20 Tips for Turning Photography Into a Career

February 15, 2012 Career Photography

If you yearn to become a professional photographer, you are entering a field that is highly competitive. Additionally, with the advent of inexpensive digital cameras, the skilled photographer may find that unskilled, yet talented, individuals have the capabilities to produce images that are more popular because of great marketing techniques and the skilled use of social media. But, in the long run, the consumer often trusts his or her time and money in the photographer who has the right equipment and experience to produce an image that tells a story in a visually appealing way. If you truly want to turn your photography experience into a career, the following tips might help direct your path into the field.


Friend as TripodEducation is important, but look at all the options and then choose the path that works for you.

  1. Self Taught: With the Internet, on-line courses, software manuals and a vast array of professional workshops, being self taught may be more accessible that ever before. For those who learn best on their own, this might be the most effective method. However, being self taught may not get you in the door for some of the more prestigious photography careers.
  2. College: Entry-level positions in photojournalism or in industrial or scientific photography generally require a college degree in photography or in a field related to the industry in which the photographer seeks employment. Entry-level freelance or portrait photographers need technical proficiency. Some complete a college degree or vocational training programs.
  3. Military: Yes, this is an option. The Navy, for example, provides training for those showing the right level of talent and motivation. Most training in this field translates directly to college credits toward a liberal arts degree at most colleges and universities. Advanced technical and operational training may be available for selected disciplines in this field.
  4. Research: Simply know your field. Know where the best jobs are located, and where you can find the best salaries. The Bureau of Labor Statistics already did the legwork for you, so all you need to do is investigate.


Super Telephoto LensIf you plan to become a successful professional photographer, you might focus on a specialty. This way, you can market yourself as a freelancer in a specific subject and to employers as a person who is skilled in your field.

  1. Portrait Photographers take pictures of individuals or groups of people. Some specialize in weddings, religious ceremonies, or school photographs, and they may work on location or in a studio. Portrait photographers who own and operate their own business have many responsibilities in addition to taking pictures. They must arrange for advertising, schedule appointments, set and adjust equipment, purchase supplies, keep records, bill customers, pay bills, and direct their employees. Some photographers also process their own images, design albums, and mount and frame finished photographs.
  2. Commercial and Industrial Photographers take pictures of various subjects such as buildings, models, merchandise, artifacts, and landscapes. These photographs are used in a variety of media, including books, reports, advertisements, and catalogs. Industrial photographers often take pictures of equipment, machinery, products, workers, and company officials. The pictures are used for purposes such as analysis of engineering projects, publicity, or records of equipment development or deployment. This photography frequently is done on location.
  3. Scientific Photographers take images of a variety of subjects to record scientific or medical data or phenomena, using knowledge of scientific procedures. They typically possess additional knowledge in areas such as engineering, medicine, biology, or chemistry. Niche careers within this category include thermography, high-speed photography, photomacrography, and infrared photography.
  4. News Photographers or Photojournalists photograph newsworthy people, places, and sporting, political, and community events for newspapers, journals, magazines, or television. This field of photography probably has the strictist ethical framework, which demands that the work is both honest and impartial whilst telling the story in strictly journalistic terms.
  5. Fine Arts Photographers sell their photographs as fine artwork. In addition to technical proficiency, fine arts photographers need artistic talent and creativity. Trends vacillate between staged photography and the hope to “discover” the image — much like the difference between created art and art created by found images.

Other Skills

Pro Nikon PhotographerYou’ll need other skills to set your work apart from the myriad of other photographers.

  1. Learn how to see: Photography is an art — the photographer should know basic art elements such as color, repetition and rhythm, balance, and composition.
  2. Understand your equipment: No matter if you use traditional photography equipment or digital cameras, learn how to use them well and take advice on how to use them to their best advantage from other professionals in the field.
  3. Always be ready: While you might go around with your camera plastered to your face, sometimes it takes time to understand how to capture an image that tells a story. Be critical of your work, and eliminate any photograph that doesn’t portray your skills or a story.
  4. Study other works: Artists start learning by studying the masters. Photographers do the same — so begin to look at work you admire as well as historic photographs (especially award winning photos) to help develop your style, hone your skills, and increase your knowledge.
  5. Always get the best equipment possible: Not only will it last longer, but you’ll get better images. It would be a shame to produce an award-winning images, only to have them spoiled by the lack of technical captures.
  6. Join forums to discuss your challenges and successes: This blog article talks about photography forums and lists a few of them. They also talk about forum etiquette.
  7. Offer your services to your community: Free publicity may result from participation in community projects such as the one linked here. If you don’t have a community project, start one!
  8. Utilize social media: You may have a web site already, even a blog. But, there’s nothing like social media to start a conversation. Facebook, Twitter, Google+, and LinkedIn are just four of many places to use to start that discussion.
  9. Know what you’re talking about: Use this glossary of photographic terms to learn about your craft and to be able to talk about it with professionalism.
  10. Read comments and add your expertise or questions: Many articles, like the one linked here, may contain comments that you can learn from — or that you can add to with your expertise.
  11. Write reviews: If you can’t write, learn…or, hire a writer. By reviewing photography books at Goodreads or Amazon or other well-used review sites, you can become an expert in your field. Don’t take a critical tack unless you know how to critique. Otherwise, point out what anyone can learn from any photographic journal or coffee table book.