Photography is a call of the heart. One does not decide, from one day to the next, to put heart, mind, body and soul on the line in pursuit of the perfect image out of whimsy.
Those who have heard the call from behind the lens generally have a strong sense of the aesthetic, extreme powers of observation, and a drive to capture everyday scenes and extraordinary beauty, recording them for posterity.
Are you forever cradling a camera? Do you usually sling a bag full of lenses and filters over your shoulder before setting out?
Does your tripod feel like a natural extension of your own limbs?
If all of this resonates with you, there is a good chance that you are meant for a life behind the camera.
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Professional Photography: the Nature of the Beast
Beware of setting yourself onto any idealistically-wrought path! It is vital to recognise not just the upsides, but the pitfalls of any craft you wish to master.
That statement was never more true than in the world of professional photography!
In reality, the professional photographer takes a three-pronged approach to his work.
Let us now investigate them.
Fashion photographers, those specialising in portraiture, commercial photographers and photojournalists all have a prime directive: take pictures of their subject.
It should go without saying that shooting indoors and taking landscape pictures require completely different skill sets.
Lighting, environment, calculating angles and framing shots: all of these variables change, from scene to scene.
Does your shoot have a theme that must be subtly disclosed? Is there an overall theme to your photographic art?
Does the job you were hired to do entail more realism, as is the case with photojournalism and street photography?
Are there people to be photographed? Are they wearing complementary colours and adequate makeup? Do their clothes clash with the background? How to pose them?
As you can see, preparing for a shoot usually takes longer than actually pressing the shutter button.
Processing and Post Processing of Images
The next step any pro will undertake is creating visual art out of the ephemeral images s/he has snapped.
If you are a fan of film photography, obviously you will have to develop your negatives.
Every accredited photography course should give training on how to work in the darkroom!
Still, there are some photographers who rely on a laboratory to develop their film.
The downside to trusting a lab is that any retouching is out of the question.
Digital Editing of Images
Purists state that working with film gives more weight to every shot they take. Each click of the shutter represents one unique vision: a single moment, suspended in time.
In film photography, each picture taken has a cost attached that makes the photographer much more conscious of pressing the shutter.
By contrast, digital cameras afford the luxury multiple snaps of the very same thing and, depending on the camera model employed, s/he can take rapid fire shots of the very same moment.
A drop of water, endlessly falling; the night sky, perpetually starry...
Upon review of DSLR captured images, you can discard the shots deemed inadequate, without it costing anything.
Still, even a multitude of images might not have a money shot among them.
That is why post processing of digital photography is essential. Software such as PhotoShop and Lightroom are the digital SLR photographers' best friend.
Adjusting brightness, erasing unsightly shadows, enhancing focal points; maybe adding some background are all possible with Adobe and other software.
Let us abstain from editing models' contours, though. That could cause you an unwanted backlash.
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Selling Your Work
Let's face it: the only way to make money as a photographer is to sell the pictures you take.
Would any photographer worth his film, or any digital camera photographer trust the sale of his images to a second party?
That happens more often than you would think.
The very nature of the business of photography demands hustling: to the next shoot, finding the next client, capturing images before the light wanes...
The logistics of the business, of which selling is but a small part, is sometimes handled through an agent or, if the reputation of the photographer in question does not yet warrant an agent, through a trusted business partner.
It would be burning the candle at both ends to be photographer and business manager!
Still, many beginners in the business of photography chase jobs and sell their work themselves.
The logistics of running a professional photography business should be thoroughly considered before settling on photography as a career!
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Competencies of Professional Photographers
Photographic pioneers Ansel Adams and Anne Geddes became famous photographers as a fluke.
Neither had any formal development in the art of photography; they achieved the pinnacle of their respective fields through trial, error and experimentation.
One does not generally become a photographer of renown because of a burning passion and certain talent for capturing images - although those qualities do help.
In today's competitive market, professional photographers of all types tend to progress faster in the business if they have mastered essential key skills.
Technique and Creativity
There is a furious debate raging on about whether formal education unlocks creativity: does academic knowledge permit greater license for one's mind to roam?
Or is the inverse true: too many facts cloud and crimp the ability to imagine?
One aspect of fostering creativity through education that we are sure of: if you know what is possible, you may feel compelled to reach for what is, as yet, considered impossible.
Thus we lump photographic technique and creativity as two equal halves of one essential ingredient of professional photographers.
Just as ballet dancers drill for years to achieve flowing movements and seemingly effortless form, the same exigent demands are placed of photographers.
More than anything, photography is an artistic endeavour. At least, it should be!
Going back to ballet dancers, just for a moment.
Is repetition of well-rehearsed choreography actually art? Or is it mimicry?
The best dancers, and the best photographers constantly push the boundaries of their art, inject new emotion, find new ways to express themselves in dance... and in photography.
