Hi Cam, I was hoping WS would provide his insight, and from my much junior position, I can whole-heartedly endorse everything he says. With that said, here's my perspective both from my direct experience and from watching those around me.
Rabid Penguin Wrote:1. how much 'education' is neccessary? would I have to do a Bachelor of Arts in Photography, or would 1 or 2 year course be sufficient?
I'm taking some night classes at a community college, and my instructors are a pair of established commercial photographers. Both are quite firm that absolutely no photographic education is necessary. Nobody's likely to ask to see a diploma or degree, they'll ask to see a portfolio. All of the working photographers that I know work for themselves, so don't expect to try to get a job from an employer, expect to prove yourself for clients.
Taking classes is useful for building experience. I'm not looking for work shooting portraits, but it is a part of editorial and commercial work, so if the need arises I can honestly say that I've done it. It's a way to quickly gain broad but shallow experience that may be useful for starting out. But don't do it so that you get a degree.
Rabid Penguin Wrote:2. how hard is it to get a job in photography? am i going to be able to find employment easily, or will it be difficult?
Again, all of the photographers that I know work for themselves, except for one who works in a department store studio. (I met her in one of the very basic classes, when she was learning how to use an SLR.) There are some large professional studios that employ multiple photographers, but these are comparatively rare. And because every photographer has a unique interpretation, it's a craft that doesn't lend itself to groups.
For me the question has to be "how hard is it to get jobs
?" And that comes down to what you're doing, what you have to offer, and how competitive your market is. I'm having a hard time finding work because I'm trying to carve my own market while being more expensive than my competitors. That's a business decision, and one I don't regret, but the reality is that the market you're in wields a tremendous amount of power. The rise of "microstock" and "crowdsourcing" in particular have made tremendous changes in the photographic marketplace.
Rabid Penguin Wrote:3. is it worth doing? basically, is it going to pay bills? and,
I'm trying to come up with a nice way of saying "no". It's hard to get work, and even harder to get work that pays the bills. Being a photographer is expensive, and too many people are doing it for free. I'm looking for work with rates that are barely above, and frequently below, what it would cost to rent the equipment that I've bought out of my own pocket. And yet I need to compete with hobbyists that will work for a small percentage of that, or for free, just for the experience or the credit, and battling with the client's perception that that's how much photography should cost.
Obviously, there are full-time professional photographers who earn a living wage. But I suspect that their numbers are decreasing, and that the obstacles to start-up businesses are increasing. The good news is that there's usually no need to try and make it work full-time at first. Weekends, evenings, and the occasional sick day can accomplish a lot. You can wait until the income is there if you're willing to work two jobs.
Incidentally, the skilled and experienced photographers who knew of my plan to leave full-time paid employment advised me not to. I'm trying to make this work for my own reasons despite the odds against it, and I'm investing a large percentage of my life's savings to make it happen. I don't have children, I made sure my condo's paid for, and I have a supportive partner who helps with the bills. If I can't change my life now, when can I?
Rabid Penguin Wrote:4. am I good enough to go pro?
Only your clients can answer that. Other people can give opinions, but that's not what counts in the end. I'd say that the biggest photographic skill needed to be a pro is the ability to control light. If you can shape light and put it where you want it, in or outside of a studio, you'll bring something to your craft that most hobbyists can't match.
Rabid Penguin Wrote:5. any other useful information that I don't even know i need to find out yet.
This depends on what you're looking to do, but here's what I've learned by being on my own.
You may be a photographer, but your job is marketing and customer service. You're marketing yourself to get clients, and you're keeping them happy to keep them clients. The service that you provide is photography, but it's not what you'll spend most of your time doing.
Don't set out to be an artist. The words "artist" and "starving" go together for a reason. If you're working for yourself, you're a businessman. You're a creative professional. You bring skills and abilities to your clients that have value for them, and that value is great enough that they'll pay you for your time and talents. This is a commercial relationship.
Be a business. Learn how to run a small business that happens to provide photographic services. You're far more likely to be successful as a mediocre photographer with great business skills than as a great photographer who's mediocre at running a business.
Buy the book "Best Business Practices for Photographers" by John Harrington, and read his blog
. Strobist is also a must-read. And when you're picked a market, also learn everything you can about it and the people who will be your clients.
As WS said, it's a broad subject and we might be able to provide some more useful insight if you narrow down what you're looking to do. It's a very broad range of opportunities, and there's plenty of ways to approach them.