How to Go Pro - Part 1

August 15, 2011 | Mark Goldstein | Photography Techniques | 18 Comments |
How to Go Pro - Part 1 Image

Can I be my own boss?

There is a moment that every photographer knows. You've been beavering away in the office for days, working on the never ending processing backlog, catching up with the books, paying bills, sending out e mails. After days of the same you're bored with your own company and losing momentum with the endless tedious tasks. The phone hasn't rung, nothing's happening, you've no bookings for next week, no one loves you. Beside you on the desk are a pile of photo mags, all featuring incredibly successful, busy, creative photographers doing amazing things. Desperate for some human contact you ring a photo-mate. He's heading out on a shoot, full of the buzz, riding a crest of enthusiasm; the sod. Your morale hits rock bottom. What's next for you?

In a nutshell how you deal with moments like this will determine whether you are to be successful or not. It is so easy to descend into a vortex of doubt. Having the resilience, faith and fortitude to keep plugging away, trying to make things happen is what self-employment is all about. Really the difference between success and failure as a photographer is often just sheer bloody minded persistence. Pretty soon you will know from experience that it only takes one phone call or message to completely change your perspective. It's possible to go from the doldrums of despair to soaring elation in just a few minutes. This game is a psychological rollercoaster ride. You will have to just keep plodding on pursuing your dream through thick and thin.

How to Go Pro - Part 1Anse Source d'Argent, La Digue, the Seychelles. The perks of the job are obvious, but the first commissions may not be so exotic as shooting tropical paradises.

Am I happy with my own company?

Let's face it not everyone is suited to self-employment. There are many fine photographers who have fallen by the wayside because they simply couldn't adapt to being their own boss. Persistent productive grafting always pays off; it's as simple as that. What's difficult when working alone is determining what is and isn't productive. It's so easy to spend a day tinkering in Photoshop or comparing different printing paper, but is it really going to help you generate some income? You'll need self-discipline, a robust work ethic and a clear vision of what needs to be done today, tomorrow, and next month; easier said than done.

All photographers know well the highs and lows of self-employment. We're all unemployable, too many years of being our own bosses has ensured that. The beauty of working alone frees you from distractions, pointless meetings and office politics to get on with what really matters. But there are times when having someone around to bounce ideas off or just exchange jocular banter is vital. Being a photographer can be a lonely existence. But it is not mandatory to work alone.

My business now has 9 people who keep things ticking over, not all employees but definitely part of the team. Back when I started working on the kitchen table in a shared house in Gloucester I could never have imagined being in this situation; it's just kind of evolved. But employing Sharyn our office manager 10 years ago was a breakthrough for us; I very soon wondered why I hadn't done it sooner. Being responsible for someone else's livelihood seems like an impossible burden to a sole trader, but the right person should help you earn more than they cost. Of course it's not an option when first starting, but a bit of part time help with the admin for a few hours a week could be the best move you make, whilst providing a touch of relief from solitary confinement.

How to Go Pro - Part 1A farmer with his ducks in the Mekong Delta, Vietnam. There is far more to this job then just cameras and lenses.

Do I have the necessary skills?

Do you notice that as yet I've not mentioned photographic talent?  Well, the world is full of good photographers, but unless you've the necessary business and marketing skills you might as well forget it. You're going to be launching yourself into a crowded marketplace choc a bloc with hungry young blood. How are you going to stand out from the crowd, carve a niche and establish a reputation?  It's all very well to think that over time you'll be recognised for the quality of your work, but if you're not getting the work in the first place it's not going to happen.

The good news is you don't need to be Alan Sugar or Richard Branson; this business stuff is mostly common sense. Few of us have been trained in marketing; we just get on with it, learning as we go. It all comes down to relentlessly pursuing ideas as to how you can make your photography pay. Many ideas don't work, but some do. Ideas are the vital currency that will keep your business solvent, but only if they are converted into reality. Most photographers need to have something of the entrepreneur in them; there will be times when you have to speculate to accumulate.

And, as if all that's not enough, you'll need good people and communication skills both sides of the lens. I don't care if you're a wildlife specialist who spends weeks in solitary hides watching furry rodents breed, sooner or later you'll have to deal with people to get what you need to do your stuff with big lenses. You'll need to enlist all sorts of people's help and persuade them to do things they really would rather not, all for the greater good of your images. Persuading a farmer in the Mekong Delta to drive his flock of ducks down a certain backlit track, placating an irate farmer on who's land you are trespassing, coaxing a smile out of the world's grumpiest woman, gaining access to a roof top viewpoint, helping a bride to relax, posing a craftsman with an attractive backdrop, pleading with a pilot to load all of your gear, communicating with crusty peasants with whom you've not a single word of common language; it's all part of the game. And after the buzz of the shoot, back in the real world cultivating markets and opportunities you'll need to continue being a communicator, persuasive and lucid as you drive your crusade forward. Unless you haven't got the message yet, there is far far more to this game then just making pictures. But let's not forget; it is fun and incredibly rewarding when it all clicks into place.

