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Having success in photography means a lot more than just shooting a camera. This is a list of things you must know if you want to make it as a pro photographer. Some of them are obvious, others may surprise you. No such list can guarantee success for anyone, however, you will have a better chance if you acquire this knowledge.
1. Know what you want
You should have a clear idea of what kind of photography you want to be successful in. It is the sort of thing only time and practice reveals. You should also know if you want to be a full time professional and make an income, or if you want to perform at an advanced amateur level.
2. Know the technical aspects
Successful photographers have good knowledge of how their cameras and lenses work. Make sure you know everything there is to know about using a camera. As long as you understand the principles they work by, you’ll be able to use any kind of camera.
3. Know the history of photography
Every photographer should know who Ansel Adams and Henri Cartier Bresson were. Study the great masters of photography, study their work and how they operated. A clear view and appreciation of the past is essential for any developing artist.
4. Know the greats of today
Never before have there been so many photographers in the world, and thankfully, there are some incredible talents in our times. Finding them is easy in today’s web 2.0 age so make sure you study their work. Understanding how a photographer created a certain image can make a huge impact in the way you work and develop your portfolio.
5. Know the tools you need
It is a fast changing industry and the equipment is getting more and more advanced and more and more tempting. However, being successful starts early. You should know exactly where to put your money and buy the best of what you need within your means. Spending a fortune on a lens or a camera will make you feel good the first few days, but if you sacrificed buying two or three other lenses you could have used for business, it might not pay off.
6. Know how to shot like others
In no way am I encouraging you to copy anyone’s work but I do think you should try reproducing other photos from time to time. Why? Because this will give you the confidence that you have what it takes to deliver a professional result and, more important, it will make you find your own style. Only by being able to do someone else’s work can you truly see the importance of making your own work uncopyable .
7. Know how to keep the passion going
Your life as a professional photographer should be based on making an income by doing something you love , yet there are times when the fire that used to drive us is in jeopardy. Dealing with many clients, meeting many demands and working long hours will take a definite toll on your passion for photography. You need to find a way of getting it back and making sure you aren’t in danger of loosing it for good. Unfortunately, there isn’t a universal way of doing this and it’s up to everyone to find out what works best for them. I go to art and photography exhibits, buy photography albums by famous photographers and go for long walks , but everyone should do whatever floats their boat.
8. Know when to say no
Since you are providing a service, there might be times when people will ask you for favors. Many folks often make the mistake of believing our job is an easy one, that all it involves is pressing a button, and so on. Therefore, you should be able to make exceptions from time to time and not charge anything, right? Wrong! Unless it is really close family , you shouldn’t be giving your abilities for free to anyone, not even to your brother’s best friends or your grandma’s neighbor. There are people who find it difficult to say no to someone when they are being asked politely. However, in the long run , these favors will harm your business rather than help it grow. Learn when and how to say no, and do it in the most polite and professional way.
9. Know how to negotiate
A vital part of any business is the ability to close the deal, so to speak. Negotiations can be very scary, especially for creative, artistic people who would rather have the money talk done for them. Sadly, not everyone is at the level where they are represented by an agent who does the negotiating, thus relieving them of this burden. So you need to know how to do it on your own. I strongly advise seeking help in other fields of work. I’ve heard people who work in sales are particularly good at this.
10. Know how to lose a deal
Especially if you live and work in a smaller community. Regardless of location, every now and then things don’t work out the way you want them to. A potentially rewarding contract could go to someone else. Learn to accept it and move on. Do not call for a re-offer, do not threaten the competition into backing out of the deal, do not ask the client what deal they went for and so on. The fish in the sea saying applies here. Pick yourself up and go find new clients.
11. Know how to edit
This means picking the best photos from a shoot and adding them to your portfolio. You should know how to edit your work and you should have a printed book. Having the ability to select your best work will have a significant impact on your professional future. After all, you may shot whatever you want or whatever the client asks of you, but at the end of the day, it matters what you show the world.
