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113. So you want to be a photographer? 14 tips on how to make it happen

Disclaimer first. I’m not a professional photography. I have made money doing photography for others, and I have used my photo skills in some of my own projects, as a way of saving money. And when I did photography more, I could see a clear path to more paid gigs.

Also, I often hire photographers, and I know a thing or two about entrepreneurship. So while I can’t speak from a place of expert authority, I can at least say share some qualified thoughts.

Some of these aren’t photography specific, but for clarity’s sake I’ll stick to the photo angle. Here are fourteen tips from me.

  1. Take pictures. Lots of them. Put the very best ones online, and show off your range. That part is very simple. Shoot action. Do portraits. Kids. Weddings. Concerts. Sports. Nature. Anything and everything, as long as you constantly update and expand your best.
  2. Have a simple website. With stunning pictures and clear contact information. Large pictures in great resolution. Clear categories (if you work with that). Mail and phone number in a big font. Slick and nice-looking.
  3. Instagram is your friend. Post on it regularly. Your number of followers may grow slowly, but it will grow. Follow other photographers, and some of them will start following you. Build an audience.
  4. Create blog. Here you share photo tips, photo stories or photo news. Create free content that provides value for other people. Have a newsletter option. Post and post often. And always with awesome looking pics. If you’re not much of a writer, keep it short and sweet.
  5. Watermark it all. Unless people pay you enough, of course, in which case it’s different. ;-)
  6. Offer your services for free to kickstart things. Find friends who need photographers (hint: everyone does) and bring your camera. Get yourself out there. I know many artists hate “exposure”, but exposure also leads to job.
  7. Be pleasant and deliver. Be fast and be nice. A photographer that gives great photos two days after an event is often more interesting than one that delivers better-than-great two weeks after.
  8. Don’t go anywhere without your camera. Make sure that everyone who knows you knows that you’re a photographer. Top-of-mind is everything in the beginning.
  9. Once you’ve done a ton of free work, start charging money. It doesn’t have to be a lot, and it doesn’t have to be every time, but even people who get you for free should know you’re worth hard cash. Raise your rates slowly.
  10. Do stuff that you like. I’d recommend doing low-paid, but interesting jobs any day compared to boring high-paid stuff. Especially if you’re over the “can-pay-rent-and-food” line.
  11. You can of course sell your work to others as well. Stock photo sites exist, but they can suck up a lot of time with little return. Unless you like setting that sort of thing up. Then go for it!
  12. Accept that photographers come in three rough categories. Free and good, and there are many of them. Cheap and very good, and expensive and great. It’s easy to be free and good. It’s really hard to get to expensive and great. Start with cheap and very good, and see if you can get to cheap and great. Then it’s easier to jump that step as well.
  13. This is of course not the only way to become a pro photographer. However, this way is open to many, since it leverages your existing network to begin with. And it’s based on the basic premise, that if you keep on producing, at one point the snowball will start rolling.
  14. It’s not easy or cheap. You need equipment. You need time. You need discipline. And you need to stay alive for long for the snowball to become big enough to sustain you. Maybe by having another job. Maybe by using savings (or a someone who supports you). But it is doable.

And as I said at the beginning – a lot of this has nothing to do with photography, but is about entrepreneurship. I hope you find it useful.

If you like my writing, and want to free up my time, so write more, you can do exactly that, by supporting me via Patreon.https://www.patreon.com/user?u=3351676

If you want to get into contact, I’m easy to find online. So if it’s worth your time, search me out. I’ll do my best to answer. ;-)

Written by

Director, The College of Extraordinary Experiences & Coach at McKinsey

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