My photography story and my top 10 tips on how to become a professional photographer.
Top 10 tips on how to become a Professional photographer and my photography story…
Before we start I would just like to say that being a professional photographer doesn’t mean you are any better than a non-professional photographer in fact I think it puts more pressure on you to produce better quality work and after all it simply means you earn your living from photography.
There is a whole debate about what makes you a professional photographer, the common theory across most photographers I have discussed this with is if you earn over €30,000.- a year taking photographs then you’re there. Is that right? I am not sure really but hey that’s not the point of this post.
My Photography story and 10 tips to help you make it as a photographer
10 tips on how to become a professional photographer and my photography story, I became a professional photographer within just 1 year of picking up my first...
Going back 8 years ago I had no real interest in photography until my partner Nadja started taking photographs and posting them on this app called Instagram, now stick with me there is a serious lesson to be learned here and it’s also kind of funny.
Yes, the social media app started my career but it’s not what you think… it really isn’t. So I downloaded Instagram or IG and started viewing photos on there which was all light hearted and just for fun until one day I discovered a photographer that was producing some really nice images then I looked at who he was following and it was just mind blowing how suddenly a whole new world opened up before me. I found myself taking photographs of every beautiful scene around me, in fact it was all I could ever think about.
Within 2 months I had purchased a second hand Nikon D90 body and kit lens from someone I never met before in a carpark :-)… I was suddenly completely hooked.
My photography progressed rapidly and before I knew it 1,000 people were following me then 2k then 5k and I was getting featured on instagram between 3 to 10 times a day. It was all just good fun and I wasn’t taking any of it seriously but just enjoying the experience.
Then late one Saturday night while sitting at home a friend shared a Facebook post from a large fashion house and I thought hey I could do better than that, did I mention I was after two glasses of wine at this stage? So I did what only a slightly tipsy me would do and found the company on Instagram and sent them a direct message. I thought nothing more of it until 3 weeks later when I got a reply…
Their in-house photographer was leaving the country and they were about to advertise for the job. Now did I mention yet this was a nationwide fashion house and they also had an online store so this was no small deal. So there I was thinking to myself “wow what an opportunity and simultaneously thinking what have you done you absolute idiot”.
Needless to say I accepted the offer to do a test shoot for them and long story short after finding myself working in a studio for the first time in my life and working with studio lighting I had never used before I got the job, yes you read that right I actually got the job… They were so happy with the results that I was offered the job after the first full day fashion shoot with them after already passing the test shoot. I am gonna leave out the part where I was sweating bullets and kicking myself for putting myself in this situation. So how the hell did a nobody land a fashion photographers job?
That’s what I am going to go through in the tips below.
Ok, now a few of ye might think ya so that was luck and how does that apply to me? Well, I simply say if I didn’t accept the offer of the test shoot, send the message, didn’t research it all in 2 days or couldn’t give them the images they wanted then I would have never started my career.
My first tip on how to become a professional photographer is to provide Value.
The one reason why I got the job over anyone else though is the value I offered. I provided the client with great value, I shot 30% more products in a six hour shoot then any photographer had managed to do before for them and they were very happy with the images also making it a more economical option to employ me. Yes, other photographers could produce the same quality of work but I was doing more on a shoot and that’s how I got my start. 30% more might not sound like a lot but you have to remember each of these photo shoots were costing north of €1,000.- and there were between 20 and 30 of them a year. Value is always going to be key in photography and that’s any type of photography. If you can give your clients value then you will always get work. I am not taking about just churning out images I am taking about giving them exactly what they want and more or simply being better than everyone else. Some of my best clients to this day are the ones that have dealt with several other photographers.
That single contract led to me doing over 50 fashion shoots that year as other companies also asked me to do work for them then. This all happened in the first 2 years of me properly picking up and using a camera, that all still sounds a bit mad to me even now.
A funny side story from those shoots was one day while out for lunch on a shoot (I usually went to the same place for lunch during those shoots) the model and I had finished our lunch and I went up to pay when the guy behind the counter leaned forward and whispered “How do you do it man?” I had absolutely no idea what he was talking about so I asked him what did he mean and he said “You are in here like every two weeks with a different stunningly beautiful young woman, how do you do it? Are you famous or something?” I simply replied “yes I am and left” only joking, I told him I was a photographer and they were all professional models on a shoot with me. His reply was “ah I knew there had to be a good reason for it” and I thought to myself well there goes your tip anyway, “touche” my friend.
So that’s my first tip on how to become a professional photographer is to provide Value and give your clients what they need.
Tip 2 on how to become a professional photographer is building.
Wait, stick with me, this does make sense, build on those first few jobs and never ever turn anything down even if you don’t make money on the first job it could open doors to other possibilities in the future and more work again.
Those fashion shoots led to me meeting a jewellery designer on a shoot and us chatting and suddenly then finding myself doing jewellery photography, which led to working for a clients friends and doing property photography also, next I was doing portraiture and of course I also stuck with my true love landscape photography and my photography workshops.
