When/How/Why Did You Turn Pro/Semi-Pro and How Would You Advise An Amateur?

Discussion in 'Open Discussion' started by RuffDraft, Oct 6, 2013.

  1. RuffDraft

    RuffDraft Mu-43 Regular

    Jan 13, 2013
    I've seen many posts of amazing photographs to detailed analysis of gear from posters such as yourselves, but I've yet to hear of your journey, or received your advice on a personal level.

    After taking photography semi-seriously for 6 years, and seriously for one, I have had a short journey to a point of basic yet solid understanding of the foundations of photography - the operations of a camera (to the point of shooting manual) and understanding basic composition, yet struggling with the concepts of light - both natural & controlled.

    I recently shot a department store's 125th year anniversary and saw my pictures in the local paper for the first time. I realise this is a very basic and lowly achievement, however it has given me faith and inspiration to consider photography as a potential career within the next decade. Currently, I'm a primary school teacher, so to give up a stable job such as this would be difficult. Nevertheless, I work 70 hour weeks and generally feel myself dying slowly inside, despite the rewarding aspects of working with children & seeing them progress in all aspects of life.

    I'm interested and intrigued to learn more about the real photographers' lives. So this thread is for the semi-pros and pros to share their journeys and how you'd advise a photographer such as myself, who views the hobby/lifestyle as expensive, yet a real passion in life and wants desperately to improve and learn from the best - whilst investing money wisely.

    In a year's time, I'm going to reach out to some local professionals, but in the meantime, I'm going to continue to develop and work at my craft.

    All information will be greatly appreciated & the best of luck to all of you on your photographic journeys.


  2. gsciorio

    gsciorio Mu-43 Top Veteran

    Dec 29, 2011
    Miami, FL
    A years time? If you're serious don't waste time. Life is too short. Professional photography is about running a business first and if you have integrity, are friendly and willing to learn then reach out to local pros now.

    I can't tell you how many people reached out to me with a ton of photographic talent but are more flakey the cereal. When I need someone to do something on time and they don't it could cost me a client and I could care less how good their book is.

    Now if someone does not know how to shoot and has a lack of integrity then they are best off shooting for fun and finding something else for a living. Photography as a profession can be very stressful and is not for the weak of heart/thin skinned.

    Be humble, appreciative, consistent and committed. You'll do fine.
    • Like Like x 2
  3. flash

    flash Mu-43 Hall of Famer

    Apr 29, 2010
    1 hour from Sydney Australia.
    This isn't a negative post, although a lot of what I'm going to say is negative because you need to consider these things. I love photography as a profession. It's all I can see myself doing and I've made a good living from it for two decades. Shooting feeds my soul. And that's a good thing. A very good thing.

    Less than 10% of my working time is actually shooting. 90% is all the other stuff. Accounts, taxes, inventory, maintenence, and so many hour post processing that you will ruin your eyesight. 70 hour week? I'd kill for a 70 hour week. Running any business successfully is hard work and photography is no different. It's even harder when every single mum with a Rebel thinks they can hang up a shingle and be a pro photographer. And the charge rates that there's no way you can live on, because they don't have to. But until you're working on referals that's where your competition is. Over 90% give up within a year. The first three or four years are very difficult. My suggestion is to ease into it. Keep your day job for as long as you can juggle both. But run it like a business from the start. Don't treat it like a hobby.

    You'll be spending a lot of time alone so build up some networking.

    The good news. If you can get it going to the point where you can live off it, it's a whole lot of fun. And immensely rewarding. You work when you want and you can schedule around your lifestyle. You get to claim your gear and learning and practising is a taxable deduction.

    My story. I was a studio and franchise manager for a dance studio chain. I was lucky enough to have some very good (international level) teachers on staff and I offerd to shoot a couple of portfolios. It built from there until a major restructure in the overseas management of the franchise. I didn't like the new management and I was struggling to do both dance and photography (photography was winning anyway), so I jumped ship. I sent my dance folio to 20 wedding and portrait photographers and offered 6 month full time for free. I had 4 offers and took up the one that I thought would push me the hardest. I spent 6 months carrying bags, processing film and printing proofs. In a year I shot my first solo wedding. I've shot over 700 since then.

