Now you have a camera, a lens, and a dream. You want to become a professional photographer. Set your own hours, work from home, take beautiful photographs, and rake in the cash. Sounds simple.
It isn’t always that easy.
First, let me say I don’t want to discourage ANYONE from following their dream. I do want to give you a realistic look at moving from amateur to professional.
We all see the ads. Make $5,000 a week from home working only parttime. “I made $250,000 my first year”. Many of these are just scams to get you to send in money to “learn” how to make money. The truth is very few make anywhere near that kind of money more often than not only sending someone else your hard earned money.
Photography isn’t quite that bad, but it is work. Photography is a highly competitive venture. There is currently no shortage of people who call themselves photographers, just like there is no shortage of people, who like me, want to teach you how to become a photographer.
The key to becoming successful
While I would love to say the key is becoming a master at taking great photographs but the reality of it is that key is marketing. Learning marketing, to me, is like watching paint dry. You may have already started to read and study marketing and have discovered that same feeling as I have about the topic. Unfortunately, unlike the movie “Field of Dreams” just because you build it they may not come.
I won’t attempt to teach marketing. I am still learning this skill myself. There are many good resources to learn marketing such as Lynda.com which I use a great deal.
Learn your craft
Another valuable key to success is to learn your craft, in this case, photography. While marketing is the most vital portion providing a high-quality product will help your client base realize value for their money.
If all you can provide them the same quality they can do for themselves why would they spend their money with you? Would you hire yourself to provide memories of important milestones and memories? How much would you pay you?
Like learning anything, start with the basics and build. You want to become the expert. Your clients expect you to know about photography.
Customer service and customer service
From having worked in the retail industry I can tell you it is all about customer service. Despite what many may believe though, the customer isn’t always right. Listening to your customers is one of the best ways to keep them happy. When you have an unhappy customer listen to them. Find out why they are unhappy. You don’t have to give up the farm, so to speak to make them happy. Often it is just a matter of letting them vent and then work to resolve the issue.
Every day I see photographers make this common mistake. They haven’t considered how to handle customers who have complaints or are difficult. They then go to the internet to seek advice. These internet experts, more often than not, give horrible advice on how to deal with a difficult or upset client.
When you start your plan ahead. Consider how you will relate to an angry customer/client. Think about the last time YOU had a complaint with customer service you received. Were you satisfied? What did the business representative do that made you feel this way?
The Ugly Side
Ah, there is an ugly side of becoming a photographer. Some will say you are not ready to charge but if you take on assignments are a “trade for” you are killing the industry. You don’t have experience but you can’t get experience because you are either “low-balling” and taking their clients away or your charging too much.
One way to combat this mindset is “learning the craft” before you start a business. Build your portfolio first BEFORE you call yourself a business.
Don’t just listen to family and friends opinions on your photographs. Remember, they love you and because they love you they love your work. By the same token, be cautious of listening to the opinions of beginner groups, remember, they themselves are just like you, beginners.
Learn to critique your OWN work and become your harshest critic.
A common mistake I see far too often are photographers who ask for a critique on a photograph and then argue with those who don’t like it because of technical or compositional issues. Keep an open mind on critiques.
One of the best lessons I ever had was when I was in my photography course. Each assignment we submitted was critiqued. My very first submission I got my critique. I was so excited because I was so proud of my work. Then BAM! My instructor ripped me apart on the work. I was devastated, but I went through the critique a few times. Each time I realized he was right. I studied harder and worked harder because I didn’t want to experience that type of critique again.
Final thoughts and tips
Hard work alone doesn’t ensure success. Dedication, study, more hard work. Find yourself a photographer or two you admire and follow their work. Ask them to help you learn. If they don’t want to keep searching. These photographers can be local or via the internet.
Stay focused. Follow your dream. Stay true and honest with yourself.