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Questions about Pro Photography.
Hey everyone.

I'm starting to seriously consider trying to get into photography professionally. I'm just wondering if anyone who is a pro photographer would be able to answer some questions for me.

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?

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?

3. is it worth doing? basically, is it going to pay bills? and,

4. am I good enough to go pro?

5. any other useful information that I don't even know i need to find out yet.

Thanks everyone.

Sony A700/ 16-80mm / 70-300mm / 11-18 mm / 100mm macro

My Flickr page
Hi Cam,

Let me preface my answers by saying that a lot depends on what industry you are planning to get involved in. Commercial, fashion, weddings, portrait? Some will require more assets than others.

1) The most important thing is a great portfolio of images. All the education in the world will mean nothing if you don't have the eye for it. If you are not confident with your skills than education might be the way to go. I don't know as I have never actually studied photography at an institution. I think you should really work hard at building up a portfolio.

When I wanted to get into weddings I built up an album of three weddings that I had shot for friends and relatives for little or no money. This album was enough to get my whole business underway. People would book me on the strength of that album. They would never ask how much education I had had or even how long I had been doing photography.

Of course if you are going to be working for someone else rather than yourself they may have certain expectations - but I think a good portfolio in what ever area you are looking at will be the best thing.

2) There are jobs available for low pay in studios taking photos of kids, at schools or at shopping centres. But this is probably not what you had in mind. There are occasional jobs that pop up for photographers for newspapers. What industry did you want to get into. A lot of photography jobs are freelance or people running their own business. Like myself - running a wedding photography business. You might want to consider knocking on the doors of some bigger businesses offering your services as a photographer and pick up some commercial work for your own business. I think that wedding work is the quickest way into develloping an income stream from photography - but also one of the most challenging.

3) I still work full time at another job and my business turns over a pretty healthy gross turnover. This is because I am using the first years of my business to build up my gear - currently have spent over $70,000 on gear at a rough estimate. You have to factor this into your plan. How much gear do you have, will the job provide gear? I could retire my day job if I was fully set up with gear. But there is no way I could do that if I still had to purchase all that equipment. I believe I am just about there in terms of what I have now with my gear. But it has taken three years to buy that stuff, a lot of late hours at night and a very understanding wife.

I have three kids and a mortgage - you may not have the same responsibilities and so this may be a good time to start looking at your future. It took me longer because I have a higher cost of living than someone who is single (my wife doesn't work).

4) Only you know this in your heart of hearts. But join a camera club and get some feed back on your work from the pros there. One thing I learnt from a Ken Duncan was to have prints to show. Slideshows are one thing - but nothing beats some big, beautiful prints to impress.

5) Maybe I could help more if I knew what you were looking at getting into. I know Toad has worked professionally before and Matthew is starting out now as well. Maybe they have some ideas.
Canon stuff.
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. • @matthewpiers | | @thewsreviews •
I can't offer much useful advice for you I'm afraid Cam (apart from generally agreeing with what ^^^ they said Tongue).
But I do find myself in a similar situation as you at the moment, and I'm very interested in hearing opinions on these kind of topics too.

In fact I caught up with Chris today at his place and we had a good long chat about this stuff (as well as being able to have a play with his 1D3 and some fantastic lenses... *drool*).
Thanks heaps Chris... I think that little chat was just what I needed to help give me a bit of focus (pardon the pun) and perhaps get me on the road to pursuing some longer-term goals. The more I've thought about it since this afternoon the more sense it all makes to me and the more excited I've become about the possibilities. Oh, and I can't wait to get my grubby little hands on a 1D3 of my own too! ... and a 70-200 f/2.8L IS... and 24-70 f/2.8L..

Sorry to get sidetracked there Cam. Anyway, just wanted to say that you're not the only one facing these problems. Maybe we can share war-stories as we both try to get something off the ground.
Adrian Broughton
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"Everything should be made as simple as possible, but no simpler." - Einstein.

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