Ever wondered about what being a professional photographer would really be like? Maybe you've checked out some amazing photography portfolio websites and wondered if you might be able to produce those kinds of images too. Nowadays, we can all take pretty impressive photos with the camera phones we carry around at all times, so what sets the pros (or even the hobbyists) apart from everyone else?
Despite the fact that everyone is an amateur photographer now due to the advancement of mobile phone cameras, photography remains an important profession with a wide range of potential clients across many industries. Whether you're new to photography or have been shooting for a while and want to build an online portfolio website, we've got you covered!
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Like many creative professions, being able to earn a living with photography likely won't happen overnight. It takes time to develop your skills and a recognizable style. It also takes a while to develop a client base that can sustain your career. However, all of these are achievable goals, and there are many aspects of working as a professional photographer that make it a fantastic career. Some of the benefits of a career in photography include:
Unlike many other jobs in which the days bleed together and all seem the same, as a photographer you're always working on a new project with its own unique challenges. You might be shooting corporate headshots one day, and product the next. Even if you specialize and tend to shoot for the same type of client for every project, your days will still be split up between pitching clients, conceptualizing shoots, shooting, and editing, among other tasks that will come up.
This variation from one day to the next keeps life exciting and makes photography a great business for people who want to break away from the monotony of other types of jobs.
Don't get us wrong, starting a photography business will likely result in a lot of long days and busy stretches. However, as your own boss, you'll also be the person ultimately setting your schedule and deciding when you'll be on and off the clock.
In many jobs, even as you gain more experience, your pay grade won't necessarily increase along with your skills. Photographers can charge whatever they want as long as their industry and clients accept it, so as your photography portfolio improves and you get more well-known clients under your belt, or you become in demand, you'll be able to get away with charging a higher rate as well.
Maybe you're a portrait photographer with great people skills who can really bring out their best in an image, but you're getting a little tired of taking the same types of photos all the time and you want to level up your online portfolio with some fresh content. Since your portrait photography skills are transferable to other types of photography, you can apply those same skills to travel photography, and enjoy a brand new challenge and schedule while still using those photography skills, capturing people, and improving your portfolio website.
As a photographer, you'll quickly discover that you really do have to apply your creativity to many aspects of your job, making it a perfect profession for born creatives. Not only does it take developing your creative eye to create portfolio-worthy images on your shoot days, but it also takes ingenuity to develop your brand as a photographer, to identify potential clients, edit photos, and market yourself.
Photography technology is constantly evolving, and if you want your photography portfolio to really stand out, part of the job is staying on top of what's new. Don't worry, this doesn't mean you have to constantly be buying the latest camera running into the thousands of dollars! However, staying on top of new tools and techniques when it comes to editing software such as Photoshop will keep you challenged and help you create images that measure up to what other pros are producing.
There's no denying that we live in an increasingly visual culture, and that's great news for someone who's thinking of becoming a photographer! High quality images have become important for everything from selling products and telling stories to help people get hired. This means there are a ton of potential photography clients out there for all kinds of photo gigs.
Of course, no profession is without its difficult parts. Some challenges you may encounter in your photography career include:
When you're just starting out, it may be difficult to forecast how much you'll earn. You might earn a living from a lot of smaller gigs, or you may have a few big, high-paying jobs that make your year. Photographers learn to get comfortable with this uncertainty, always keeping lots of irons in the fire in terms of potential jobs, since you never know which ones will end up being paying gigs.
You also don't have the perks of a regular job, like benefits, so you'll have to consider the impact that may have on your finances.
Like running any kind of business, as a photographer, you'll likely be self-employed and therefore be responsible for staying on top of tasks such as bookkeeping. There are also parts of photography that can be a bit tedious. For example, you may find yourself having to edit a large batch of photos for a client on a tight deadline, meaning many hours staring at a computer screen doing tiresome little tasks.
Depending on the photography niche that you choose, you may find yourself getting hired for the same type of gig repeatedly. If you love doing it, then there's nothing wrong with that! But if your online portfolio shows only one particular type of photography (say, pet portraits), you might get pigeonholed as only shooting that thing, and it can take some work to build a more varied client base.
If you do find yourself in this situation, focus on creating a photography portfolio website featuring the type of work you'd like to be hired for. In time, you'll land more clients in your preferred niche or style.
Photographers need to wear many hats to be successful. Knowing your way around a camera is a great start, but there are additional skills you can work to develop if you want to be competitive. Some of the top skills to help your photography career take off include:
Networking skills. A big part of your job will involve building a client base and knowing how to land new business through referrals and word of mouth.
Interpersonal skills. While photography often feels like solitary work, it's very important to be able to manage your client relations well and to be able to work as a team. You'll frequently be collaborating with someone or working as part of a team, and often this will be under stressful situations and on a tight timeline. Unless you do fashion photography, your subjects may not be very comfortable with a big lens pointed at them, so people skills can really make a difference in putting them at ease.
