Want to be a photographer?


I have to admit that being a photographer is probably one of the best jobs in the world (not that I’m biased of course!) – and although I specialise in weddings and portraits I’ve also covered commercial interior shoots and sports at International level. The art of photography is being able to capture a moment, the essence of something and it is an art form, because the word “photography” is derived from Greek origins and actually means “painting with light”. Photography also lets you get involved with so many different subjects, and the possibilities are infinite – so it’s no surprise that making photography a profession holds an interest for so many people.

How do I become a professional photographer?

That’s a question that’s being asked quite a lot these days, since the proliferation of digital cameras and software that allows you to edit and fine-tune images – and the answer is ….. a lot of hard work!

Let’s use an example from just this week …..

I was contacted the other day by someone I used to work with years ago and he’s interested in becoming a freelance sports photographer. He’s really keen on sport (that helps!) and he’d like to build his skill set and after putting together a portfolio approach the local newspapers to see if they will use him – and that’s definitely the right approach. There’s only one small stumbling block ….. he’s only ever taken travel photographs, and that’s with a point and shoot camera.

I wrote back to him explaining what he’d need to do, and pointing out some of the less-obvious elements of the job that aren’t always appreciated by someone not in the profession, and I’ve tried to summarise them below:


  1. You need to fully understand the theory of photography (that’s going back to the principles and knowing how to expose properly and in what manner)

  2. You need to have an intermediate understanding of Photoshop and similar programs

  3. You need a decent digital SLR and will have to invest in some quality lenses – kit lenses are OK to start with but you’ll soon find limitations, especially in low-light conditions, and images need to be pin-sharp for Editors

  4. It’s a good idea to start with local sports clubs – don’t approach local papers until you’ve got everything nailed and can produce consistently high quality work. Sports photography can be lucrative, but the competition’s really high (just like wedding photography) and a lot of magazines and papers now use Agencies instead of employing their own photographers

  5. Start slowly, develop your skills and your technique and then build up through more difficult sports – you have to understand the sport fully to work out where the action’s likely to be and to anticipate it … no point chasing the ball from one end to the other! See if there’s one sport that you’re particularly good at and consider specialising in that

  6. Build up a portfolio, have other photographers (not friends or family) critique it, and when you’re getting consistently good results that’s when you can start to approach the papers. Freelancing involves a lot of travelling, investing a lot of money in expensive kit that you can use properly and having lots of patience. Expect lots of rejections and closed doors. Most agencies will split fees with you, and only pay for images actually published, so if you have a “day job” I’d recommend keeping it until you start making “good” money out of it

  7. I covered an event last year for a client and was chatting to a couple of photographers and we all agreed that the “glamour” of the job is far outweighed by the time and money that it involves – it’s much more fun than being in an office, but you’ll be spending probably 2-3 times as many hours in editing and post-production than you did actually shooting the job! For instance, say you get £100 for an image from a football match – you’ll be spending time getting to the ground, parking, you’ll be there 1-2 hours beforehand to claim your spot, get soaked and frozen (unable to move until half-time), then get home, download the cards to your computer, edit down the images, work on those you’ve selected and then submit images to the Sports Desk. In total you may have spent 10-12 hours to make £100 – now I know that’s an arbitrary figure, but you need to understand there’s a lot more time spent on building and maintaining relationships, marketing, editing/post production than there is in actually shooting. Even if you get into somewhere like Getty Images, they only pay around £20-25k for someone starting with them – but that person’s got to be really good to get through the door!

  8. If you do make it, there’s foreign travel to factor into expenses, and having to transmit images over the web whilst you’re trying to shoot – and as we know, foreign travel is a PITA except if you’re on holiday!

I concluded by saying that I wasn’t putting a downer on his idea, but you have to be realistic and understand that it’s going to be a hard slog, with lots to learn, lots of investment and you need to be tenacious and never give up! The same principles apply to any sphere of photography – to be successful takes time, patience and skill …. and that’s before you get to making a successful business out of it!

If you have any questions about photography either as a subject or as a profession, please feel free to contact me – I’m always willing to help where I can!

Ian

Dorset wedding and portrait photography

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Ian Hamilton - ianH photography - 07575 567408