The basics of how to learn photography are universal: understand how to use photography equipment, practice photography techniques, and find a niche to focus on.
But what if you want to take your photography hobby to the next level and learn more about how to become a photographer? This guide covers all the steps of becoming a photographer, so you can transform yourself from a newbie to a professional.
What Does a Photographer Do? A Day in the Life
Since photographers can take so many different career paths, one photographer’s day may not look like another’s.
On a daily basis, photographers take photos in different environments to record events and tell stories with their images. For example, portrait photographers may take headshots in a studio, while wedding photographers attend the special day to capture the couple’s happiness. Photojournalists, on the other hand, cover events for the news.
No matter what their specialty, a typical day for photographers will often include shooting on sets or in the streets, setting up equipment, communicating with clients, and editing pictures in post-production. Travel is often required for photographers, as they often have to attend on-location photo shoots, and some even choose to become digital nomads, traveling the world and shooting landscapes.
8 Steps to Becoming a Photographer
Just getting into photography, and want to learn how to make it a career path? This guide will set you up with all the knowledge you need.
Step 1: Get an Education
Photography programs range from online classes and certification courses to bachelor’s and master’s degrees. Many professional photographers will take photography or photojournalism courses at universities or design institutes. Though a formal degree is not required to become a photographer, a solid education can help you understand some of the more technical aspects of photography as well as the business side of the craft.
You can also attend exhibitions, photography classes and seminars, and webinars to network with other photographers. There are quite a few professional photography communities you can join, like the National Press Photographers Association for photojournalists or the Professional Photographers of America for professional photographers.
Step 2: Master the Fundamentals
All photographers need to master the basics of photography, including exposure, composition, and focus techniques.
Understanding exposure (which includes shutter speed, ISO settings, and aperture) will help you light your image correctly. In addition to exposure, you need to understand focal length, composition, lighting, depth, and white balance. You also need to know how to frame your shot, and if you’re doing portrait photography, how to dress your set and pose your subjects.
Post-production techniques are also important to understand. Sometimes the difference between a good photo and a great photo is knowing how to edit it with editing software like Adobe Photoshop.
Step 3: Get Experience as an Intern or Assistant
If you’re an amateur photographer, one of the best ways to practice your craft and level up your career is by working with other professional photographers. Since photographers are hired based on the quality of their work, it’s helpful to receive constructive feedback and professional critiques from more experienced photographers.
Many photographers choose to start their careers as interns or assistants to gain hands-on knowledge outside of a classroom. Even better? You don’t have to have a college degree to complete an internship.
Step 4: Get the Right Gear
Proper equipment is a must for taking high-quality photos, but if you’re just starting out, you don’t need to invest a lot into purchasing every photography accessory. In fact, you can begin with nothing more than your phone.
When you’re ready to upgrade, start with a good-quality camera and a tripod. You can sometimes buy older camera models or lenses at a discount or find second-hand equipment in top condition.
If you plan to edit your own photos, you might want to consider investing in a program like Adobe Photoshop, though free image editors are available.
Want to Edit Photos Like a Pro?
Adobe Photoshop for Photographers – The Ultimate Post Processing and Editing Course for Beginners.
Step 5: Pick a Niche
There’s no limit to what you can do after becoming a photographer. Some photographers work with agencies or in marketing departments of companies. Other photographers strike it out on their own, operating as a solopreneur or small business owner. Either way, most photographers choose a specific niche, which allows you to focus on the genre you enjoy while attracting clients that are drawn to your expertise.
Start by considering what you want your life to look like, what you enjoy, and what you are good at. Do you want to travel for a living? You could specialize in travel photography and shoot exotic destinations for magazines and websites. (Note: If you want to know how to become a National Geographic photographer, then spend time learning how to shoot the sharp nature photos that National Geographic publishes.)
If you like staying in one location and working one-on-one with clients, consider becoming a portrait photographer who specializes in shooting pets, families, babies, or corporate headshots. There’s even such a thing as food photography, where you would shoot elegant plates of shawarma or sushi for ads, menus, social media, and cookbooks.
