Turning the dream in to a day job takes guts, not to mention an eye for a saleable picture and a head for business. Recently we talked to 8 working photographers at the top of their game who tell us how to become a professional photographer in today’s market.
Digital cameras have made it easier than ever to set up a photography business: get the right gear, learn how to use it, spot a gap in the market and start selling pictures. Bingo!
If only it were so simple… The professional photography market is a competitive place and you’ll need tenacity and talent in abundance in order to stand out from the crowd.
Still interested? Good. While the days of swanning around the world shooting for stock are long gone, you can still make a living from professional photography.
The chances are you’ll need to diversify, though, whether that’s writing words to go with your pictures for magazines and books, offering one-to-one photography training and workshops, or even putting together your own YouTube channel.
In this tutorial our panel of pro photographers will tell you the truth about becoming a professional photographer. The picture is a positive one! Despite having to take photos to pay the mortgage, none of them have lost their appetite for photography.
If you’ve ever thought about trying to make money from your camera, their stories will provide the inspiration you need to take the plunge.
Meet the Professional Photographers
Sports photographer, Mark Pain
Nikon Ambassador, Sports Photographer of the Year 2011, Olympics Photographer of the Year 2012 and trainer at the Sports Photography School.
Bird photographer, David Tipling
A prolific bird photographer, David has a built up a large stock of images and film clips over the past 20 years, which he uses to serve wildlife NGOs, publishers and 30 agents worldwide.
Wildlife photographer, Richard Peters
Wildlife pro Richard won the BBC Countryfile photography competition in 2007. He’s a regular contributor to magazines, sells stock images, writes an online blog and more.
Nature photographer, Sandra Bartocha
Sandra is the vice-president of the Society of German Nature Photographers and an award-winning freelance landscape and nature photographer.
Landscape photographer, Tom Mackie
Tom started out as an industrial and architectural photographer in Los Angeles before jumping ship (and continents) to pursue a full-time career as a landscape photographer in the UK.
Fine art photographer, Jonathan Chritchley
Jonathan turned a love of the sea into a photographic career. Listed as one of the Sunday Times’ Top 100 Best Photographers of All Time, his first book, SILVER, was published in 2014.
Movie photographer, Alex Bailey
From Bridget Jones’s Diary and Philomena to Sherlock Holmes, movie stills photographer Alex Bailey has been on set with his camera for some of the biggest movies of the past 20 years.
Fashion photographer, Kirstin Sinclair
Fashion documentary specialist Kirstin has seen her work published in British Vogue, Elle and Grazia, as well as shooting portraits and events for fashion industry clients such as Chanel.
Are you ready to become a professional photographer?
Getting a foot in the door of the photography industry, attracting clients and producing enough saleable pictures to put food on your table: it’s a daunting prospect. That being said, the change in lifestyle and the chance to fill your day doing something you genuinely love is hard to resist.
“I left school with little in the way of formal qualifications. After a brief stint working in a supermarket I got a job in a bank,” says in-demand bird photographer David Tipling.
“During my time working as a cashier I spent all my holidays travelling taking pictures. On a trip to Kenya in 1984 I took an image of a leopard sitting in a tree. There was nothing outstanding about this image but it was a nice portrait in a good setting and was selected for inclusion in a Telegraph Colour Library Stock catalogue.
“During the first six months the image was on sale it made me more money every month than I was earning in the bank. I realised then that my dream career was perhaps not too far away.
“However, I continued working latterly as an auditor for a building society for six years until being offered voluntary redundancy, which gave me the push I needed.”
It’s a familiar theme: passionate amateur photographer holds down a regular nine-to-five job in order to fund camera gear and photography trips, all the time wondering if they could do this for a living.
It’s a slow burn, and it can take years to build up the confidence and financial reserves to make the big step. However, there are those photographers who commit to it from an early age.
“As my dream has always been to be a professional photographer it was quite a straight line,” says nature photographer Sandra Bartocha. “I studied media studies at university and during this time I always took photos, worked on smaller projects and articles, and networked.
“This paid off when I got my first two paid jobs almost at once. I took a chance, resigned from my studies and plunged into professional photography. My thinking was that there wouldn’t be a better chance, as my overheads were quite small at that time and so I didn’t need much in order to pursue a living.”
If you’re considering turning professional, a stint spent assisting a pro is a great way to get first-hand experience and help you decide if the full-time life is really for you.
“I worked as a shoot assistant, a printer in a dark room and a photographer’s personal assistant for several years before I started to get my own work,” reveals fashion photographer Kirstin Sinclair.
“I think it is imperative to gain first-hand experience within the industry. It has been invaluable to me to work in a number of different roles, from a photographer’s studio assistant to an intern at a magazine.
“This has all played a huge part in my learning and understanding of how the photography, fashion and publishing industries work and I would recommend this route to anyone.”
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