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Picked up a camera to just have some fun and do your thing and now finding that it’s the center of your life? It may be time to transition from amateur to professional. Although advancements in technology have made it easier than ever to take professional looking photos, making the leap into an intensely competitive market, with limited resources, is going to be harder than you think.

It’s Not All Fun and Games

Here are just a few of the challenges you’ll encounter(2):

  • Shooting is about 10-20% of what you do
  • Doing assignments that aren’t creatively challenging, just to pay the bills
  • Marketing – the constant pressure to find and maintain clients
  • Maintaining an active web presence through social media and blogging
  • Building a website
  • Selling yourself and your work
  • Working with clients who don’t have a proper photography budget
  • Keeping on top of the latest trends, constantly upgrading cameras, computers and software
  • Accounting, taxes and liability insurance
  • Constantly being undervalued by clients who think they or their staff can take the photos themselves

See more: How to Gain a Following for Your Photography Online

The Five Point Test

Assess yourself in these five areas and see how you measure up.

Shoot Like a Pro

Shooting for yourself doesn’t begin to replicate the pressure you’ll have from real life clients. Your clients will expect every shot to be a great one. Learn to shoot better with daily assignments. Rochester Institute of Technology used to assign their senior photographers a project called “24 rolls in 24 hours”. If that doesn’t get you taking better images, nothing will.


Even if everybody tells you you’re a natural-born photographer, educating yourself is still a necessity. There’s amazing online courses on sites such as Lynda.com for Photoshop to sharpen and hone your skills so you can compete with the pros that have been out there for years. Here’s a list of the Top 10 Photography Online Schools.

Amateur to pro photog, Tez Mercer says “I tried to read/watch everything I could to do with lighting and editing. Reading Strobist every single day, trying things in Photoshop that sometimes worked and sometimes didn’t. You have to fail 10,000 times to succeed once.”

male photographer holding camera sitting on desk

Finding Clients

Maybe you’ve relied on word-of-mouth from relatives and friends. Very few professionals survive on referrals alone. You’ll need to learn to be a marketing machine utilizing your website, social media and traditional marketing channels. You have to have your own identity and a brand. Find your balance between shooting and self-promotion.

Make a Plan

The majority of new businesses fail with the first 5 years. Do you see yourself with our own studio making $100,000 in a few years? Well, you better have a business plan to figure out how you’re going to make that happen. Visit American Express Open and learn how to create a viable business plan.

See more: How to Start Your Own Photo Business

Multiple Streams

Photography can be a very fickle business. The competition increases each year while the pay has remained flat for the past 10 years. You may be a studio photographer but you need to be flexible as well. On your next vacation you may want to think “stock” and shoot images you can sell down the road. (1)

Take a Look Around

Take stock of what you currently have to get your business started.(3)

Take a look at:

  • Cameras (primary and backup)
  • Lenses (primary and backup)
  • Lights (studio and portable)
  • Backdrops, stands and props
  • Miscellaneous camera and studio equipment
  • Computers and software
  • Office equipment and supplies
  • Studio space, vehicles etc.

Professional photographers often take the majority of their profits the first few years to build up an arsenal of equipment.

Still on the fence whether to go pro? To make your decision a little easier, pick up one of these resourceful books on Amazon:(2)

VisionMongers: Making a Life and a Living in Photography

The Linked Photographers’ Guide to Online Marketing and Social Media

How to Succeed in Commercial Photography: Insights from a Leading Consultant

Or you can take the advice of photographer Shaun Fenn: “One thing I learned was to take all the input you can get, and then go with your gut.”

Cheryl Woods

Cheryl Woods is an accomplished photographer, designer and branding consultant with a career spanning 20+ years. Her photographic work includes editorial, fashion, portraiture and product photography for major companies in the consumer products field including QVC and Hanover Direct. She received a B.F.A. in Photography from the University of the Arts and an M.F.A. in Media Design from Full Sail University. Cheryl's work has been exhibited at the Lowes Museum of Art in Coral Gables, FL, The New York Independent Film Festival and the Rosenwald Wolf Gallery in Philadelphia, PA. Check out her website here!


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