    • Like Like x 6
  4. Ned

    Ned Mu-43 Legend

    Jul 18, 2010
    Alberta, Canada
    Why don't you just start with photography over the summer months when school is out, living off the funds from your teaching career that you've procured over the months when school is in session? Few of us have that kind of luxury you have, and photography is not an easy business to build. Most can't afford to keep it going long enough to see it turn into a profitable living.
    • Like Like x 2
  5. RuffDraft

    RuffDraft Mu-43 Regular

    Jan 13, 2013
    I understand. I just don't know if my knowledge and understanding of portraiture is up to standard to place myself in the hands of a pro yet. I have always taken great joy in shooting under the travel category, and otherwise treaded lightly in the other areas of photography. That said, I would relish the chance to do so... I was just going to go on some courses to do with light and portraiture before putting myself forward... I want to be able to show promise in all areas, rather than just a drive with no real gift. I want to be of help, rather than a pain.

    I do fit the qualities that you have stated. They're all things that I have to show daily when teaching children and liaising with their parents, other staff and professionals from different areas of expertise. I think the technical aspects and the business side would be my weak areas... however, my mum acts as an accountant for two small companies, so I'd have someone to learn from there.

    I like your second paragraph, mainly as it's great to hear that a pro prefers reliability over photographic prowess. Nevertheless, photography would get in the way of my current career (teaching), as I'd never let the pro down, which would, in turn, effect the learning of the children. I'd have to reach a point in a couple of years, where I'd be willing to go part time or become a supply teacher to support the early days of my photography career. Kids deserve the best, as well as the client.

    Thanks for all of your advice... I still don't know what to make of my photography, especially when I compare it to pictures on 500px. Nevertheless, I've had a few photographs on there reach 95+ rating, but I think it's mainly down to being active, rather than competing with the photographers there who simply shine (even if they seem to do a lot of work in post, merging multiple pictures together to create something abstract and wonderful).

    Thanks for this insightful post. I honestly don't mind the requirements behind a screen - I'm a computer science graduate, so my eyes are pretty much on their way anyway! That said, the other stuff would be where I was wary. All money stuff sounds complicated, although I'd be willing to learn.

    How many hours would you say that you added up in a week? 70 hours teaching, prepping, assessing etc. is a lot to me, but I think that's also because 30 children can be quite draining, when followed up with a long list of paper work, assessments, marking etc. I wouldn't view photography as a career as a break away from the hours, but more so from the emotionally draining environment of a classroom geared towards unrealistic expectations set upon the children and ourselves. But this isn't a post about teaching, just merely a picture of where I'm coming from and how you might view my experiences to that of your own. If you're working more than 12 hours a day 7 days a week, then I'd definitely have to re-consider.

    True @ the rebel comment.

    That's why I love the idea, I can imagine it being immensely rewarding, and as a perfectionist, I never feel like something is my best work... so I'd really strive to make the customer as happy as possible, even if that would only be my best, and maybe not as talented as some other photographers who are out there.

    That's an inspirational story. I appreciate you sharing your journey with us!

    Thanks for this Ned. Using your advice and all the aforementioned advice, I believe that I might try to spend the upcoming summer shadowing a pro for four weeks. Similarly to Gordon, I might send off a portfolio that I can procure over the time that I spend between now and then, and send that to a number of pros. See what comes back - would be a great way to spend my summer too, as I'm finally stopping my adventures abroad this year to save.

