It usually starts out with a love for photography. You buy more gear because you can achieve more results. You show up everywhere with a camera bag over your shoulder. And eventually you ask,
“Maybe I should be making money doing what I really love!”
That’s how the majority of photographers move from amateur to professional. For some, the love starts as a child, and they follow their dream through school and beyond. But that isn’t necessary. Photography can be something you start at any age, at any point in your career, and take it as far as you have the desire.
If moving from amateur to professional is your goal, here are 7 steps that will get you there.
1. Shoot like a pro. If you take 100 images, how many are great and really stand out? If you’re an amateur, probably a dozen or so. But as a professional, virtually all 100 should be quality, sellable images. Your clients are counting on you to capture everything in a professional way.
2. Practice. Feeding off number one, the only way to shoot like a pro is to practice. No, you don’t have to go to a four-year university to become a professional. But you can spend every day on assignment, doing something to improve what you do. Choose a theme, and head out for 30 minutes capturing your theme in different ways. Ideas would be: red, flowers, people, buildings, ducks, etc. Just pick a subject around you, and see how many creative images and angles you can find.
3. Commit to business. A professional photographer doesn’t just shoot. He runs a business. That includes business planning, marketing, sales, and production work. You have to be just as good at the business side, or hire key people to help you create a good business, in order to make good money at your photography.
4. Education. Make a commitment to learn. Take classes from your mentors. Grab a book on a new subject and start reading. Study photography and business, production and marketing. It’s a never-ending process, and there’s always something new and exciting to learn to get you where you are going.
5. Find clients. Taking a few images of your friends and family can help you get started. But that stream soon dries up. You have to take a step out and find a client that is hiring you simply because they like your work. And when they are happy, they refer you to their friends. When your business is built on referrals, you know you have a great business.
6. Plan for success. Where do you see your business in 6 months? How about 6 years? You can’t wish for a successful photography studio without putting plans down on paper. If you see yourself operating a $250k portrait studio by the end of 2015, what steps are you going to take to get there?
7. Multiple streams, and go with the flow. The great thing about photography is there are dozens of fields you can get involved in. Start out with portraits. Move to weddings. Become a commercial photographer. Photograph model portfolios. And when you retire, travel around the globe photographing for travel and fine art. The possibilities are endless. If you put your mind to it, you can use photography to generate an endless supply of money.