Photography is a wonderful hobby, but for some, a hobby just isn’t enough. Some of us get so infected with the craft that we instantly know we want to one day spend all our time on it. So what skills should a hobbyist photographer focus on?
Strangely, I’m not one of those photographers who instantly knew they wanted to go professional. In fact, it’s more than that. As my love for the craft grew quickly and in all directions, I was confident I didn’t want to become a professional photographer for fear of losing that love and becoming jaded. My journey took a parallel route in which I tried to go every which way but photography with my career, but eventually realized the only two things I want to spend my time on this planet doing, is writing and photography.
I talk to a lot of photographers, however, and a common question from newbies and hobbyists is on what they should concentrate on to get to the point where they can earn money. This question was asked to me again just yesterday and I began scanning over what I could remember of just starting out. I remember it being intimidating, complex, and expensive. While that attracted me, there did seem to be avenues for learning everywhere I turned, and each avenue had myriad paths of its own. My approach was to craft my own makeshift survey course and try a bit of everything, but some advice from somebody who had gone through that phase and was now working in the industry would have been helpful and saved me some time.
The question I am putting to all you photographers out there who do this for a living. We have a great mixture of new and experienced photographers in our community and so I’d love the former to chip in with questions, and the latter to offer their advice. Here are my top three.
This is a tough one to articulate as by its very nature it’s broad, but it pertains to getting some experience in as many situations as possible. One of the best ways to master your camera and never be surprised or stumped during a shoot is to have photographed lots of different genres, in lots of different scenarios. For example, if you like portraiture, shoot with a long focal length and a wide angle, shoot low-key and high-key, shoot editorial and shoot family, shoot studio and shoot street; put yourself in as many unfamiliar situations as possible and learn what it is they take to perform in.
Not only will this approach give you experience and a sense of comfort when thrust in to unusual places and situations, but you will truly master your camera and how to manipulate the exposure triangle, as well as composition to create desirable results regardless of circumstance. Briefs from clients can often contain curve balls, bizarre requests, or reference images on the moodboard that are technically tricky. What’s worse though, is when that client is with you on location and asks for a type of image you weren’t prepared for. A rounded knowledge of your craft can offset that problem dramatically.
This is one I didn’t learn from experience. I desperately wanted to have an experienced and talented mentor to help me through the early stages of my photography journey, but I could never find one, though I didn’t exactly approach people either. I would always ask questions of how people achieved a certain look or style (definitely do this!), but no one took me under their wing. Over a decade ago I thought that would have been valuable, but now I think it would have been invaluable. The more I read on business and entrepreneurship, the more I realize the power of having someone guide you through territory they have personally chartered.
I have started working with a few mentees who are fairly new to photography and it’s interesting to see it from the other side of the glass. I don’t consider myself worthy of mentoring new professional photographers, but for those who are new to a camera, I’m able to help them avoid pitfalls and correct unnoticed mistakes far quicker than they might have organically, as well as cultivate their style. If you can get yourself a good mentor, no matter where you are as a photographer — be it pro or beginner — you should do it.
This advice always goes down like a lead balloon. Unfortunately, if you want to carve out any sort of success in an extremely bloated and competitive industry with low average incomes, you’re going to need to have an edge over other creatives. A photographic edge will get you a little way, a creative edge might get you further, but a business and sales edge can really set you apart. You don’t have to shadow Jordan Belfort and humming while you beat your chest, but reading some books and listening to some podcasts on business and sales techniques could make the world of difference should you decide to pursuit photography as a career.
I’ve written on this topic before on several occasions, so here is some further reading should you be interested:
Over to You
Professionals: what advice do you have for newer photographers? What should they learn about or what skills should they focus on to give themselves the best possible chance at “making it”.
Hobbyists and New Photographers: what do you want to know about making the transition from amateur to professional? Is there anything myself and our community of many full-time photographers can demystify for you?