    Thanks Ned. I agree too, I am in a very good position during the summer month of August for four weeks. I should definitely put it to some good use! :thumbup:

    I'd still appreciate the sharing of more stories and journeys!
  6. meyerweb

    meyerweb Mu-43 Hall of Famer Subscribing Member

    Sep 5, 2011
    To be blunt: Have a backup plan. Making a living as a photographer is getting harder and harder, and income lower and lower. As Flash suggested, everyone thinks they can do it themselves, or have a friend with a "real" camera (e.g., a Canon Rebel) do it for free. When the typical person thinks an iPhone image posted on Facebook with massive compression is what photography is supposed to look like, (and a phone pic run through Instagram ia "art"), convincing people to spend real money on good photography is hard. It's hard enough for established photographers with a reputation, and even harder for someone who hasn't had time to build one.

    I made an decent second income, many years ago, shooting weddings and occasional other freelance work. It's still possible to make a decent (not great) income from weddings, but it's really not fun, and the per hour income is horrible. Families expect you to shoot a couple of thousand frames, and the time spent going through all of those and doing even minimal PP is far greater than the time spent actually shooting.

    Many newspapers and magazines are eliminating or greatly cutting their photo staffs, and telling their reporters to gab a few shots with their phone while covering the story. Newspapers and TV stations that used to pay (even if only a litle) for shots sent in by readers now get so many submissions from people who are just excited to see their images in print they sometimes don't even send a photographer out.

    Learn video, too. Video is the future of photography, far more so than still.

    As others have suggested, understanding the business is at least as important as understanding the subject matter. It doesn't matter how good your photography is if you lose money on every job because you're not considering all the costs of doing business. If you're taking people's money, you need professional insurance in case you blow that job and get sued. Many community colleges or local school systems offer classes aimed at small businesses. Avail yourself of the opportunity.

    Finally, be realistic about how much income you need to live on, and how much you can make in your community. This site is interesting:


    Oh, one more thing: the absolute BEST thing to do when starting a photography business: marry someone who makes lots of money. :) 

    Good luck!
    • Like Like x 2
  7. flash

    flash Mu-43 Hall of Famer

    Apr 29, 2010
    1 hour from Sydney Australia.
    Well let's look at this week.

    Monday: It was a public holiday and school holidays. So I took it easy. About 5 hours post processing plus answered some emails.
    Tuesday (today): I answered some emails at about 6am, dropped the kids at school and took the work car in it's annual registration. Went to the camera shop and picked up a flash and a camera i had ordered. Walked back and collected car. Home for post processing. Two small industrial shoots today. 1pm and 4.30pm. Get back from the first at 2pm and post process out, burn discs etc. Needs to be delivered tomorrow. Will finish the last at 6.30. Will get home at 7 and make dinner while Lightroom ingests and makes the previews. I have a big day tomorrow so I have to post the last shoot tonight.

    Wednesday: Drop kids at school and head to camera store in Sydney to pick up repair (1.5hrs drive each way). Drop off both Tuesdays jobs on the way. get back about 2.30pm, I hope. Lunch and then have a few hours allocated to do quarterly tax that's due the 28th.

    Thursday: If tax stuff is done I should be able to finish the wedding I shot two weeks ago. Didn't shoot last weekend so my workload is a bit lighter this week. Once processing is done, generate files, burn discs and labels and make custom DVD covers for job. Upload proofs to book company who will print proofing book.

    Friday: Baby session in the morning (although there's a 50/50 chance it'll be moved as is normal for kids sessions. Real Estate job at 1.30pm. Hopefully will process both out as Saturday is busy. Check all cameras, lenses + flashes for tomorrow. Charge about 40 batteries. Check cards. pack bags. Double check everything.

    Saturday: Off to Sydney for a 8 hour wedding. Leave @11am, pick up shooting partner, lunch and briefing. Wedding starts at 2.15 and finishes at 10.15pm. Got home around midnight. Download cards to two drives and let Lightroom do its thing while I sleep. Should be in bed by 1.30.

    Sunday: My daughters 12th birthday. I'm taking the day off and have either booked for other days or referred to people I know. Sundays are popular for wedding client meetings and I usually have at least one.

