How to go from Amateur to Pro Photographer

April 7, 2009 | Mark Goldstein | Photography Techniques | 28 Comments |
How to go from Amateur to Pro Photographer Image

Over the last ten years I have met and trained many photographers; most of whom started in a different career, but loved photography and wanted to take it further. Almost always, it took them ages to get to the point where they decided they could actually be a professional, usually because of lack of confidence. So how do you become a professional?

Well really, the day you start selling your pictures is the day you become professional. For most people this is the most difficult part. How much do I charge, are my pictures really worth money, who will buy them, and how will I sell them?

When I first started photography I just did it for fun, like most people do; and gradually I started putting exhibitions of my work wherever I could get a space, and trying to charge for it. I was thrilled that lots of people liked my work, and I was very quickly rushed off my feet. However, I soon realised I was selling my work, but not actually making any money - and this is where most people go wrong. I started by converting a bedroom at home, and charging £150 for weddings (this was 20 years ago, but it's still too cheap!). I then got portraits in by advertising them as free sessions, and trying to sell pictures to the clients afterwards. This was a disaster, because people loved the pictures but couldn't afford them; so I ended up giving them to the clients because I felt mean not letting them have them! Friends and family all expected me to do their pictures for nothing, and of course I felt pressured into doing so.

How to Take Natural Photos of Children

Does this sound familiar? It probably does, because I hear the same story so often from so many photographers.

So how do you stop the treadmill of cheap sessions, freebies, overwork and no money? Hopefully these few tips will help...

1. Decide to set up a proper business! Stop playing "shop" and start charging properly, by believing you are worth it and seeing photography as a "proper job".

2. Set your price based on what you need to earn to make a living, otherwise you won't make one. Don't just pluck figures out of the air, or go solely on what other people charge - work out what YOU need/want to live on, and design your business accordingly.

How to Take Natural Photos of Children

3. Offer your friends and family a free session (as they are your friends after all), but make sure they know it is worth x amount, and therefore you are doing them a favour. Tell them they can have 20% off the pictures and give them your price list. They will either go away and stop bothering you, or they will be thankful you are doing it on a proper footing, but giving them such a great discount, which makes it easier for everyone. This also helps you with your marketing, because they will show their friends, and they will see the legitimate price list, and understand that they got a discount. Word of mouth always works!

4. Make sure your product stacks up - a photography business is not just about taking pictures. It has a huge amount to do with presentation too.

How to Take Natural Photos of Children

5. Recognise that you will need help. Shops like "Next" don't start up a business by putting some clothes out on the pavement and charging a fiver for them. They don't start selling until they've got everything right. Find out the right way of doing things by going on seminars - we have plenty on offer to help you!

6. Get assistance from other people too. It's very difficult to run a business on your own. I started on my own and got swamped very quickly under the pile of admin. My friend helped me out by putting albums together for me, and that friend is now running a major part of my training business 20 years later! Just because you can't afford it, doesn't mean you don't need it. You'll soon find that by paying someone a small amount to put a wedding album together, or do a day's book keeping, will free you up to go out and earn money, which should pay for that extra help ten times over. The owner of a big company doesn't do it all himself, and he would never have got that big company if he had.

If you start with these first few steps, it will make a huge difference. Good luck!

How to Take Natural Photos of Children

Biography

http://www.annabelwilliams.com

Annabel Williams' reputation as both a world class photographer and an outstanding tutor is recognised across the globe. Her warm enthusiasm, coupled with an incredibly intuitive approach, is and always has been the driving force behind her very personal and unique style of innovative yet contemporary award winning portraiture.

She brings to her work an imagination and insight which is rare among even the finest professionals, all of which has contributed to her outstanding performance in her genre and it is these qualities which command Annabel so much respect from her peers.

No stranger to both TV and the press, Annabel is also the author of several books on her subject. Her passionate viewpoint engages everyone in a highly enthusiastic exchange of ideas and creativity.

Alongside her business partner Catherine Connor, Annabel also runs Contemporary Photographic Training (CPT) – a dedicated training centre in the Lake District, which runs a comprehensive range of workshops and seminars from ‘getting started’ right through to the prestigious ‘Bespoke Programme’ for aspiring professionals.

