A lot of discussion has been going on around these steps to becoming a pro lists that are going around. Seriously I’m in AWE of all these photogs who have been able to sum up this process into 10 convenient steps. Because it took me years to get where I am now and it seems like it was a lot more than 10 steps. But hey, what do I know? I’m sure all those years I spent shooting for free and practicing were wasted. Even though it’s virtually impossible to sum up years of work, dedication, tears and learning into 10 easy to read and follow steps, I’m going to try my best as so many before me have. So! Here are the top 10 steps that I used to become a photographer who makes money (or, if you prefer, a “professional photographer”).
10. Take a lot of pictures
No, seriously. You know that quote “Your first 10,000 photographs are your worst”? It’s true. I don’t care if you shoot for free, only shoot family/friends or piles of dog poop on the street. Before you can be a pro, you have to be a very good amateur. So read a book, take a class, whatever – and take a crap ton of pictures. When they start to not suck as bad, THEN maybe you are ready grasshopper.
9. Get a good coffee maker
The cheap ones are OK, but like your camera gear, it’s good to invest in a good quality coffee maker. Now, some people like the Keurig because of it’s one cup convenience. I prefer a good quality, simple machine that is a full 12 cups. One cup just doesn’t cut it if you’re really into coffee or have a late night of stretch mark removal ahead of you. Use your judgement on this; there is no right/wrong. Just make sure you clean it at LEAST once a week to avoid scaling and poor quality coffee. NOTE: A French press is a lovely, elegant way to go but it requires a bit more work. Keep this in mind for the coffee making portion of your workflow.
8. Refer to yourself as a “photographer”
AS SOON AS you are ready to accept your first paying client, you should be calling yourself a photographer. For example, if you work at McDonald’s and are at a party, when asked what you do for a living say “I’m a photographer and I also work part time in culinary arts”. Be sure to elaborate on the photographer part, though; it could be tough to extend out the culinary arts portion.
7. Hang out with other photogs
For reals. Despite what others might think, being respectful and friendly to your fellow photogs will get you far. For one, you’ll have friends you can drag places for the sole purpose of taking photos. Let’s be honest; husbands/wives are ok but they move through those flower exhibits WAY too fast. For B, networking is CRUCIAL for every business. How do I know? Because before I was unempl- I mean SELF-employed I worked in business. I have ample experience with the business side of things and let me tell you… without networking amongst your peers, you have little chance for growth. And yes, you should hang out with them even if they aren’t as good as you.
6. Check your email every day
And be sure to respond to every request, no matter how stupid it is. People like politeness and responding to even a stupid email with bad grammar and sentence structure will make you a god in the customer service arena. Respond, be polite and be prompt.
5. Get a pet
It will help ease your stress and lower your blood pressure. You will need this when you start informing people you have no more appointments, then they start emailing you back about how full of shit you are and how you are just lazy and photographers are useless anyway because they just got a new DSLR with 18-55mm lens and they can take the photos themselves. One time they took a photo of a squirrel and it was almost completely in focus.
I cannot stress how important this is, and it is an often overlooked portion of business running. Networking is CRUCIAL to the success of your business. Yeah, you might have to offer some *gulp* free stuff or discounted services at first, but when you get in good with a business/organization and give them wonderful experiences EVERY TIME you work with them; well, prepare for the word of mouth advertising and referrals to come pouring in! Don’t ever think you are above something. Because guess what, homeslice? You’re NOT.
3. Organization is your friend
Just like your photos, your correspondence with clients, contracts, TFP model releases, appointments, etc. need to be easy to find and organized in a way that makes sense. Otherwise, things WILL slip through the cracks. The sooner you get this started, the better. You can alter it as you go to make things more efficient, but once you get a system that works; Don’t change it! Why fix it if it’s not broken? Prepare to get LOTS of binders and dry erase boards…
2. You need lights
Alright, I get it. You’re a “natural light” photographer. Some people can pull it off (most of the time, anyway). A very famous natural light photog is: http://www.jasminestarblog.com/index.cfm. HOWEVER… keep in mind that this is not the norm. In fact, if you don’t have at least one extermal light to use as a fill (or a very heavy understanding of natural light/bouncing/reflecting), you are going to find yourself in situations that you just don’t wanna be in. So, get a flash. Preferably 2 or 3. Get some light stands and some umbrellas or softboxes or WHATEVER, and Learn how to use them. Photography means “painting with light”. Light is the single most important element in your photograph and will distinguish you from the 10,000 amateurs in your area. Don’t be scared. Lighting is NOT that hard. It’s an investment, yeah; but you can get cheap flashes from Amazon. So don’t be such a sissy. Learn it and love it and you will go FAR.
And my number one bit of advice to becoming a pro photog:
1. Check your ego. Regularly.
There are few things that piss off other photographers as much as a new (or old, for that matter) photog with a giant ego and an “eat shit” attitude. So in case you needed to be brought down a peg (we all do), here is a list of things that I have written on a piece of paper for days where I think I’m just “all that”. Feel free to print them and use them if you think your head is getting too big:
– “That shot is not that great… keep trying”
– “If you were so good, you wouldn’t have to look at the back of camera during shoots”
– “Go to http://www.frankdoorhof.com/site/. When this guy tells you you’re good, you can believe it”
– “Shut up and listen instead of talking all the time”
– “Clients aren’t photographers and will likely say nice things to you”
– “Your mom/husband will ALWAYS say nice things to you; Find someone who won’t”
And if you need motivation…
– “Photography isn’t an overnight career; keep going if you want it that bad!”
– “If you still feel like you suck after all this time, that’s good! Keep working at it”
– “You’ll never know everything so focus on what you love and don’t feel bad about the rest”
– “Helmut Newton sucked at first, too”
In the end, remember there is always someone better than you, knowledge can come from unexpected places and if someone critiques (or criticizes) you or your work, don’t take it personally. Listen to the critique, see it in their perspective and be honest with yourself. Don’t look at things with delusional artists eyes; look at it with clients eyes.
Of course there are many, many, many more “steps” to becoming a pro. There is no right or wrong way to do it. What matters is the end result: Are your clients happy and are you happy with the quality of work you are providing? Do you approach jobs with a positive, go get ’em attitude or are you reluctant and feel forced into it? A positive outlook, great networking, solid website and friends in the industry will help get you through; tough times and good.