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Lessons from a Professional Photographer

Lessons from a professional

Anyone who is thinking of changing from an amateur photographer to a professional photographer should head the great advice from our friends at fstoppers. One of their professionals has written a great blog concerning the lessons he has learned over many years. This is an extract of his sage words.

Professional photographer

Freelancing Can Be Stressful and Lonely

Not knowing when my next paycheck is coming, when the next gig will be booked, or if I’m going to make up the cost of that new multi-thousand dollar camera I just bought all wear on me sometimes. There’s hardly any certainty in this business; a client can drop you for any time for any reason, and it’s usually just because they know someone else who does photography and want to send business to a friend or your contact moves to another job and the connection dries up. It’s been important to me to maintain relationships with other photographers to have someone to bounce ideas off of, to be able to ask favors of in case of an emergency, and to feel like I’m not in this alone.

Self-Editing Is the Hardest Thing...

I’ve tried to become more ruthless with my editing over the years, but it’s just hard sometimes. Taking a step back and trying to view images from an outsider’s perspective. Going back and cutting things out is important, and I need to do it more often.

...Besides Pricing

Pricing photography is one of the most fluid and mind-boggling things I’ve ever had to do. Every client is so different. Everyone has a different budget, though 9 out of 10 won’t tell you what that budget is. Some understand photo licensing, the way it used to be done, but most just want to use the images however they want for as long as they want. Some want an hourly rate, and some want a project rate.

Do It for the Love, Not for the Money

Sometimes, I miss being an amateur photographer. After all, the word “amateur,” with its Latin roots meaning “to love,” has come to describe someone who does something for the love of it, not for the money. Sometimes, when I’m shooting a boring event or a silly product in my studio, I really wish I were out shooting something I want to be shooting instead of doing it to pay the bills.

I Spend Most of My Time Not Taking Photographs

If I had known that it might have been more useful for me to get a marketing degree, or an accounting degree, or a business degree, or a communications degree, I might have done that (though, for the record, I wouldn’t trade my biology/anthropology education for anything). Those who think professional photographers just take pictures all day are sorely mistaken.

I’m Really Bad at Personal Work

Maybe not bad at it, but bad at making myself do it. I’ve come to realize over the years that personal work is extremely important to a photographer, but that it is, for me, difficult to do.

Be Nice

Being easy to work with is sometimes more valuable than being the best photographer around. Relationships are everything in this game, and if you are pleasant to be around while still performing your task well, you’ll get hired again and again. Don’t be a diva, don’t get too full of yourself, and smile.

Light Really Is Everything

When I first started out, I was obsessed with getting the best camera I could afford. I gradually shifted to trying to have the best glass. And really, all along, what I was missing was light. Lighting is both one of the most important and one of the most challenging things to get right in photography, whether it’s learning how to use natural light or, especially, using artificial light to create something beautiful.

Put the Camera Down

All too often, I’ve found myself guilty of one thing: not putting my camera down when I should. Obviously, as a photographer, almost anything interesting I see, I start to think: “wow, I should take a photo of that!” But sometimes, you just need to take a pause from the camera and enjoy a moment in life through your eyes, not through a lens.

There’s Always Someone Better Than You (and Me)

And that’s OK. There are a lot of photographers in my market. Some of them are not very good, but some of them are really, really good. Comparing myself to them only does one thing: it brings me down. I’ve learned that thinking “man, I wish I had done it like that!” or “I wish I had had that idea,” or “I wish I knew how to light like that” only makes me more self-critical and wonder why I’m even in this game.

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