All images in this article © Annabel Williams

Entry Tags

how to, professional, business, amateur photographer, amateur, pro photographer

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Your Comments

28 Comments | Newest Oldest First | Post a Comment

#1 seoras

Life is getting very hard for existing photographers, not through lack of skill or business acumen, there is just a lot lot less work. The output of photography students has not decreased and a good percentage of those each year will be looking to become photographers.
I see Annabel Williams as only selling dreams, while making a nice living for herself and potentially harming those already in business and trying to make a decent living in their chosen field.

4:37 pm - Tuesday, April 7, 2009

#2 Dave Yuhas

The market for first-class photography is small.  Everyone who’s ever used a camera thinks they could be a photographer.

5:38 pm - Tuesday, April 7, 2009

#3 wombat

It is good to dream, dreams can buy food and pay rent.

12:32 am - Wednesday, April 8, 2009

#4 Dan

I agree, the market for good photographers is small, while the market for weekend warriors is large. The best approach to going pro is to establish a good brand and loyal following before committing full-time.

6:16 am - Wednesday, April 8, 2009

#5 seoras

wombat - think I meant to say empty dreams or perhaps false hope. Perhaps my thinking is cynical but I’ll bet AW is making a good living out of these invariably not cheap courses.
Dreams if the situation is such for them not to be realised do not buy food or rent.

s

10:17 am - Wednesday, April 8, 2009

#6 Annabel Williams

Wombat is right - if you follow your dreams, and work hard at it, you can pay the rent….believe it or not, I don’t do training to make money out of photographers - I do it to change the photographic industry.  If I was purely in it for money I would just photograph more clients, and have the rest of the year off.  A training business has big overheads, in terms of staffing, buildings, research and trainers.  I hear this gripe time and again - and you can believe what you like - I am just out there trying to change things and give other people the benefit of my experience, because I am totally committed and passionate about photography. Most people think I’m raking in money from books like JK Rowling, but the truth is I invest thousands of pounds in writing books to teach photographers, in order to change the industry, and then I hope to recoup some of that investment by selling the books, so that then I can write the next one.
If you don’t want to listen to my advice - you don’t have to - it’s a free world!  But I’ve run a very successful photographic business for years, and I’m still here!  You could say I’ve trained all my competition - but I’m still here.  In times like these it’s crucial to adapt and change, and keep ahead of the game.  Worrying about lots of other people becoming photographers will not help you succeed.  There are lots of brain surgeons out there, accountants and lawyers, and new ones are being trained every day - no one puts a cap on training lawyers because there are too many; we need an industry that shines out and shows the world that photography is a fantastic concept, and then when more people recognise this, and want to have their photos taken, the market increases.  We’ve trained many many photographers who have gone on to be highly successful, and are still out there enjoying what they do.  They invested in their future, and it paid off.  Their choice.  Everyone is different and I am sorry that occasionally some people don’t like what I do, but it doesn’t worry me because I have made many many great friends in this industry, and I shall continue on my crusade!
Totally agree with Dan by the way - you have to set yourself apart from the “weekend warriors” as you call them, as you would in any business.  Hope this helps.

3:11 pm - Wednesday, April 8, 2009

#7 Fadzlan

Agreed to Annabel Williams. Coming from IT background, competition is very much in common for my life. Should I stop teaching others so as not to teach the competition? I don’t think so.

It is still very hard nowadays to find great programmers. Even with the books and training available today that was not available last time. They can charge high, and people will still buy their services.

Low end market will always be crowded, in any industry. People will then choose to do simpler jobs, or decide its not a right fit for them and change careers. This things happens all the time.

11:16 pm - Wednesday, April 8, 2009

#8 seoras

I stand by my comments.
Photography is an increasingly tough industry, many established photographers struggling to maintain a good flow of work and that was the case even before the current financial crisis.
At the end of the day Annabel you run a business and have proactive marketing for your workshops, I’m just not convinced that what you sell is an ideal solution.

s

12:54 am - Thursday, April 9, 2009

#9 Annabel Williams

No problem Seoras! And I agree with your first sentence entirely, for the low end of the market, but not for the upper.  We’re all entitled to our opinions, and if it’s not the right route for you, then that’s entirely up to you of course!  However I bet you you’d change your mind if you came on a course!  Thanks so much to Fadzian for your support - you’re absolutely right!

12:16 pm - Thursday, April 9, 2009

#10 seoras

Pleased we agree about something. Though I think even the upper end of the ‘photography’ market will be feeling some anxiety and what about everyone inbetween don’t they count.
I took the college route which has served my practice nicely, I don’t do cute kids nor weddings so doubt I’ll be signing up to one of your courses, nice try though.

s

3:15 pm - Thursday, April 9, 2009

#11 Mandeno Moments

If you want business cards at reasonable prices try Vistaprint.

