How to become a professional photographer

Are you considering photography as a career? That's exciting! You're probably wondering if you need a college degree or special skills to succeed as a photographer. I've been a professional photographer for over nine years and I'd love to share about my experience with you. Hopefully it will give you helpful insight as you weigh your options.

Instead of getting into technical details, I'd rather talk to you as I would my friend or one of my kids if they decided they were interested in photography.

First and foremost, I totally believe ANYONE can become a good photographer. You don't have to be born with special skills or "just have an eye for photography". If you enjoy photography and learning how to use your camera, then you can become a good photographer. That's because the number one thing you need to succeed at photography is PRACTICE. Simple as that. The more you shoot, the better you will get.

The second thing I'd tell you is that photography is a really great choice for people who are naturally inquisitive and like to be challenged with learning something new. Success as a photographer is very much dependent on your desire to learn. There's always something to improve on, a new technique to try, or new technology to incorporate into your workflow or business model. Some people hate the challenge of learning something new, and some people live for it. Which one are you??

Thirdly, you don't need a degree to become a really successful photographer. People hiring photographers mainly want to see your portfolio. The proof is in the pudding. However, on your journey of learning photography you should expect to spend time and possibly money on education in various forms. This could be reading books, watching tutorials, following the blogs of your favorite photographers, participating in online photography communities, attending classes, and getting hands on experience by working for other photographers in your area... all things which most portrait and wedding photographers I know continue to do regularly. The learning doesn't stop once you get your calendar booked. Having a desire to invest in lifelong learning is crucial as a photographer because this field is dependent upon technology, which is changing at a fast pace.

A little more on education... I took a film photography class in college and although it was fun, I learned way more in a few months of teaching myself and forcing myself to shoot manually. Just because a class costs more doesn't mean it's better education. There are many great resources available online, many of which are free or low cost. The other side of that, however, is you have to get out there and shoot. In photography, there is no substitution for hands on practice and experience.

Although a degree in photography isn't usually necessary, many of the uber successful photographers I know of do have college degrees. Business, communications, and marketing are all really helpful, and maybe even more important than the photography skills themselves if you plan to run your own business. In the end, its not your actual photography skills that will allow you to thrive financially but your business skills. Tons of amazingly talented photographers quit after a couple of years because of the challenges of running a profitable business. On the flip side, some of the most famous and influential photographers I know of achieved their success through astute business savvy while their photography itself was "good" and not necessarily great. This isn't me being critical, they will tell you that themselves. Often these photography superstars focus less time and energy on taking photos than they do on building multiple streams of income and implementing strategies that will ensure their profitability. Running your own business involves not only shooting and editing, but also creating a brand, building a website and online presence, managing social media, managing finances, networking, and delivering a great client experience start to finish.

Becoming a professional photographer is a viable career path that is easily accessible to a wide range of people, regardless of whether or not they have a college education. That's why so many stay-at-home moms like myself get into it. I initially started photography because I wanted to help bring in just a little income for our family while being able to make my own schedule and stay at home with the littles. I have four kids ages 2-10. Knowing I wouldn't be able to devote full-time work hours to it, I've taken a "tortoise" approach to my pace. I have taken a year off - three times. My favorite parts of what I do are: seeing myself improve, learning new things, and meeting new people. The most challenging part is the business side for me, but I'm learning that too.

With photography, you can work for yourself or for someone else. You can use photography as a diving board into many other things - like being a social influencer, blogger, or teacher. You can connect with others and build the future you want. There are people who make a living traveling the world, taking photos of amazing hotels and locations. There are people who spend their weekends shooting weddings but work in their PJs during the week, and many SAHM like myself who take on a handful of sessions or weddings only as it fits into our family thing. You can make it what you want. Shoot what you want. Everyone needs photos, so why not pair photography with another of your passions to create your dream job? If you're a sports fan, wouldn't it be fun to stand on the sidelines at the Super Bowl and be there to take that epic shot of the game-winning touchdown? What if you like scuba diving... I know of a girl who gets paid to travel to exotic places and photograph underwater. What a dream! Or, if you're a foodie, you could build a business photographing the local cuisine and end up with an entire new world of friends and experiences. Photography is an adventure that you can mold to your dreams if you're willing to work for it and be teachable.

What do you love to photograph most and WHY?? Please share!