12. Know how to post process
Because no professional photographer will survive or get very far by lacking PP skills. This is the way digital photography was designed, to be optimized with certain adjustments. You need to know how to make your photos look better. Sending your photos to a retoucher because you’re afraid to learn or you can’t find the time is a temporary solution that won’t take you very far. One reason is trusting another person for an outcome you are responsible for and another is that you will never truly develop a personal style that people can recognize.
13. Know how to present yourself
Whatever genre of photography you’re in, it helps if the client sees you as a professional. Other than the way you work, the way you look plays an important part. I’m not saying go and shoot in a suit and tie, although it’s not uncommon in the wedding business, just make sure you look tidy and don’t wear the same T-shirt you wore when clubbing the night before, which again, should be a big no-no.
14. Know your competition
Do your best to figure out what the other local pros are doing, especially the successful ones. Observe their work, their business model and marketing and learn from them. DO NOT copy anything. Instead, adapt in such a way as to stand out from the crowd and offer a different, better option.
15. Know how to master light
Do your best to reach a level where you are fully capable of mastering both natural and artificial light, as well as combinations of the two. Light is the core of photography. Knowing its secrets will separate you from many competing photographers and recommend you as THE pro to work with.
16. Know how to market yourself
Vital in any business. Also another thing many creative people dislike because it makes them feel like used cars salesmen , regardless of how talented they are. If you’re serious about getting anywhere, marketing your business is not optional. It’s not rocket science, it’s just a different way of working with people. Again, seek advice from different fields. People who work in marketing, communication, PR and curators can provide helpful knowledge in this area.
17. Know how to blog
Writing can be very helpful to a photographer. It’s a new, different way of channeling creativity but it can also help you escape a creative rut.
Blogging can bring in new fans as well as clients. Try to write interesting posts about your work or future projects and learn how to use SEO to your advantage.
18. Know how to appreciate art
Great inspiration can be drawn to photography from other art forms. You shouldn’t limit your interests to photography. A good photographer is, above all, a well educated person. Go to museums and art galleries and explore what some history’s greatest artists have to offer. It will help you keep an open mind and it will help your vision evolve.
19. Know how to make your clients feel special
This will take you a long way, possibly further than your photography skills. It doesn’t mean you should be a lousy photographer, but good communication skills will bring you a lot more work than you would expect. It can be a pretentious art director or a bridezilla. If you can make them feel good while working with you, you’ll most likely be getting more work from them or through their recommendations.
20. Know how to price your work
You are providing a service based on your talent and that has a cost. You have to clearly determine that cost by taking into account things like taxes, expenses, gear investments, number of hours of shooting in a day , number of working days in a year ,etc. Pricing is a lot more rational than it seems at first glance. You can’t just invent a fee depending on the client. I mean you can, but it won’t get you to far. It’s all part of the business plan so make sure to include this in top priorities.
21. Know how to save money
If you can’t save money you won’t be doing well in business. Find ways to save on everything, from gear purchases to daily habits. Learn to cook instead of eating out all the time. After a while, saving money will bring you just as much joy as spending it.
22. Know how to keep going
Being a photographer is not an easy way to make a living , though it can be a very fun one. Everyone starting a business faces an inevitable risk of failure. It’s up to you to prevent that from happening. If you learn from other people’s mistakes and maybe even take advice from lists like this one, you will have a pretty good chance of keeping things going and growing. There will also be times when you will want to throw it all away and go back to whatever it was you were doing before you picked up a camera. Don’t. It’s a long, hard road to walk but if the joy overcomes the heartache , even by a small margin, keep going.
23. Know when to take a break
You need to cool of your creative engines that have probably been stressed with accounting problems as well. Go some place new and take a minimum amount of gear. Enjoy what the world has to offer without trying to get a good photo of it. Inspiration lies in very unexpected places , so from time to time, take a break and go find it.
Image credit: jackf / 123RF Stock Photo