    Things I'll squeeze in:
    I'll walk the dogs every day.
    I'll get three rides in this week.
    May even get in for a surf.

    Things I don't have this week which I normally have to factor in:
    No client meetings this week, so far.
    No after hours disc delivery.

    • Like Like x 1
  8. DynaSport

    DynaSport Mu-43 Hall of Famer

    Jan 5, 2013
    A few years ago I too strongly considered trying to make a living at photography. I had done a bit of photography at church events and had gotten positive feedback from people who had seen the photos. I was even asked to shoot a few weddings. I encouraged the couples to hire a more experienced professional, but a few of the couples insisted that my work was good and they couldn't afford a more established professional. Only when I saw that if I didn't do it, they wouldn't have a dedicated photographer, did I agree to do it.

    That's when I learned how much work shooting a wedding is. I also discovered I enjoyed photography much more when I didn't have the pressure of pleasing a stressed out bride. Plus, I learned that people just don't understand what it takes to do a good wedding shoot. They think you are only working a few hours one day and don't understand why you actually need to charge a seemingly high price just to make a decent living. Those two weddings were invaluable to me in deciding I don't want to be a professional wedding photographer. I have been asked to shoot another wedding and I haven't decided if I'll do it or not.

    I have also done some engagement photo shoots and enjoyed them much more. But my problem, even with that, is the marketing that would be necessary to make a go of it. And unless you can get the high end market, you really are competing with every aunt or uncle with a camera.

    But hey, if it's really what you want, try it for a summer. It may make you appreciate the classroom a bit more.
    • Like Like x 1
  9. John M Flores

    John M Flores Mu-43 Hall of Famer

    Jan 7, 2011
    Somerville, NJ
    I'm with Ned on this-spend Summers learning the art and the biz. If you've got another hobby, sharpen your chops by shooting it.

    I got proficient at writing while working for an ad agency. I built up my photo skills separately. Now I take several trips each summer doing three things that I love-riding motorcycles, taking photos, and telling stories about my adventures. It's been a great ride, pun intended.
    • Like Like x 1
  10. robbie36

    robbie36 Mu-43 All-Pro

    Sep 25, 2010
    rob collins
    Actually that site is a bit misleading imho. It is based on 'surveying' HR departments of companies that employ photographers. It shows the median base salary at US$53k.

    A more complete analysis comes from the Bureau of Labor statistics that looks at all people who claim photography as their primary source of income. What this does is include all those photographers who are essentially self-employed or have their own photography business.


    As you can see their income is even lower - with the median income being US$29k for the 139k professional photographers in the US.
    • Like Like x 1
  11. Just Jim

    Just Jim Mu-43 Top Veteran

    Oct 20, 2011
    As a non pro, but very close to the business. My mom works as a printer up here in the North Eastern US, I grew up with lots of family friends from NYC to Boston area, older and younger that are either active or were active working photographers ranging from commercial, events, and family portraits. Take some small business classes. The most successful photogs I've met have been better at running a business than technical prowess with the camera or aesthetics.

    Failing that, I know some amateurs that supplement their incomes, while doing shows, salons, and other juried kind of exhibits, and make a nice little way to pay for their habit, usually turned right back into their habit. While growing a nice gallery of personal shots for themselves that they're proud of. Until you're ready to start, as you seem to want to take it slow, enter some of those. Not going to make a living on that... but some good criticism, and a couple bucks here and there might be good for you.
    • Like Like x 1
  12. RuffDraft

    RuffDraft Mu-43 Regular

    Jan 13, 2013
    Thanks to everyone for your replies, I've since spent time learning video, as I too believe it may become the best way to prove your worth and something that such and such can't do with their rebel.

    It's interesting learning from pros, such a shame that we seem undervalued as photographers, and I include myself in that category loosely.

    I'll take up all of your advice and shadow a photographer in the summer. I'm excited to do so!

    Best of luck in 2014 to all the pros, semis and amateurs.
    • Like Like x 1
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