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Transitioning to Pro: Key steps to turning Your Passion into Dollars.
If you’re considering embarking in this professional photography journey, embrace the excitement of starting something new, the challenges that come with it.
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Today, I'm taking a journey back in time to share my personal experiences and insights. What if I had to start my photography career all over again? Whether you're just starting with photography or have been shooting for a while and are considering going pro, this blog post is tailored to help you navigate the challenges and steps involved in transitioning from a regular job to pursuing a photography career full-time.
Finding Financial Stability
Picture this: It's today, and I'm standing at the crossroads of my life, contemplating a new direction in my career, I hate my current job. One of the biggest challenges I would face is financial stability. When starting a photography business, it's essential to be realistic about finances. The first step is setting a budget and assessing your current financial situation. What I wasn’t able to do my first time around is, have an emergency fund to provide a safety net during the initial stages of building my business. Research potential income sources and estimate how much you need to sustain yourself during this transition. I know if I had this set up back in 1992 when I started it would have made my life so much easier.
Building an Online Presence
Back when I started, there was no internet. That means no email, no social media, and it was really difficult to find the point person who had the power to hire you. In this digital age, building a client base requires a strong online presence. We actually have the tools to have our potential clients “find us” based on our web presence. Focus on creating a compelling brand that resonates with your target audience. Identify the type of photography services you're passionate about and showcase your work on platforms like Instagram, Facebook, and make your own website the ultimate destination for consuming your content. Consistency and engagement will attract potential clients and build a loyal following.
The Power of Networking
Networking was the only strategy when I started and believe me, I wasn’t great at it. Social anxiety has always been an issue for me. Learn early how to make networking a major part of your strategy. Attend photography meetups, workshops, and local events to connect with fellow photographers, creatives, and potential clients. Get used to speaking about your work, your style and why you do what you do. Collaboration with other artists like prop stylists, set builders as well as makeup / hair people and fashion stylists can help grow your portfolio and expand your reach, gaining valuable referrals.
Setting Realistic Expectations
Setting realistic expectations is crucial. Success won't happen overnight. My photography career industry buzz started because of my age. I was shooting Pro level work when I was in Photography School when I was 19. My reputation started there from collaborating with Models, Stylists and Makeup Artists. Back then the hype came through your work and style only by people “seeing you shoot” and making opportunities to show your work to potential clients “in person”! There were no smart phones or cell phones at all to share your work. The photography journey is a process of continuous learning and growth. Be patient with yourself and celebrate each small victory along the way. Try and get FaceTime with industry insiders, ask for advice based on your current work. Focus on setting achievable goals, understanding that every setback is an opportunity to learn and improve.
Maintaining a Healthy Work-Life Balance
I got Crohn’s disease when I was 18. Getting sick when I was in the prime of my teen life actually solidified my goal to be a professional photographer. My early career days, I wasn’t in the physical shape I’m in now. I had surgery when I was 23 and I didn’t get a handle of physical health until I was in my late 20’s early 30’s. I had to take my health seriously or things could go off the rails quickly. Now I ride FixedGear bikes, usually between 60-120kms a week. When I’m working, I take breaks from post production often, to reset my attention and refocus. The amount of physical exercise I do today at 53 makes it easy for me to maintain the pace when I am working. In today's fast-paced world, it's easy to neglect self-care. Maintaining a healthy work-life balance should be a priority. I schedule everything. Including time to exercise, social time as well as my professional photography obligations. Set aside time for personal interests and relationships to keep your creativity and motivation flowing.
Embracing the Journey
If you’re considering embarking on this professional photography journey, embrace the excitement of starting something new, the challenges that come with it, and the joy of turning your passion into a fulfilling career. Remember that everyone's journey is unique, and comparing yourself to others is the thief of joy and will only hinder your progress. Dedication, discipline and determination are all needed in order or run your own business and be a working creative pro. It’s not just taking pretty pictures. I’m making photographs only 20% of the time. 80% of the time I’m doing other non picture taking photography related business, marketing, post production and if you’re smart like me, shooting and editing video content.
Gear: Invest in a mirrorless camera of at least 20 megapixels, sorry to say DSLR’s are being discontinued by every major brand. If you’ve never looked through a modern mirrorless camera like my R5, it’ll change your mind. Shooting mirrorless has made me a better photographer and filmmaker. Essential lenses like the 50mm and other fast lenses like a 24mm or 35mm will be valuable for wide and and 85mm for short telephoto shots. Consider prime lenses for sharper images. Use the highest quality zoom lenses with fixed apertures only if you must. Additionally, get a Mac laptop for a more professional and creative workflow, (the creative industry runs on Macs). External SSD drives for a fast and organized working file management, and use spinning drives for archiving.
Lighting: Choose lighting equipment based on your photographic style and portability needs. Experiment with different setups to develop your unique photographic style. I started my career with no lights. I did that for 2yrs, then I got one light, I shot for over 10 years with one main light. Later, I added more heads and modifiers. Now you can buy pro level gear on amazon for a nickel. I’ve put together an insane list of Pro lighting / modifiers and grip equipment on my Pro Photographers Recommended list.
Subject Matter: Narrow your focus and specialize in one area of photography to establish a recognizable brand. Find inspiration in your favorite magazines and images to determine your preferred subject matter. You’ve heard “niche” a thousand times in the last year I’m sure. There’s a reason. Specialists get hired more, get paid more and are in demand more. Specialists are categorizable and searchable. “Car photographer, Fashion Photographer, Wedding Photographer, Product Photographer”
Style: Your style is how you see with your camera. It’s your unique way of seeing and composing images, including lighting and post-processing. It evolves over time and becomes an essential part of your identity as a photographer. Work on your style. Style comes from the equipment you use and how you use it. Style comes from creating a look a feel that only you and do. Your style needs to be on trend and unique to you. Don’t change styles with the seasons. Your style is your signature, hone it. I made a great video on style, it’s one of my favourite YT videos.
Promotion: Promo is where most photographers fail. Direct mail, email reach outs and mailing lists are 3 ways that I do promotion. Not including YouTube. Video is a weapon and a great way to showcase not only your work but also your personality, style and how you speak. You can stand out in a competitive industry by being original and contemporary in your work. Showcase your best work in a carefully curated portfolio and utilize promotional materials like postcards and business cards. Network within the industry to succeed in the competitive world of professional photography. Video is a weapon and it’s free if you use the phone in your pocket. Photographers are blowing up using reels, shorts and videos on YouTube to gain traction and business growth. Don’t be linear.
Establishing yourself as a professional photographer requires dedication, passion, and a strong understanding of your chosen market. Continuously refine your skills, keep building a strong portfolio, and network within the industry to succeed in the competitive world of professional photography. Be brave, take calculated risks, and stay persistent. You have to believe in your abilities, surround yourself with supportive people. We never stop learning and growing as a photographer as long as we keep shooting. Your dream photography career is within reach. You just need to stay at it. You get better every time you look through that little window.
See ya next week.
Thanks for making it to the end of this post. I made YouTube Partner last week! What a grind. I don’t think I’ve done anything that has been a harder grind than 4000 watch hours and 1k subscribers. My inspirational and motivating YouTube content continues, I hope you’re subscribed. I’m in process of editing a new video and I dropped 3 podcasts last week. Hopefully something here grabs your attention.
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Lastly.. YouTube memberships are here! You can join my channel for exclusive perks, access to members only live chats and members only video content. Becoming a member also gives you access to my exclusive Discord channels where you can submit your photographs for review during Ask a Photo Pro.