for, so they will only take on photographers that they know will bring them work. It’s unlikely that a photographer who is new to the industry will be picked up straight away, but that shouldn’t stop you from trying.
When To Make The Jump
If you have been thinking about becoming a working photographer for a while, and have considered exactly what is required, then you may be ready to dive into the industry. Photography is a ‘riskier’ career to chase than others, because there is no guarantee of employment or success. However, if you are motivated and passionate, and are prepared to work hard and put up with the (many) stresses and difficulties of the job, then the time may be right. You’ll know when you are ready.