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So, your friends say your photos are good…

  |   Article, Articles and reviews, Photography Business   |   4 Comments

Should you become a professional photographer – who to listen to

Why the fact that people tell you your photos are great may be irrelevant

Just because people (real ones or via social media) tell you that your photography is great doesn’t mean they have a clue…

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Can you make it as a pro photographer?

After all, your friends are telling you that you’ve got talent. People look at some of your photos and say – “They’re nice”

Surely that means that if you find the right place, people will get out their cheque books and start paying you for what you like doing…

Have you thought this through at all?

Washing a car wash

If I just did photography for fun, would I spend all day photographing people cleaning a petrol (gas) station?

With all the articles on the site, I’m quite happy in receiving questions about technical aspects of photography – indeed, the questions often give me the idea for new articles.

What I sometimes find more difficult, is answering the ones that want to know if their photos are ‘good enough’ to make money.

My initial response is always to ask if they’ve actually read any of my articles about working as a photographer? Such as the snappily titled ‘How to be a professional photographer‘ – which was the first of a whole series I’ve written covering aspects of the business side of photography.

As a working photographer I can give quite detailed honest technical criticisms of images, but I’m also very wary of doing so, unless specifically asked.

I know much better than at social gatherings, when given a picture and asked ‘what do you think?’, to immediately pour out my true thoughts…

The point is that it’s unlikely that any of those friends telling you your photos are great, ever buy or commission images for their business. They may like your photos, but in all honesty, so what?   Note that I’m talking of real tangible friends here – not the imaginary ones you have on Facebook. If you’re going to take notice of non experts, then at least pick ones who can say it to your face…

If by any chance some of these friends are also photographers, then it’s nice to get the praise, but ask yourself what they actually know about it as a business? No matter how much emotion and effort you’ve put into your work, it’s essentially just a product like any other – if it’s going to make you any money.

Lots of people can take nice photos

foil air vent tubing

Yes, my hobby really is taking photos of industrial components… not

Taking good photos of things that interest you is indeed a skill.

Taking good photos of things you don’t find inspiring or interesting takes a whole different attitude.

Indeed, my own personal definition of a professional photographer includes producing great photos (for money) of things that you might never choose to photograph otherwise. I’m an architectural photographer and get paid to photograph some pretty horrid looking buildings…

There is a fashionable point of view that getting your photos ‘out there’ is all it takes to be ‘noticed’ – something I’d call the ‘Lottery model‘ of photographic success.  Suffice to say, that as a business plan, it’s about as reliable as investing in lottery tickets…

But, look at my nice photos…

OK, they’re nice.  Do you have any idea who might buy them? Why would this person or organisation buy your work?

Just asking me, in the hope that I’ll send you the magic phone number or web site that’s run by those people with all that spare money, isn’t going to happen. I’d probably be living in a bigger house, and not driving a 2003 car if I knew… ;-)

It’s going to take real work and research to understand how people make money from photography, and if you think you can position your products in the market (offended by your work being called a product? just get over it)

Perhaps you were only hoping to make a bit of money ‘on the side’ from your photos? Well it can be done, but once again needs some serious research – gone are the days when submitting a few ‘spare’ images to stock sites would bring in a steady income.

Look at some well known photographers. How much of their success comes from their photographic vision, and how much from a solid business approach?

Note: – ‘solid business approach’ can include shameless self promotion and a suitably pretentious choice of name.
The difficulty is deciding when it works and when it just makes you look foolish…

Maybe, once you have a successful business, you’ll be able to pick and choose your work to refine and build your reputation, but in the mean time, be prepared to photograph some ugly buildings (or less than photogenic wedding couples).

Success in photography as a business does not mean your photos are good (whatever that actually means), just that they sell well.

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  • Keith | Nov 27, 2012 at 9:39 am

    Thanks – that’s so true, and rarely appreciated by those who do photography ‘just for fun’ ;-)

  • Lynn Allan | Nov 27, 2012 at 2:56 am

    Good article.

    In reply to some whining I was doing towards the end of a 5 day “Kids Camp”, I got this definition of what it means to be a working pro:

    “… one of the key elements of being a pro….being able to deliver the goods even if you are ‘not in the mood’……..”

  • Stuart Carter | Nov 9, 2012 at 8:50 am

    This is an excellent article, Keith. I’ve heard it said that attitude, not aptitude is key in building a business.

    I was reading a book recwntly about a journalist getting very upset at a “best-selling author” because he said she’d never be successful because she focussed on “best-writing”, not “best-selling”.

  • Ron Rudokas | Nov 9, 2012 at 5:41 am

    Wow! Best “I want to be a Pro” article I have read.
    I am one of those “Pro’s” that did not make it. Early on, (since I had the eye) I thought it would be easy to start as a wedding photographer and move on to a successful career. What an eye opener! It is all about the customer, not your photographic gift. How do you reply to “I don’t look like that!” and keep the customer and the revenue?
    Moved on to a successful career in wireless engineering.
    I love photography, my family and friends appreciate my work, I can photograph anything I want any way I want to.
    I am always impressed by professional photographers that can apply their talents equally to the catalog shot of a hammer or a moon rise over the Grand Canyon.

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