I’m not a professional (although I’d like to sell a few photos) but I do street/candid photography. Members of the public kept asking what I did with the photos so I got some cards from Vistaprint that give my web address: when people see the card they usually ask if I’m a professional.

Business cards are part of your “shop window” so getting them right is important - Annabell mentions this in point #4.

I’m a complete amateur when it comes to designing business cards, but if you’d like to see mine go to http://mandenomoments.wordpress.com/the-mandeno-moments-business-card/

http://mandenomoments.zenfolio.com/

2:34 am - Saturday, April 11, 2009

#12 m.m.s.

I have been doing photography as a hobby for 4 years now, I had the luck of having my work used on the cover, inside booklet and back cover of a band back in 2005 in Germany, unfortunately they are no longer together - but it was an honor to have it featured and I didn’t make jack shit out of it! lol

Now I just try to sell prints, greeting cards, etc at Etsy.com and market myself all over the place! So far no luck, I have people that like my work but evidentially i’m not good enough to make a sale. Eh.

Its also been hard to do any weddings, portraits down here in south Louisiana, lots of folks are struggling since after Katrina and Gustav, I know I am! But it’s not because of the two above. Being new to this area puts me at a disadvantage since I don’t know anyone or the area. Ah well, great article - Will be subscribing to this site. :)

6:09 pm - Wednesday, April 15, 2009

#13 alex moot

I wasn’t familiar with you or your work, i think what you’re doing is really cool.

You don’t have to justify why you’re doing what you’re doing, since you are already doing it for yourself and nobody else. I do not want you to sound egoistic, nothing like it. But since you think, you decide, you act, it doesn’t matter what type of projection it takes up in your head, whether its a “changing the industry” (whatever that means), or helping people, it does not matter. You do it already, meaning that you think is right and will keep on.
And that’s the greatness of life, living in the moment and not some other people’s thoughts, even our own :P I bet you know it already..

Question:
What about people like me, who do not wish to make any profits off of photographs, but want to surpass the level of “pros” in photography itself in terms of quality of images, paper, presentation etc.  Do you have any book in mind that may contain everything there is to know about Digital Photography? I mean like a guideline (e.g. shutter speed is this, does that, here’s an example and an image, now you try it at home etc).

thank you and good work

9:32 am - Thursday, April 16, 2009

#14 Ben

Medicine is now my chosen career track, but photography is something I am passionate about. I know I don’t have the talent to become professional but I still want to persue it as a hobby. Thanks for the tips!

8:47 pm - Thursday, April 16, 2009

#15 Shandeh

I’m an animal photographer, mainly specialising in equestrian sports photography, but I’m looking to expand my horizons and photograph people more often/successfully to give me a little more work.

Nearly all my equestrian photography is with my old point-and-shoot camera though I do have some very nice shots taken of Mum’s horse with my new Nikon D40 (which I am totally in love with). I have only had this camera since Christmas so haven’t had the chance to get out to any competitions with it yet but will do so very soon as there is a big competition coming up at the end of May in my local area.

I guess where I’m going with this is that even if you’re not a ‘people’ photographer it’s worth knowing how to photograph subjects you’ll never photograph ever because it’ll help your photography. At least that’s what I’ve found - I take photos of literally anything and everything to see what works and what doesn’t. I’m pretty much self-taught through trial and error, and my photography has improved since I’ve started photographing people and inanimate objects. Last year I came second in a photography competition in the amateur 17 years and under digitally enhanced category winning $200 in prize money with a photograph taken with my old point-and-shoot. I intend to enter the same competition again but with a different (more recent) photograph, and hopefully this year I’ll improve on my second place. This is all self-taught.

It is possible to take award-winning photographs without professional tuition - I have done it, and will continue to work at it until I have many first places. For the time being I am no professional (though I wonder if perhaps my work could be considered as such) but in time I will start selling my work.

However I am not entirely sure what would be considered a fair price for my work in Australian dollars. I have examples in my deviantART gallery or alternatively if anyone is willing to offer advice I can email watermarked images to them.

