Ever since cameras were a twinkle in Aristotle’s eye in the 4th century, there have been attempts to capture life for posterity. However, the arrival of the smartphone has turned everyone and their mother into an amateur photographer, making earning a living at it difficult—but not impossible.
1. Get Good, Really Good
It should go without saying that if you’re thinking of carving out a career as a photographer, you should master the skill first, but smartphones have buried that lead. Unless you read everything you can on photography and then put that knowledge into practice, you probably won’t amount to much. Trick question: what parts of the camera does autobracketing use, and why is it a useful technique?
2. Expect a Pauper Lifestyle at First
Even Ansel Adams didn’t start off with padded pockets, and it’ll take you even more work in today’s age to bring in money. That’s not to say that there’s no money in photography—there is, or it wouldn’t be a career—but it’s not something you can hop into like other professions.
3. Invest in Equipment
Many people have tried to make the argument that it’s not the camera, but the photographer’s skill, that makes or breaks a photo, but they’ve likely never tried to shoot a rock concert with an iPhone. It’s almost impossible to get a good shot, starting with the fact that iPhones don’t actually zoom (which is a necessary feature). Invest in a good camera but don’t break the bank—at least, not first. You’ll need a camera that can do heavy lifting, and a smartphone just doesn’t cut it.
4. Vary Your Shots
It’s good to spend a lot of time on each type of photography (e.g. low-light/high-speed, action, stills, people, etc.) but spending too much time in one area can lead to becoming a one-trick pony. Being really good in one area is expected, but it’s not very likely you’ll get paid handsomely to shoot one thing, and one thing only.
5. Ask Around
There are plenty of people who need photographers—cruise ship guests, newlyweds, families, senior citizens, new graduates, and more. Get your name out there and practice in every aspect you can, which is a good way to both get better and have your name known.
6. Realize Your Limits
At first, it’s always thrilling to get an email or phone call asking you to shoot something, and the natural instinct is to say yes as much as possible. But as you get more established, you have to be choosier about your projects, or you run the risk of overdoing it and causing your quality to suffer.
7. Learn to Love Editing
A photo almost never is perfect as is, and will far more often than not need editing done to it, even if it’s as basic as cropping. You can choose to invest in photo editing software (e.g. Adobe) or not (e.g. iPhoto), but be prepared to spend more time editing your photos than taking them.
8. Ask for Money
The most important thing to remember if you’re going to be a career photographer is you need an income, and people would rather not provide it unless you make it a dealbreaker. You’ll have people walk away when the topic of money comes up and you’ll have to bargain your prices down sometimes, but respect yourself enough to ask for money.