Photoshop skills. To make sure your photography portfolio website really shines, it's important that you learn your way around Photoshop or a comparable image editing software of your choice.
Time management and organizational skills. Photoshoots can be pretty stressful! They're also often fun, but it's often up to you to create a schedule for the shoot day and to ensure you get all the photos your client has requested. Depending on the type of photography you do, you can also be limited by things like weather and sunlight, so the more prepared you can be, the better.
The good news for aspiring photo pros is that nowadays you can find a really great camera for your money, no matter what your budget is. Sure, if you pay top dollar you can get extra bells and whistles and a boost in image quality, but the camera isn't necessarily what makes or breaks an image. Some of the best photography is produced by affordable cameras, so a top of the line model is not a prerequisite to start building a photography website you can be proud of.
Some favorites across a range of price points include:
If you're looking for a beginner-friendly DSLR at an accessible price point, look no further than the highly rated Nikon D3500. This fast, sturdy, 24.2 MP camera takes gorgeous photos even in auto mode, and if you're learning your way around a DSLR it has a guide mode that will teach you how to manually adjust the settings. Even if you're already familiar with DSLR cameras, you'll love the images this Nikon body produces, making it a great budget DSLR choice.
Mirrorless bodies tend to be lighter and more compact than DSLR, and this option from Olympus is no different. Its size, weight, and superb image stabilization make it the perfect choice for travel photographers who need something portable and reliable that produces memorable photos.
Another mirrorless option, this full-frame camera from Sony has become a beloved staple for many, even though it is no longer Sony's newest model. The best part is, since there are newer offerings, this excellent camera is now more affordable making it an excellent choice for someone getting into photography.
If you have more of a budget to spend on your camera body, consider the Canon EOS R6. It has the best autofocus in the business, and thanks to its top notch image stabilization and burst capabilities it's an excellent choice for shooting sports, events, or wildlife.
In addition to the camera body, you'll likely need some additional equipment in order to start shooting photos for your photography portfolio. While you certainly don't need everything listed here, start with some basics and then build as you see what you actually need:
A remote shutter release
A camera strap and camera bag
If shooting in studio, softboxes or other lighting equipment
If shooting in studio, backdrops
With these basics, you should be able to get started snapping photos no matter what photography niche you choose.
We've mentioned photography niches a few times, so at this point, you might be wondering which niche is the most lucrative. While there will be a great deal of variation within each niche, with the top earners likely earning much more than the median photographer working in that field, there are a few reliably in demand niches you can tailor your photography portfolio towards.
According to the Institute of Photography, the photography genre that is most in demand is wedding photography. That shouldn't come as too much of a surprise—after all, no matter where you live, whether you're in a big city or a rural area, every year there are reliably going to be couples in your area looking to tie the knot. For people specializing in this niche, this means a steady stream of photography work!
Architectural photography also makes the list, as many businesses require interior and exterior photos of their buildings for a wide range of uses, including websites and brochures.
Portraiture is another niche in which you can make money reliably. Your photography portfolio in this genre can be broad, or you can really focus on just newborn photography, baby photography, family portraiture, or some other niche that you enjoy.
How much you can charge will vary depending on things like your skill level, experience, geographic location, and the type of photograph you do. There are so many variables that it's impossible to provide a simple answer to the question of what you can charge, however, there are a few tips you can implement when setting your rates.
Firstly, consider what other photographers who work in your niche and your area are making. Is your photography portfolio on par with the top photographers in your area, or does it need some work before you get there? Use this as a guide when setting your rate
Another important consideration is the complexity of the shoot. If it requires a lot of preparation, such as food photography, for example, that time should be factored into your rate.
Finally, in addition to your day rate, including any other relevant line items when invoicing your clients. You may include a rental fee for your equipment (even if you own it, as use causes wear and tear and you'll eventually have to replace it), and any relevant licensing fees depending on how they plan to use the images.
Once you've decided on your photography niche and you have some images to share, the most important step in getting your career started is building a photography portfolio site. Clients are most likely to come across your content on an online platform such as Instagram, and having a website presence they can click on is essential to establishing yourself as a serious pro.
Consider your photography portfolio as being like an online business card and gallery in one, providing visitors with contact information and some information about your background, what services you offer, and maybe even a pricing page. It should also, of course, include a portfolio of your best photos to inspire them to hire you.
If the thought of building a photography site from scratch sounds daunting, no worries. Use a website builder to create your photography portfolio website, and you'll be up and running in no time. Look for one with a range of themes that you can choose from so that you can find something that really matches your brand, without the need for web design skills. Other features to look for are built-in e-commerce capability so that you can sell prints to generate passive income, and client proofing galleries, which make it easier than ever to collaborate with your clients as you go through the post-production process.
Finally, remember that one of the best parts of this business is that you are always evolving. You can always check out other photography portfolios and photography websites for inspiration, and use that to keep improving your work. We can't wait to see what you create!