Do you have a dream of being a successful photographer? Then it might be easier to achieve than you think.
People have a natural tendency to assume that success means being the very best at something. That being successful means being wealthy or a household name but everyone’s definition of success is different and, at the heart of it, most of us would just be happy to make a full time wage from our passion.
To make money from photography your photos do not need to be as good as all the photographers you admire. They just have to be good enough to attract the right clients in your immediate circle and get the attention of people who need or want photographs. Most clients can’t afford to pay the most successful, most renowned photographers. They just want to hire whoever does reasonably good work and is most convenient. So if you’re convenient - meaning you’re local, available, interested and most importantly, easily found, then that’s a great start and is totally achievable.
But of course as well as being convenient you also need to be consistent. You not only want to get attention, you want to hold attention which creates trust. You can do this by posting examples of your work regularly so you’re at the forefront of people’s minds when the time comes that they need a photographer, and it may even create demand simply by the power of suggestion. And by always providing good service people will recommend you to their friends and associates.
So today I want to give you the path to making money as a photographer. While I can’t guarantee success, because that all comes down to the effort you apply, this path will get you close.
When you’ve practiced photography enough and feel confident with your camera (and only then), declare yourself publicly as a photographer through your social networks.
You may be surprised to discover that people start offering you jobs. People want to give work to people they know, like and trust. And, once you plant the seed, people will be excited to use you and recommend you. It’s amazing how far you can progress just by drawing on your own circle of contacts. But if you don’t start to see interest make sure you’re posting work regularly to build that trust and perhaps offer to do some shoots for free to build your experience.
If you don’t yet know what style of photography you enjoy, just shoot whatever opportunities come your way. With practice, you’ll quickly come to learn what you do and don’t like spending time on. But there’s a good chance that if you aren’t yet sure what you like to shoot, you probably haven’t had quite enough practice to turn pro.
If you know the kind of photography you want to be known for, devote your energy to shooting those things. That way you’ll become confident shooting that subject matter, all while building a portfolio of work in that style. If you have difficulty finding these opportunities then start actively seeking them out by doing skill swaps with less experienced models or putting together a shoot yourself (for example, an aspiring wedding photographer may put together a team of models and stylists to create a wedding themed shoot). DON’T say yes to jobs outside of your area of interest, unless it will benefit you personally. They’ll only steal your time and attention. Turning professional is just as much about learning to say no to the wrong opportunities as it is to say yes to the right ones.
Once you start networking and collaborating with others your circle grows. If you deliver good work you’ll be recommended to others. You don’t have to be the best, you just have to be convenient and well regarded. By now you should have a good gauge on how much interest is in the market and whether you’ve got a viable business.
The more you shoot the more confident you become in your abilities. The more confident you are in your work, the more easily you’ll be able to communicate confidence when talking about your work. The biggest lesson I’ve learned as a business owner is how much your self-doubt creeps into your messaging without you even realising, so be really conscious about how you communicate about your work. If you haven’t already, now might be the time to build a website and ramp up your promotion, whether this be in local area Facebook groups or a larger paid marketing strategy.
By now things should be starting to really pick up, but photography can be a difficult profession to be consistently booked for unless you’re one of the best in your field (but then there’s also external factors like Covid too). The good news is, there’s plenty of ways to pivot in photography with many niches and opportunities to explore and make money.
I can’t promise this will lead to success or even a full time wage but you’ll certainly be much more successful compared to where you started and by now you should have the confidence to keep at it. But while this path looks easy in theory, in reality it can be a very different experience because your chance of success is completely dependent on your mindset.
If you’ve got problems with being visible it’s likely you won’t feel brave enough to step outside your comfort zone. If you’ve got problems with self-confidence you’ll be grappling with imposter syndrome and won’t feel worthy enough to promote your business. If you struggle with responsibility you may decline or sabotage great opportunities. We carry the trauma and stories from our youth through our lives and they affect every decision we make. But the great thing is, we don’t always have to let this control our lives. With some help from a therapist or some personal development work with the guidance of self-help books you can start to overcome these limiting beliefs. I’ve shown you how easy the path can be so if there’s any steps that made you feel uncomfortable that’s probably where you should focus on improving.
Now while this path is clearly for more traditional photographers the journey is slightly different for us creative photographers. Convenience and consistency are still important but the main difference is that creative photographers aren’t limited geographically so we can reach a global audience and sell our work anywhere in the world.
Again you’d start by building a portfolio of good work and growing your local influence. Enter local competitions. Sell prints at markets or exhibit in local galleries and once you know if your work is interesting to others then list it for sale through online portals. Write a blog with good SEO and see who comes calling. And yes, people will still ask you to shoot things outside your comfort zone which is where you’ll need to set strong boundaries. People have asked me to shoot all sorts of things over the years which I agreed to in the early days for experience, but now, unless it’s aligned with my creative and artistic interests I always decline. I consider myself as an artist first who uses photography as a medium, not a photographer who is willing and able to shoot anything I’m asked. But very few people understand this. They see someone with a camera and assume they can capably shoot anything. Yet I have absolutely no experience in some areas which has been a conscious choice because those subjects aren’t interesting to me. But there is great freedom in being able to operate a camera confidently and knowing I can pursue another area with a little extra practice should I need to.
So best of luck setting out on your path to success, and if you’ve found these tips helpful be sure to like and subscribe!
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