Thousands of creative people worldwide aspire to one day become professional photographers. Very few, however, have the determination to follow their aspirations and face up to the hard work needed to succeed.
If you do have what it takes, you will soon uncover many challenges that could well put you off continuing. However, as with all challenges, with a little resolve there is always a way to beat them.
Listed below are 5 common challenges facing aspiring professional photographers today, and advice on how to overcome them.
Photo by naixn licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0
1. Competition from other photographers
With an estimated 3.8 trillion photographs taken since the first at the start of the 19th century, attempting to get your own work appreciated amongst the noise can begin to feel futile. With the majority of this astonishing number coming after the rise in popularity of digital and mobile photography, it doesn’t seem likely that this task will become any easier over time.
Today, everybody seems to fancy themselves as a bit of a photographer, and as a result online image platforms like Instagram have had billions of photographs uploaded to them in the short time they have existed. Facebook alone has reportedly had over 250 billion photographs uploaded by users since it began 11 years ago in 2004. So, no matter how good your photography, this is a very difficult climate in which to make a name for yourself.
While it may seem on the surface that everyone with a smartphone or digital camera is now a photographer, if you scratch a little deeper you will find that most don’t stray far from automatic settings and pre-programmed editing filters. While the rise in popularity of digital photography has certainly brought interest in the subject at a professional level to a new high, most of the photographs out there are taken by amateurs who lack the conviction to put in the effort it takes to become a true professional.
If you are to compete amongst the noise and build a career for yourself, you need to make the effort to learn all you can about photography; not just about technical skills, but about the theory, history, professional practice, and global industry. Becoming an amateur photographer might have become easier in the digital age, but becoming a professional photographer, in the true sense of the term, has become even harder.
2. The declining prestige of photography as a profession
Photo by Garry Knight licensed under CC BY 2.0
With the rise in amateur photography, there has also been an increasing tendency for people to think that the art of photography is nothing more than taking decent photographs. Many of this new type of self-styled photographer claim to be professional, however, the term ‘professional’ is often used far too loosely to encompass anyone who is paid to take photographs. In order to rise above the pack and become a professional in the eyes of the industry leaders you need to do much more than take photographs for money.
A true professional photographer has technical expertise and an in-depth knowledge of the industry at large. They provide consistent quality, and a high standard of customer service to all of their clients.
Get educated. It’s rare for a professional photographer to come from the amateur pursuit of trial and error and self-promotion, and much more realistic for them to gain their skills through quality education.There is no short-cut to becoming a professional photographer. While you may have been lured into photography by the impression that it’s easy, you will soon find that on this foolish assumption you will not enjoy a career in photography for very long. Becoming a professional is about much more than pointing, clicking, and photoshopping and, as with any subject, becoming a professional requires a lot of study.
3. The High Cost of Photography Equipment
If you read the latest photography trade press, you could be forgiven for thinking that you need to spend a fortune to become a decent photographer. With so much digital equipment on offer it is easy to let the advertisements persuade you that the quality of your kit is what will make you a good photographer. Indeed, many amateur and professional photographers alike can be seen with giant backpacks and kit dangling off all their limbs. The quality of the kit, however, is never an indication of the quality of the photographer.
As a professional photographer you are an artist. The camera is just a tool you use to capture your art. If you can’t take decent photographs with a bottom of the range camera, there is no way that spending a fortune on a top of the range camera will help you.
While the most expensive kit does tend to be of the best quality, you should view it as something to work up to rather than something you have to invest in at the start of your career. If you’re on a limited budget you should always prioritise lenses over the body of the camera, as lenses have more of an impact on image quality. A mid-range body, a couple of decent quality lenses and a sturdy tripod are all you need to invest in at the beginning of your career.
4. The need to multitask
Photo by Ryan Ritchie licensed under CC BY-ND 2.0
Sadly, taking photographs has become just one of the many skills professional photographers need to have in order to build a successful career. To run a business well you will need also be a skilled marketer, accountant, and digital editor. With the requirements of running a business taking up a lot of your day you might be disappointed by the lack of time you are spending behind the camera. On the other side, if you do spend too much time behind the camera, you will soon find difficulty in securing future work.
In order to increase your chances of success as a professional photographer, you have to find your niche – wedding photography, family portraits, interior photography – and stick to it. You’ll find it much more manageable to sell your services to a distinct group rather than selling general photography to everyone and anyone.
Targeting business locally is also a good move. It’s tempting to use the internet to tell a national, or even global audience about your photography, but if you target more local customers, you will enjoy more success. If you do this, make sure your customer service is always excellent – word of mouth is still the most powerful form of marketing for local businesses.
5. Copyright Violations
Every artist fears the day that somebody else takes credit for their hard work. With piracy and image theft a growing issue online, the threat of photographers having their copyright violated is very real. Many modern photographers are put-off posting their images on social media sites, or even on their own blogs or websites, for fear that they will be copied and pasted into someone else’s portfolio. However, there are ways you can combat this.
In a previous article on how to protect your images from copyright theft, we detailed the steps you can take to protect your images. Follow the instructions outlined there to reduce the chances of having any copyright issues. One thing you shouldn’t do is hold back from posting your images online. In fact you should intentionally create a strategy for getting your images out to an audience using Facebook, Instagram, or other social media channels. You should most certainly have a website. This acts as your business card and is where the majority of your clients will find out about you. If you don’t include examples of your work for fear of copyright theft, you will probably lose a few customers too.
While the road to becoming a professional photographer is fraught with obstacles, there are plenty of ways to overcome them. With hard work, determination, and education, you will soon find your knowledge and skills improving and your practice rising to a standard that sets you apart from the pack and on to the path to success.