Cameras are everywhere these days, and millions of people fancy themselves, photographers. But amateurs and true professionals couldn’t be more different in their approach to photography. Here are 11 essential qualities every professional photographer should have.
Photography is a competitive field. If you want to make it as a pro photographer, you need the ambition and drive not only to succeed but to excel.
That means, among other things, that you need to:
- See what other photographers are doing and then go one step further
- Actively seek out opportunities to work and practice your craft
- Challenge yourself, reach outside your comfort zone and learn from your failures
- Make the time to study, even if you’re tired and don’t feel like it
- Find ways to pay for workshops, study materials, and essential equipment
- Cultivate an attitude of dedication, passion, and constant improvement
Be Detail Oriented
As a professional photographer, you have to not only see and capture the big picture but be able to focus in on the tiniest details. “Close enough” simply isn’t good enough—you need to know when those tiny details add to a subject, as well as when to edit them out because they make a picture worse.
A steady hand and excellent hand-eye coordination are critical skills. You need to be able to hold your camera perfectly steady if you want to capture the perfect shot and to change your equipment quickly—without dropping any of it!—as the situation demands.
If you’re at all unsteady or clumsy, it’s time to start improving your physical condition with photography in mind.
Most of the essential qualities of a professional photographer can be taught and learned, but creativity is innate to you and can only be cultivated with practice and exploration.
Being creative is what lets you:
- Intuitively judge what will make a great photo
- See in your mind’s eye a photo’s ideal composition, lighting, and focus—and know how to make that vision real
- Find the story inherent in a scene or image and use your camera to capture and tell that story
Be Familiar with the Law
Though perhaps not one of the first things that come to mind when you think of photography, you absolutely need to get clear on the laws that apply to your trade.
- Copyright and intellectual property law will help you protect your work
- Knowing how contracts work will help you protect your business
Understanding how the law interacts with your photography business will help you stay safe and keep doing what you love.
Be On Top of Your Marketing
No matter how good your photography skills are, they won’t make you money without some help. You need to be able to promote your services effectively and find new customers. Some things you can do to get your name and work in front of potential clients:
- Put together a professional looking portfolio
- Network on social websites and at community and business functions
- Find the people who are important to know within the industry and connect with them
- Have good written and verbal communication skills so you can effectively tell prospects what you can do for them
- If you don’t have the time or skills, you can outsource the marketing—though that has costs of its own
As a professional photographer, you’re running a business—you need to have (or develop) the skills to manage your projects, finances, marketing, and bottom line.
Being business-minded also means being professional in your attitude. There are a lot of facets to being a consummate professional, but the more you have, the better off you’ll be.
- Respect both your subjects and your customers
- Work with the client to meet their needs—their goals, their budget, etc.
- Decline gigs that aren’t fair—those that want top notch work for cheap, people who can’t be pleased, and so on
- Be flexible, prepared to pivot among changing circumstances and face any problem with a creative solution
- Accept criticism without taking it personally and make adjustments quickly
- Manage your time effectively
- Be consistent!
Let’s face it: photography is not the easiest profession. It takes a lot of work to get good and become successful. Passion—genuinely loving what you do—makes all the trials worthwhile, and can keep you motivated to persevere in your goal to be the best photographer you can be.
Be Skilled with the Technical Side
An amateur can get away with using a smartphone or a cheap DSLR and an Instagram filter, but as a professional, you need to be able to use the best equipment, tools, and software to their fullest effect. To take the best photos, you need to know your camera, understand the best way to choose lighting and shooting angles, and be able to edit images after the fact.
You can learn technical skills from all sorts of places, from degree programs at vocational schools and colleges to workshops, apprenticeships, and online tutorials.
You don’t have to start out as an expert, but you do need to dedicate yourself to studying and improving the craft of photography.
Ways you can keep learning (or get started if you’re still a novice):
- Read books on photography, written by photographers you admire
- Read articles and tutorials on sites dedicated to teaching photography
- Watch tutorial and technique videos on YouTube
- Test various techniques and equipment
- Work as an assistant to a more experienced photographer
Confidence is a huge asset for any photographer. You need it when composing a shot when selling your work to people or retail outlets, and especially when directly photographing people. The more confident you are, the more comfortable you’ll make your clients. There’s a fine line between being confident and being cocky, though, so do your best not to step on it.
There you have it. Whether you consider yourself a professional photographer, or just aspire to become one, cultivating these 11 qualities will help you to be the best you can be—and get the most out of your photography business.
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