10,000+ Views

How to Become a Professional Photographer

So you want to become a professional photographer but you don't know where to start. Here's a short guide that will explain how you can fulfill your dream of working as a pro-photographer, or at least get yourself ready to become one.

Step 1: Learn, train, and get educated.

Learning the ins and outs of photography is of the utmost importance if you ever want to be a professional photographer.

Start of with a basic camera, preferably an entry-level DSLR, before jumping into buying a high end professional camera for thousands of dollars. Some people would say a high end camera will always be better, but that is definitely not true. Get comfortable taking pictures with a camera and learn it inside and out. As you begin to understand the camera and lenses, then look into purchasing new additions.
Read photography books, magazines, articles, and forums to get tips, tricks, and insight on how to better train yourself in the art of photography. Many of these places will help you learn different techniques that you can practice and implement into your own work.
A great way to develop your knowledge of more advanced techniques in techniques, lighting, editing, and printing is by taking courses in the field. Many people opt for a degree in photography, but that is not necessary. You will be judged on your experience and your portfolio, even if you went to a great school it doesn't mean you will be a great photographer!

Decide what genre of photography you want to work in.

This will be one of the hardest decisions you'll ever have to make when working in the field of photography. There are many different ways to make money by taking pictures, but they all require different experience, a different style of shooting, and for the most part different hours and pay.
To name a few examples, there are: fashion, sports, events, pets, real estate, architecture, photojournalists, concert, medical, school, wedding, baby, family, food, automotive, travel, stock, celebrity, and fine art photographers (I know there are more that I didn't list!).
Each and every one of these photographers will work different hours, have a different style of shooting, and require a different skill set. The best way to know what you want to work is by finding out what you naturally enjoy shooting, coupled with what kind of hours work for you. For example, if you love taking pictures of cars you may want to think about automotive photography, but if you love concerts then that's entirely different ball game.
Of course, we can't always have what we want. It is very likely that you will not be able to find a job in your preferred field.

Step 2: Build your portfolio, your network, and your experience.

Build a solid, well rounded portfolio of your work.

The best advice I can give is this: know your audience.
Every editor I've ever met has had a different opinion on what they want to see out of a portfolio. Some want a mixture of shots, others want you to tell a single story. Some want you to go heavy on editorial or sports, others want all singles. It's tough. So know who's going to be looking at your shots and tailor the portfolio towards them.
Deciding what you want and like to shoot should guide your decision on how to fill your portfolio in my opinion. Throughout all the shooting that you have done, you should be selected work to fill your portfolio.
A great way to showcase your portfolio is by using a website to display your work. There are tones of paid websites that are fantastic, like Square Space. However, there are also many free options like Vingle or Tumblr that could work just as well.

Build a network that can help you get your name out there.

Professional photographers often work for themselves, getting clients by getting their name out there, building a solid network, marketing their business, and operating their business efficiently.
A great way to start to get your name out there is to start shooting for friends and family. I would suggest not charging friends and family money for your service, rather, add up what the work would cost and discount the full price on an invoice. This way you are still technically working for free and your friends/family will appreciate it, but they will also see the cost of what you have done for free. There is nothing worse than being thought of as a free or cheap photographer.

Learn and gain experience in the field by working for other professionals.

The best way to get valuable experience is by working in the field side-by-side with other professional photographers. This means becoming a photographers assistant or becoming an apprentice. Often times these positions are not paid so think about doing this while taking courses or before quitting your day job!

There is more to learn, but this will get you close!

There are many more important steps to becoming a successful, professional photographer. However, this guide should get you on the right track to fulfilling your dream!
Wow, I am overwhelmed with the amount of information here. I would expect there is quite a bit of work that needs to be done on the business side of things (taxes, lawyers, marketing). That has to be tough for people with no experience in those fields!
@JonPatrickHyde I know it's not a perfect guide, but I'm interested to know what you think!
Haha great guide! I have a few friends that went to business school and later became professional photographers that were really efficient at running their own business. It's a great idea for anyone worried about not know enough about fields outside of strictly photography.
Cards you may also be interested in