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How to Become a Professional Photographer: More Than Meets the Eye

A born creative, Jonas loves working with online businesses to create new strategies for growth. "Content creation is fuel for the soul."

How far are you willing to go to get a unique shot that someone might want to buy?

How far are you willing to go to get a unique shot that someone might want to buy?

The Road to Professional Photography

People sometimes ask me, "Is it hard to become a professional photographer?”

The questions you really need to ask are, “HOW do I become a professional photographer? Do I have what it takes to persevere on a long, hard road to reach success by spending every waking moment tackling obstacles and moving forward?”

Those questions can be answered by many people in many ways, but the heart of the matter is that you have to be dedicated, passionate, and have a drive and motivation that is completely relentless. You will have to work harder at it than any 9-to-5 job you will ever have.

There's a Lot to Learn

Of course, have to dedicate yourself entirely to learning everything you can possibly cram into your brain about photography, accompanied by spending countless hours in your niche honing what you have learned into actual photos that people will want to buy.

Photography Is Expensive

Unless you are already rich—or have access to a large line of credit—strap in. You have now chosen a very, very expensive business to be in.

You Have to Learn Editing Software

Don’t forget — now that you have a terabyte of awesome shots, you’ll need to edit each one of them. That means learning how to use a wide range of software and editing platforms to create those amazing, highly polished images that do sell.

Learning these will also take hours and hours of time and dedication.

You Will Likely Be Self-Employed

When it comes time to start promoting your work, you’ll still likely only be a “self-employed” photographer, unless you are simply a natural wunderkind, and are snatched up by National Geographic because you’re so awesome. (I would dream about it, but not count on it.) This means adopting an entrepreneurial spirit. If you are not an entrepreneur already, be warned. You are in for a bumpy ride.

Learning how to start, run, maintain, and grow a business will be an additional boatload of hours to learn and implement.

Did you give up, yet? Wait! There’s more!

You'll Need to Market Yourself

Now, as a skilled entrepreneur with your own business, you’ll have to learn the art of self-promotion to differentiate yourself from the tickety-million other “professional” photographers out there trying to do exactly what you are doing and make a profit.

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Now, you have entered the step I consider the most difficult of all . . . marketing!

Here is the part I really want to drive home. Unless your chosen path ends with getting a “job” as a photographer, you’re going to have to learn how to market yourself, your story, and your work. I ask again: “Are you rich?” because unless you have the funds to pay someone else to do everything that is needed to promote your work, at least in the beginning, you’re going to have to do it yourself.

Website and Social Media

Some things you can outsource easily, like your initial website. Even here, be very careful from the very beginning. Choosing the wrong hosting, site structure, branding, etc., can create a sh*t storm of problems down the road, and the road you're “choosing” is already hard enough.

OK, so now you have your website. Once again, you’ll have to learn things like SEO, how ppc works, should you advertise on FB, Twitter, LinkedIn, or Instagram? (The answer is, “yes, and then some.”) Will you write a blog on your website? (You should, if you want traffic. Know how to write articles? What about conversion copy? Well, you’ll learn.)

How else will you generate traffic? What is your ideal client persona? How do I determine my ideal clients? What are sales funnels and how do I create them? What about landing pages, squeeze pages, and how much time should you spend on social media, and the list goes on ad infinitum.

Would you be willing to spend two years alone on an uninhabited Alaskan island to teach yourself photography?

Would you be willing to spend two years alone on an uninhabited Alaskan island to teach yourself photography?

My Personal Path

Six years ago I “chose” to become a professional photographer, and I haven’t looked back since (I’m not there yet, but I’m closing in!). My journey has taught me that it’s not enough to want it. You have to be consumed by it, be passionate about it, and be willing to take risks to become successful, and stand out from the crowd, even when your images already do.

You have to think of creative ways to let people know you’re out there.

You will also need (I should have mentioned this in the beginning) to have fortitude—your will to go on, and keep pushing forward will be tested to its outermost limits.

BUT! As is often said, if you love what you do, it’s not really work, right? By the time you get to this point you should have one hell of a story to tell and an incredible portfolio that people will want to hear, see, and mostly, support you through purchasing your work.

Even better than that, you will have amassed a vault of valuable life and entrepreneurial experience to go along with all of your hard-earned success.

Of course, I didn’t cover everything, but this should be enough to let you know that you are not just choosing to be a professional photographer.

You’re choosing a lifestyle that will take years to grow into.

My last piece of advice to you: If you truly want it, START!