Museums, festivals, family and social events; sunrise and sunset and rainy days: all are opportunities to refine your art!
Never leave home without your camera. It is the best way to find new means of expressing yourself through the art of photography.
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The Ability to Relate
Be you a wedding photographer or more into photojournalism, the ability to communicate effectively is essential.
Discussing contracts with clients, instructing models on how to pose; relaying instructions to your team – makeup artists, hairdressers, lighting technicians and assistants: you will need tact and diplomacy in all of these exchanges.
Forget the irascible artist stereotype! Any exposure you have to the public demands civility as well as confidence and professionalism.
A Working Knowledge of Photographic and Lighting Equipment
The evolution of photographic equipment, just over the last twenty years, has been phenomenal!
To that we affirm: the best way to keep up with the changes in photographic technology is to attend workshops and tutorials.
If your schedule proves too demanding, you should keep current by reading trade magazines and watching videos – of macro photography, of how to use RAW to display your work.
You can pick up tons of photography tips from other pros from online photography blogs!
Let us use gridding your shot, as an example.
For a hundred years, the most important aspect of photography composition was centering.
Today, it is recommended to use the rule of thirds, placing the focal point of your imaging slightly off-center and a bit to the top of the frame, to give the picture a more attractive and engaging appeal.
These and other depth of field tricks can all be discovered through photography workshops, either online or at your local branch of a photographic society.
In other words: in communion with more advanced photographers.
Learning Basics of Photography in School
Although no formal education or degree is required to become a professional photographer in the UK, we strongly urge you to seek academic formation prior to establishing yourself as a photographer of any type.
Should three years at university be out of your reach, you can seek out an accredited photography course online to earn your Level 3 certificate.
Make sure the course is accredited! Otherwise, the quality and breadth of education you would be treated to might be questionable.
Whether you wish to specialise in landscape photography or you hold that commercial photography would be more lucrative in the long run, you can be sure of finding a programme that will take you through the basics of photography, all the way to capturing museum quality shots.
Most three-year programmes cover:
- basic through advanced photography, developing and editing of the photograph
- how to enhance digital images and other skills related to digital imaging
- Business aspects of professional photography
You would also learn about the history of photography, study the technical skills of master photographers, learn to work with black and white, as well as colour film – including how to develop and retouch images.
As you become more advanced, you may be sent out on assignment, shooting in obscure locations around town or in a photography studio.
These assignments are meant to help you refine your photographic talent into the specialty you hope to embrace upon graduation.
One of the best aspects of attending photography school is that they will assist with job placement and mentor you, even after graduation!
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What Can You Expect to Earn?
We don't dispute that your love of photography drives your desire to become a photographer.
As always when one finds one's passion, more pragmatic concerns intrude!
Unless you are independently wealthy, you will need to earn your living.
If photography is indeed your career choice, you will want to know if you can support yourself and maybe your family on what you can earn.
The short answer is: it depends on what type of photography you specialise in.
It is true that some forms of the art are more lucrative than others.
Portrait photography, commercial photography, wedding photography and food photography rank high on the list for earnings.
Wildlife and nature photography, night photography and travel photography, on the other hand, are all catch as catch can propositions.
Andy Rouse, the renown animal photographer and aviation enthusiast suggests: Find another line of work, or do it only as a hobby. The market is completely saturated.
Richard Peters seems to concur. He supplements his income by writing articles on advanced photography for various magazines and websites.
He also enters competitions, and any prize money he earns goes right back into his business.
Because there are no baseline regulations on photographers in our country, how much we charge and what we earn is solely up to us.
The average commission fee for a wedding photographer, anywhere in the country, is £663.
Scottish photographers' average fee is £621 while, in London, the best photographers command £8750!
You will have to remember that a portion of your earnings will be sunk into buying new equipment and paying any business overhead you may have.
Studio rental, supplies, equipment, paying any assistants, and maintenance fees all count as business overhead.
And, above all else, you must pay into HMRC. Please don't forget to do that!
For a sure bet on a living wage, seeking employment with an established studio or concern would be your safest alternative.
You may find your creativity stifled by routine employment. On the other hand, you can consider taking such a position as paying your dues, and still have time to flex your creative muscle during your off time!
Photography is visual storytelling: both through the subjects you capture and through your own, inimitable style.
Communication, creativity and technique are what define the successful photographer.
Of the many avenues to learn photography, obtaining a degree from university or an accredited online photography programme is the surest way to establish your credibility as a professional photographer.
Besides your desire to express yourself, artistically and professionally, from behind the lens, the largest concern of professional photographers everywhere is earnings: can you make a living from photography?
And here, dear camera wielder, is where the rubber meets the road.
How you engage in the field – independently or through an already established business, will determine not only how much you stand to make, but what you stand to get out of your new career as a professional photographer.