I built on my leads and made sure all my clients were happy and work started to slowly improve.
Today and I have to laugh at this I have had my work published tens of thousands of times worldwide and I owe it all to just being willing to try it, listen to the client, offer them value and building on my work. I have had a number of instances like that over the years now which led me to landing loads of other contracts and also ambassador roles and working to promote products for large international companies Like Formatt Hitech, DJI, Adobe, Skylum, ON1, DXO, SmallRig, Neewer, Pixpa, f-stop, Novo, Themify, Crann etc… and numerous other companies with a good few more being announced in the coming months.
Tip 3 on how to become a professional photographer is luck
Was it all just luck? Well that’s what I always thought it was until I was talking to a business man one day while we were doing a shoot, his words will forever ring in my ears Kieran hard work puts you in good lucks path“, so there you have it, it all sounds easy just keep in mind I easily worked 70 hours a week for 5 years to get where I am today and without that I would have never made it. There were a lot of ups and downs on my journey but luck has so far stayed with me and I put that all down to hard work, the best bit of advice I can give anyone starting off as a professional photographer is to put your head down and keep going and just concentrate on your own work. That’s exactly what I did and that’s what got me to where I am today, well that and two glasses of red wine 🙂
Tip 4 on how to become a professional photographer is to hone your skill
Yes, it may seem obvious but you really need to know your craft and your equipment, I always knew what I was doing I just never realised it at the time. Do your research improve on your skill set and push your boundaries. If you don’t give it 110% I can guarantee you there are 20 other people out there that will and they will get the job then.
Photography is constantly evolving and as I tell my workshop clients “10 years ago your photography competition (I hate that word) was the person in the neighbouring town or city but now it’s the internet”. You might say competition is a bit harsh there but in reality your client is going to compare you to someone else so they are your competition but maybe only in your clients eyes.
You need to know exactly what you are doing and be able to deliver the images all the time. Now if you are thinking that the internet is not my competition then just think about this… for any genre of photography, let’s just pick seascape photography. Someone wants to buy a seascape image so they have a quick goolge and here in the results you have the best seascape images captured in the world so they have a browse of these absolutely stunning images and then they go more local and they look at your gallery. That’s what I mean, or even better they want a family portrait so they look for ideas and yes you guessed it they hop onto goolge search again and there you have it they are looking at images from some of the best portrait photographers in the world, this is now where the bar or standard has been set for their sitting with you. So being better than the photographer down the road is no longer really good enough.
Tip 5 on how to become a professional photographer is to know your equipment.
You should always not only know your equipment but also the limitations of your equipment and be able to push it to produce the best images you can.
You need to be able to change your aperture, shutter speed and ISO without having to look for the buttons, don’t ever fumble with your gear in front of clients, just believe in yourself, your knowledge and your skill.
If your camera is your best friend then you will know exactly how to work with it, for me I think of my camera as a collaborator on every one of my photo shoots not a tool, we work together and get the best results we can on the day.
I never had any formal photography training but I did work as an electronics technician repairing cameras before I got into photography so I Knew exactly what was happening from the inside out in my equipment. So do you need to go to college to study photography in order to become a good photographer? I don’t believe so, I think it’s either in you or not, simple as that. College and training is great to help you understand techniques and to bulk learn also but not vital in my mind.
Tip 6 on how to become a professional photographer is to Push yourself
Go for it, get those jobs if you can do it but only if you can actually do it! If not spend some time on tip 3 to 5 again. You need to believe in yourself but you also need to be realistic, if you are producing average images then give yourself a bit more time to perfect your craft and then put your head down and push yourself forward, just be prepared to work incredibly hard at it. If you think you can open a photography business and expect work to come to you then save yourselves a lot of trouble and heartache and try and get a job as a photographer working for someone else.
I am a photographer and my wife Nadja is a writer so as you can imagine our income does bounce around a bit but at the same time we are now able to start a really cool project together and we are our own bosses. We can also work from anywhere in the world and take time off whenever we want. Ok this is an edit I am putting in here as when I read that back I had to smile to myself, take time off whenever we want :-), I don’t think either of us have taken any time off over the last few years. I have never worked for so long in a week or so hard as I have done since I picked up a camera. Ok edit over… but it really wasn’t easy especially as we both started working for ourselves at the same time. Now that was complete madness to be honest with you and it was a serious risk but we both worked hard at it and that risk paid off.
Tip 7 on how to become a professional photographer is to know how to advertise or promote yourself.
Anyone serious about about photography has to have a website and not just something thrown together, your website is what showcases your work and also how serious you are about your job. My website commercial website is a bit dated now but it is currently in the process of being completely revamped on a new platform and with all my more recent images. Most of the images on that website are years old now and completely out of date.
I am established now so I don’t need it to be all sparkling and amazing but I still want it to be be for me. I want to feel a sense of pride when I see it now it’s more of a sense of “oh god, I really need to fix that soon”.