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photos, photo, photography, landscape, how to, professional, pro, David Noton, photographer, landscapes, job, how

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18 Comments | Newest Oldest First | Post a Comment

#1 Hillary Newton

This is an absolutely *must read* article! I cannot wait for Part 2.

7:32 pm - Monday, August 15, 2011

#2 Cosmin

An excellent article. Thanks David Noton! I’m new to this business and it’s a real struggle. Thank you again!

5:18 pm - Tuesday, August 16, 2011

#3 harry

A very realistic narration condensing twenty five and more years of profesional photography. Journey through a mind of a self made man, emphasising the importance of tremendous patience and self confidence needed as necessary for every walk of life not just photography.

5:58 pm - Tuesday, August 16, 2011

#4 Esther

i love how David Noton doesn’t glam up the life of a photographer.
I really appreciated his realistic article!

9:14 pm - Tuesday, August 16, 2011

#5 Steve

Great article.  I’ve often day dreamed about being a Pro and even went so far as to get into the wedding business on weekends.  But, as the article say, in dealing with all of the problems, I lost my love of the craft, and even gave it up for several years.  Overall I’m much happier as an amateur and have since rekindled my love of photography.  Can’t wait for Part -2!

3:36 am - Wednesday, August 17, 2011

#6 Tobias Weisserth

This is a great article. Like so many others, I want to take my photography to the next level. I already knew I won’t be able to make a living of the trade, so I see my photography as a supplementary project next to my day job and my free time - with my free time melting with photography actually.

The only part I have to disagree on is the notion of the non-existence of semi-professionals. I don’t consider myself a semi-professional (yet). My wife is also into photography (food photography) and she is working with Getty Images (they selected about 50 of her images to sell through their agency). Neither for me nor for my wife, making money off photography is essential for paying our bills. But as soon as we’d be able to generate repeatable income from our photography, I would consider us semi-professionals. If we’re obliged to pay income tax on the money we make from photography, that makes us semi-professional.

1:56 pm - Wednesday, August 17, 2011

#7 John

There’s always the old adage…

Q. “What’s the difference between a Professional Photographer and a Large Pizza?”

A. “Only one of them can feed a family of four!”

Which is a worthy warning to plan carefully…

4:20 pm - Wednesday, August 17, 2011

#8 David Noton

I love the last comment! Thanks for the positive responses. David

6:48 am - Thursday, August 18, 2011

#9 Bahamas Photographer

Good Article. Another aspect of being a professional is having technical proficiency. Some guys are out there shooting and making a living but they still haven’t mastered exposure.
Photography is definitely very competitive nowadays. I’m a wedding photographer and there’s definitely a lot more photographers in my area around then when I started out 10 years ago. Also with so many photographer snot traveling competition is no longer local its global.

2:08 am - Wednesday, September 7, 2011

#10 Loren

Social Networking has been popular for a long time now, I think pro-photographers should offer their services to the tourists, students, and everyone, who loves sharing their photos on the Net.

The services should include a copy of the photos in a SD cards or direct upload to wherever the clients social network.

5:53 pm - Thursday, September 29, 2011

#11 Colourscape Studio Backgrounds

What a great article, I know from experience how difficult it can be. I’ve been on many a job where the fee only just covers my costs !!

11:08 am - Thursday, October 6, 2011

#12 Essex Photographer

Some very sound and realistic advice.

6:31 pm - Thursday, November 3, 2011

#13 Simon

An excellent article. If it has not put you off then maybe it is for you. One problem is perceived value, many people think that anyone can do it. Like Plumber vs Painter. Let me pass on what Richard Briers told his daughter when she said that she wanted to be an Actor, “Not good enough, you need to HAVE to be an Actor.”

9:43 am - Sunday, December 11, 2011

#14 Simon

An excellent article. If it has not put you off then maybe it is for you. One big problem is Perceived Value. It looks easy - anyone can take pictures. To use the Plumbers reference, there’s more PV there than being a Painter. Richard Brier’s daughter said that she wanted to be an Actor, his reply was that that was not good enough, you must HAVE to be an Actor.

9:53 am - Sunday, December 11, 2011

#15 Allan

What a delight reading this article has been. Thank you David.

Though a significant expanse has been explained in Part 1, I look forward to your and fellow pro insights in Part 2.

3:46 pm - Thursday, January 5, 2012

#16 daniel

As a professional plumber, I find some resemblances between plumbing and photography like the use of measurements and ratios, work with heavy equipment, use of pipes and often difficult work at ground level :P

9:38 pm - Tuesday, March 6, 2012

#17 Alisson Silveira

Realmente a muita coisa antes de pegar um câmera colocar no pescoço distribuir cartões e dizer “Oi Sou fotógrafo”. Eu ainda estou na faze, sou um cara com uma câmera e gosta de fotografar… e não é por isso que vou dizer que sou fotógrafo. Talvez um dia quando estiver pronto para encarar essa selva… mas por em quanto… parabéns pelo Artigo.

9:37 pm - Tuesday, September 18, 2012

#18 clippingimages

Excellent post, thanks to share for the nice site….

5:30 am - Monday, November 26, 2012