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For every professional photographer, there are at least another 100 amateur photographers who are capable of taking photographs every bit as well.


Are you one of them? Have you got what it takes to become a professional photographer?


When it comes to your ability as a photographer, that is probably the easiest question to answer - just ask around. Whilst most people couldn't quite put their finger on what defines a professional photograph, nearly everyone can tell if a picture looks "amateurish", for want of a better term.

Turning professional

If you want a more objective view, try entering a few pictures in a local photo contest. These are usually judged by working or retired photographers, whose job is (or was) to recognise a good picture when they see one. It's not so important that you win the contest but, if any of your work gets a "commendation", that means that you probably can take a decent enough snap.


The point here is that you don't need to be one of the world's best photographers. As long as your work is of a good quality standard, it is much more important that your results are consistent and repeatable.


What level of skill you actually need depends to a large extent on the area you want to work in. There are many different business models to choose from so, perhaps the first thing you should do is decide which one you are most comfortable with.


The boring stuff

In terms of the business side of things, what you have to do depends to some extent on your chosen business model. However, certain things are fundamental and largely universal. You have to inform your local tax authorities that you are going to be self employed. You need to do this even if you are already employed and are only intending to work part time.


They will probably want to know the name of your business (your trading name) and will tell you what information you need to display, for example on any letters you send out. The details are likely to be slightly different from country to country but there is seldom a great deal to it. Any decent local accountant can tell you the facts and shouldn't charge you too much for doing so.


Essentially, it boils down to recording all the money you make and all the expenses you incur. Make sure you keep all your receipts for equipment, materials, stationary, transport etc. At the end of the tax year, you need to submit a summary of this information to the tax authorities. You may be able to do this yourself or you can hire an accountant to do it for you. They will make sure that you are claiming all the tax relief you are entitled to and this, in itself, will usually justify their fee.


There is one business model that does not involve any of the above. That is, if you become employed as a staff photographer by, for instance, a newspaper or magazine etc. This is because you will be an employee and the company will deal with all the tax details. Having said that, these jobs are becoming harder to find and nowadays most photographers are self employed freelancers.



In theory, the only difference between an amateur and a professional is that the latter gets paid. Whilst that is true it is also the case that money changes everything. It's one thing for a person to tell you that they like your pictures. It's another matter entirely for them to spend their hard earned cash for one of your photographs. However, when that does happen it's one of the best feelings in the world.


Another thing that pretty much all photographers need is a good portfolio. You will probably need this even if you are applying for a staff job. Unless you become extremely well known, most people will want to see your work before hiring you. If you are thinking of turning professional then creating a good portfolio should probably be the first item on your agenda.


Editing your portfolio is essential. It is much better to have fewer, great pictures that a mix of the good and the ordinary. Also, if you do different types of photography, make a different one for each type. A portfolio isn't just to show people your work, it's there to impress people with your work. For this reason, you should also pay a great deal of attention to the presentation of your photographs. It is definitely worth spending money on a good quality case and presentation materials. Just remember to keep the receipts.


The money you spend on this should be thought of as an investment for which, any work you get, is the return on that (and other) investments. This should also be your thinking behind choosing a camera. It should be good quality but, even more important is that it is consistent and reliable. In most areas of professional photography, you will need an equally good second camera as back up. That's how important reliability is to the professional photographer.


The business

Like most commercial endeavours the business of photography is not about pictures, it's about people. The different types of photography available will bring you into contact with different types of people. What follows is a brief guide to the typical situations you might encounter depending on your chosen business model. More detailed descriptions of what is involved can be found on other pages.


Social photography

This is what most people think of as a photographer. It involves things like portraits, weddings and event photography. The people you meet here are the general public. You really do need to like people for this sort of work. If you are comfortable with the idea of standing in front of a large group of people, making a complete fool of yourself in order to get their attention, then this is the job for you. If you have ever done any amateur theatrics then you will probably know how this feels.


Pet photography

If you have a particular affinity with animals, then pet photography might be the thing for you. On the other hand, if you don't like animals very much (or if they don't like you) then you would be well advised to steer clear of this area.


Product or commercial photography

This will usually require that you have access to a studio but you could possibly stick to small products and work from home. Transportation is often an issue with product work and good organisational skills are useful. You should also make sure you have good insurance for this type of work.


Not all commercial work is just products. Other business photography includes portraits (for annual reports etc.) and interior or architectural photography. You will be dealing all the time with "company people" so, the easier you fit in with their corporate environment, the better.


Sports, news and documentary photography

The similarity between these is that the subject of your pictures is usually equal or more important than the aesthetic qualities of your imagery. Being at the right place at the right time is vital in this sort of work. Knowing your subject helps a lot here.


A good place to start building a portfolio in, for instance, sports photography would be your local league matches in your favourite sport. Most players will buy a good shot of themselves in action, which can subsidise the cost of your portfolio. Also, the more practice you get with this branch of photography, the better.


Fashion photography

Probably the hardest place to start. It helps a lot if you know a few designers. Just creating your portfolio is expensive as it will involve lighting, possibly a studio, professional models, make-up artists, wardrobe staff and dressers. One way to start might to find a budding designer, perhaps a student. You could share the costs and the portfolio could be used to sell both the clothes and your photography.


Stock photography

From the hardest to one of the easiest. at least to set up and get started. If you already have a good collection of photographs, all you need to do is upload them to one or several stock photo libraries. This is also the lowest maintenance photography business model as, once your pictures are online, they can sell over and over again with no extra work on your part.


Fine art photography

This is probably what the vast majority of photographers aspire to. Their work hanging in art galleries and changing hands for thousands. As you can imagine, not many photographers manage this, which makes it the most competitive market known to photographers. However, if your work is truly exceptional,

there is no reason why you shouldn't become a member of this elite.


If you would like to learn more about the practicalities of being a professional photographer, Roy Barker has gathered all the information you need in great detail in his book “Income from Photography”. You can read all about his book and, if you like it, download it instantly from his website.


Read more about “Income from Photography