Here are just a few of the other specialties that are available to you:
- Portrait photography
- Commercial photography
- Product photography
- Aerial photography
- Fine art photography
- Wedding photography
- Food photography
- Fashion photography
- Forensic photography
Step 6: Create an Online Portfolio
Every photographer should have an online portfolio. It’s not just a home for all of your best photos, it’s also a key marketing tool, as just about every photography job application or prospective client will ask for a link to see your work.
You can start creating an online photography portfolio with a website template, and there are even themes specifically designed for photographers. It’s smart to separate your photos into specific “galleries” to showcase the different types of works you do. You could categorize your clips by subject matter, client, location, or series.
Step 7: Market Yourself on Social Media
Many photographers leverage social media to promote their projects, drive potential clients to their websites, or sell their work. “Start developing your social media presence,” says photographer and Skillshare instructor Phil Ebiner. “Tag your current clients in every Instagram post you have them in. Also, look for photographer Instagram accounts and tag them. If your photo is good enough, they will pick up your photo and repost it, getting you even more exposure. The key is to get noticed.”
Ebiner also says that if there is a client you’d really like to work with, you can also post photos that you think fit their brand and tag them in the post to increase their chances of seeing your work.
Step 8: Hone Your Craft
Like any other artistic craft, photography takes practice, practice, and more practice. You need to constantly hone your skills and expand your skillset. It’s a good idea to make shooting pictures a regular (ideally, daily) part of your practice—even if it’s not for a specific project.
“No athlete has ever become an Olympic gold medalist without an investment. Not just money, time,” says photographer, art director, and Skillshare instructor Alan Lavery. “You have to put the work in to see results.”
Skills, Salary, and More
What Skills Do Photographers Need?
To learn how to become a professional photographer, you’ll need to curate both creative skills and soft skills. These can include:
Technical ability to operate cameras and editing software
- Artistic skills to get a great shot
What Does a Photographer Make in a Year?
Money matters, so we can’t blame you if you have this question: How much do photographers make a year? Like in any industry, a photographer’s salary can vary. Glassdoor reports a little over $30,000 per year, while Payscale declares that photographers make as much as $48,177 per year. Many top photographers who work for themselves or major publications make well into the six figures.
But again, salary really depends on your location, niche, and level of experience, so if you’re wondering how much do photographers make on average, your best bet is to talk to people working in your field of choice.
How Do I Get Paid as a Photographer?
As a photographer, you can make money from more than shooting or covering events. In fact, strategically adding passive income methods into the mix can help you get paid as a photographer.
Since photographers are practically required to have online portfolios, it’s always possible to monetize your site by adding e-commerce features to sell digital copies or prints of your photography. Photographers can also sell high-resolution images as stock photos. “Because the stock photo industry is super competitive at this point, selling photos on your own might be easier,” advises Ebiner. Keep in mind that selling your photos on your own website provides another income stream, but it also means that you’ll be managing more of the process yourself.
Some photographers broaden their businesses by offering editing services or working as assistants to other photographers. Teaching is another option to earn money as a photographer, either as a professor at a university, as a mentor to aspiring photographers, or by teaching online courses and workshops. If you’re a digital nomad who is also a photographer, you could teach others how to become a travel photographer. If you’re a self-employed photographer, you could teach people how to become a freelance photographer. The opportunities are as limitless as your ideas.
Can Photography Be a Career?
Absolutely. While not every photographer will get rich from their craft, it’s more than possible to make a living at it. The key? Be willing to pursue new opportunities—even if you feel intimidated by them.
“Whatever opportunities fire your way, no matter how uncomfortable you feel shooting that, you should go for it because you will learn, you will force yourself to be comfortable,” Lavery says.
In short, if you have an interest in taking great photos, are committed to honing your craft, and willing to put yourself out there, pursuing professional photography could lead to a fulfilling and rewarding creative career.
Take Amazing Photos!
Photography Masterclass: Your Complete Guide to Photography.