Thanks =]

1:40 pm - Friday, April 17, 2009

#16 Gordon

I love it when ‘real’ professionals bag out ‘weekend warriors’.  One would think that these pros had undergone some kind of overnight transformation; a song comes to mind, “one night your shoulders will ache, but next day when you wake, you’ll sprout wild wings, and fly, just like in swan lake” (The Church). 
I am a ‘weekend warrior’ who is trying to follow a passion; not to take work away from real pros.  It’s a long journey for anyone who takes that road and all of us are at a different point along it. No one can suddenly arrive at the end! I’ve really only just started but I would hope that I would encourage other newbies and be willing to pass on any knowledge or experience that I have learned from my own struggles.
I have made almost all of the ‘mistakes’that you mention at the start and you are 100% correct, at least for me, when you say it’s “lack of confidence” that gets in the way. I have found your comments extremely encouraging.  Thanks!!!

6:26 am - Sunday, April 19, 2009

#17 mahuya

mind blowing capture..
Hey did you know ? You can now make money and be on real TV by uploading own photos in http://www.uploaded.tv You may check it.

1:16 pm - Monday, April 20, 2009

#18 Brian

Mandeno is correct. Vistaprint is a very inexpensive way to market yourself, amateur or Pro.  Not only can you produce nice cards, but other items such as magnets for the cars and such. You can make multiple cards depending on the type of work you might do for the person.

Creativity is a key component of photography and it needs to extend to the business side as well.

9:23 pm - Tuesday, April 28, 2009

#19 Roy

Her success speaks for itself.  You can choose to learn from her experience or not.  Personally, I printed this article out and put it on my office wall.  Thanks for the tips.

11:27 pm - Wednesday, April 29, 2009

#20 Brett Robson

If you have passion and a dream, you will achieve what you wish for. Photography is my life, I now wake and each day I am working on some aspect of photography, I have aims and dreams. My work improves all the time as there is always something new that I learn, but marketing yourself and getting your name out there is a big thing. Love the tips, I wonder if you have advice for persons in other countries? ..ie Australia

3:42 pm - Monday, May 4, 2009

#21 Mei Teng

I am in a finance profession but simply love photography. I hope to be able to realise my dream of becoming a travel writer and photographer one day.

7:34 am - Wednesday, May 13, 2009

#22 Brett Robson

Mei: I was in that profession at one stage, I made a leap of faith and take a hold of your passion. I did that over two years ago, its a hard slog bit if you want it you can have it :)

7:45 am - Wednesday, May 13, 2009

#23 AllyCinOz

I am just about to print out my 1st price list.
I am going to market myself as doing “portrait Parties” I will advertise in daycare centres, health centres, Mums groups etc…. I know I can do this as I am a mum of young kids and we want great pics of our kids at affordable prices. I am very confident!!! Wish me luck xx

12:38 pm - Friday, June 12, 2009

#24 Landscape Photography

If you were to look at any profession you could probably find reasons to feel like they are just a dream, there’s too much competition etc.

One thing is for sure, if you don’t try because you decide that there is to much competition then you are never going to make a living out of it, of course it’s not easy but nothing worthwhile is.

10:37 am - Sunday, July 12, 2009

#25 Ian Pack

There are loads of people pursuing their passion in the current economic climate, but don’t let that stop you. Just bear in mind that you’ve really got to show people your worth, but even then as things are financially tight prospects may not want to part with what little cash they have as there will always be “someone who will do it cheaper”.

9:40 am - Tuesday, August 18, 2009

#26 Joe Gilbert

There is lots and lots and lots of competition, but a good photographer will always be in demand. If your shots are unique and high quality, you’ll shine above the weekend warriors.

9:40 am - Wednesday, September 22, 2010

#27 Carl

Going from amateur to professional is not easy. Before you go, enter your work in contests and competitions and be judged by professionals. Your friends will always say your pictures are great as to not hurt your feelings.When you do switch to pro, and do not do well then your feelings will be hurt. No money in the pocket hurts.

4:15 am - Tuesday, November 9, 2010

#28 The Missing Piece Puzzle Company

We are a personalized photo jigsaw puzzle company and we love to see photographs from people who are photographers.  The quality of the photgraph determines the clarity of our puzzles and we strongly encourage our customers to purchase professional quality photos.  Please know that your dedication and professionalism is greatly appreciated by us.  You make our job easy!

The Missing Piece Puzzle Company
http://www.themissingpiecepuzzlecompany.com

4:36 pm - Wednesday, August 15, 2012