Get involved in social media and spread yourself across a few platforms don’t invest all your time in one platform as social media is a fickle beast and if you spend thousand of hours on say Instagram and suddenly it becomes old school then your time has been wasted. Invest the time in your work and educate yourself. That truly is the best use of your time.
Tip 8 on how to become a professional photographer is to never let your ego become too big.
I am lucky to know some of the best photographers in the world and as well as being awesome photographers they are also generally really nice people too. I am often shocked they even say hello to me but they crazily do. I have known most of them for 5 plus years now and they have always treated me as just another person who is just enthralled with photography. I would never even dream of putting myself in the same league as any of these photographers but the one big thing I have noticed is we all have an overly energetic interest in photography. Take me now for example… I was working all day on a commercial shoot today and I have been writing this now for over two hours and it’s just past 11:00pm and I am still trying to tear myself away from my computer.
Ok, so Ego is an incredibly stupid thing, we are all only people and nobody is any different to anyone else, I have been lucky enough to have worked with some very famous people over the years (I treat them the same as anyone else) and the one thing I noticed is that they all breath the same air as you and me.
I also know photographers that have huge ego’s and I honestly do nothing more than smile at them. To think you go to amazing places with the best of equipment and loads of time and take a few photographers and that makes someone feel more special than anyone else is completely mad in my eyes. I have to say I owe my job to photographers ego’s though as I started on small jobs that other photographers wouldn’t do and built from there.
Yes I am still doing the small jobs as everything leads to more business, you need to be prepared to work for the small jobs as hard as the big jobs. Ya working on the big contracts is great and we all love them but sometimes for me the best rewards are on the smaller jobs. Seeing those clients faces when they see their images for the first time, their little project finally getting photographed can be an utterly beautiful moment. I get more of a kick out of that than anything else because it is just pure joy emotion and excitement. Like today for example I got back an email form a client saying they were as they said “OVER THE MOON” with the photos. That for me has its own rewards, you have to think when they grow your business with them will grow also so never forget that.
Stay humble enjoy what you do, work hard and give your clients not just what they want but more. That is the secret to success.
Side story… One day I had a client on a workshop with me and after the session he told me “in the next 12 months I will be your opposition as I am going to be a professional photographer also and going for the same work” he just wanted to let me know and to hear it from him first. Now fairplay to him for having the courage to go for it and to do what he wanted. I can only applaud that and say good luck and no issue or problem there at all. We had a chat and I told him what was involved and when we finished all that I simply said “you do know I will also be your opposition don’t you?” it was his shocked facial expression that showed me it suddenly hit him he was looking at it from the wrong viewpoint. There were lots of people like me out there and he was going to be competing for work with us. The big issue here is social media is full of comments like “wow” “amazing” “stunning” the list goes on… with like for like and comment for comment being part of social media now, all these comments help you believe in yourself which is great but it could also inflate the demon of an ego.
We have talked about it since and sadly it didn’t work out for him as it doesn’t for most people
Tip 9 on how to become a professional photographer is to think like your client.
This has to be one of the most important things to remember, your client is not a photographer and doesn’t understand photography if they did you would be there. So don’t talk about photography and explain everything in plain English, the one downside of all this is you may struggle to explain yourself properly sometimes and look you don’t know what your doing but that will all be forgotten when the client sees the image and by the way most my clients tell me I am the only photographer that has ever done that for them. It helps us both understand how to produce the right images and also explain why sometimes they cant get the shots they want but how we can do something better. All this simply means you can collaborate better with your clients and produce better results.
Tip 10 on how to become a professional photographer is to think of this as a buisness.
Yes, that may seem obvious and I am sure everyone does, having a business plan and setting goals for yourself are vitally important.
These goals need to be realistic though and your business plan needs to have a clearly defined end goal… where you want to be in 5 years and what you want to be doing with yearly targets, that way at the end of the year you can sit back and see how you are doing.
In my case I set myself 6 monthly targets and if anyone told me I would be where I am today I would think they were a bit mad.
Now the other thing to have in this business plan is equip[ment updates, photography is an incredibly expensive business to get into, it’s a lot more than having a camera, in fact you need at least two pro grade cameras with you at all times especially on a commercial shoot.
There is all the other accessories, studio area and studio equipment… all of this is going to easily cost you north of €20,000.- but it’s something you can slowly build up… It’s vital this is part of your business plan though as you need to factor in future equipment costs.
So it is all possible, just like any other job but you are going to have to work incredibly hard at it and be different to everything else out there or simply just be better. The point is I never thought I would be in this position and every day I can pick up a camera is a good one.
The only thing I miss a little bit is that now that this is my job I miss the enthusiasm I had before for taking photographs for myself, that has slowly burned away over the last few years but I can feel that interest bubbling back up now again that I am finally getting a bit more time. Crazily what kept me from taking photographs for myself was photography or taking photographs for clients… Ironic isn’t it 🙂
Have a look at my photography tips and tricks section in the menu where I cover everything from…
My video below explains why you should be using a tripod and why as well as some of my top tripod tips.
See you out there,