How to Become a Photographer – The Ultimate Guide 2022
Everyone has started with photography in their way. Some start in the early ages when their parents bought them their first digital camera or smartphone, others in school when their favorite teacher shows them how amazing it can be to take photos and tell a story through them. And some discover their passion at later points in life.Whichever box you fit in, you’re probably here reading this article for one reason only—you want to become a photographer! Be it a professional one, or just wanting to polish your composition and photo editing, knowing how to take amazing photos will come in handy at some point in your life.
Consider this the mentor you might have never had to guide you in the right direction and turn your passion for taking photos into something that even the pros would be terrified of.
You’re probably asking yourself, “When was photography invented?”. Well, people have known about basic photography concepts since the 5th-century B.C.E. Still, it wasn’t until the 11th century that a scientist invented a thing called the camera obscura, which helped people project subjects onto a surface for tracing.
It wasn’t until the early 17th century in France that Joseph Nicéphore Niépce used the camera obscura to expose a pewter plate to light. The thing that changed the game was the particular substance the plate was coated in reacted to the exposed light and created a permanent image, making it the first-ever recorded image that didn’t fade quickly.
In the coming years after that, people saw cameras and photography evolve, from the rise of Kodak and the flexible film roll to instant imaging with Polaroid and finally arriving at the digital photography we all know today.
How To Learn Photography: Just Start!
Walt Disney once said, “The way to get started is to quit talking and begin doing,” so whatever you’re interested in doing, you’re only wasting time if you’re not doing it. Photography is a skill that needs sharpening every hour of every day, as with any other skill out there. So don’t focus too much on what kind of gear you have, or if you need to buy the whole Adobe Creative Suite right away. Instead, just stand up, get your phone or camera out and start shooting something, anything.
Take Photography Courses
If you aren’t the type of person who wants to explore this new path alone, taking one of the best online courses for photography is a surefire way of pointing yourself in the right direction. While the courses may be with difficulties that you’re not used to, or they might require tools that you don’t have at the moment, watching them and learning will definitely help you when you decide to go ahead and get serious about making a career out of photography.
Taking a course or class on photography also puts you in front of seasoned professionals that know the game and have been playing it for multiple decades. Their knowledge and insight are precious and are definitely more valuable than having an expensive camera, lens, and laptop.
Taking online photography classes is filled with pros. You don’t have to leave your home; you can learn at your own pace, you can sometimes even chat with the instructors via direct message or social media, and they’re going to provide you with dozens of projects that you’ll be able to do with anything you’ve got. And, most of the best courses offer certificates when you complete them.
Go After a Degree
There’s also the option of opting in a photography course at a physical college or university, where you’ll be physically in contact with not only the teachers but with peers for many networking opportunities in the future.
And then there’s the last option, enrolling in a specialized photography school or college. But this option can be expensive and time-consuming, having to change your schedule around it. On the flip-side, it may be the best option for learning from the best and networking.
Whichever option you choose, you’ll definitely regret it. However, any knowledge is good knowledge, and with a path like photography, you can quickly build your skills on your own when you’ve covered a few essentials at the beginning.
You need to reevaluate many things in your life if you’ve decided to become a professional photographer. This craft will take up a lot of your time, and you need to be sure that you’re ready to dive deep into it. Just like starting any other type of business, you need to create a few points about why you should pursue photography as a career. If you’re considering a professional photography career, it’d be wise to first decide how you want to approach photography as a whole. These points can be a few things, like your drive, how you can improve your skills, what niche you’re interested in, what you want to offer to the world and other things along those lines.
Finding Your Style & Niche
Finding out what you enjoy best about photography and what you do best is the best way of figuring out your personal brand, which will help you sell yourself later on. It seems that everyone wants to become the next prominent photographer, and it’s harder to get your name out there. So, logically, knowing your niche well and having a signature style attached to your name will put you in front of the competition.
You’ll find out all of those things after you go out for a while and shoot a lot of photos. You can’t do it any other way. You just need to try everything and decide what you like and do best and what’s genuinely calling you and making you fall in love with photography.
One way of discovering your style is to trust your vision and intention and develop stories behind the pictures you take. Storytelling is an integral part of many niches in photography, and if you nail that, you’ll surely attract clients who want to use your skills. You can tell stories through color, composition, lighting, and many more ways. Just experiment and see what speaks to you.
That being said, not everyone’s going to want the thing that you “love,” so a balance of the things you like and what clients are asking for is in order. You’re still offering a service, and if people don’t need it, they won’t hire you. As you progress building your skills , you’ll learn early on how to cater to users, while still keeping your unique style.
Essential Photography Equipment and Tools
Being a good photographer means being one with your photography tools. From smartphones to a beginner photography camera or a professional one, you should take time to learn the nuts and bolts of your future best friend. When starting out, you should take a very general approach to the kind of equipment you use, a basic camera, lens, and maybe a tripod or some lighting is more than enough to start you out. Don’t think that every new shiny expensive piece of gear will make you a professional photographer overnight.
Chasing trends and the “next big thing” is a waste of time and money, so finding the equipment that suits you and learning to work with is going to be worth it more in the long run.
Camera and Accessories
Without a camera, you won’t be able to take those stunning photos, but you already knew that. If you have some money saved up, the first logical step is looking into buying a quality DSLR—some of the more affordable ones, like the Nikon D3500 or Canon E.O.S. Revel T8i are wise investments, but you should always do the most research you can before buying just to see what suits you the best.
If money’s tight right now, all you need is your smartphone camera and to set your imagination free. Phones have impressive camera capabilities that rival even the best professional cameras that are on the market today, so if an iPhone or a Samsung’s all you got, you can be sure that you won’t be so far behind without that shiny DSLR you’ve been looking at.
You’ll also want to look into investing in a good, fast S.D. card that’s going to save you from frustrations later on. Don’t cheap out on this one and go for a Lexar Professional one or Sandisk Extreme PRO.
Tripod & Lens
If you’re interested in landscape or space photography, it’d be wise to invest in a tripod, too. Believe us when we say it will save your life on numerous occasions that you’re not aware of yet. But, again, it’s wise to go with something lightweight and portable, with more options on height and swivel.
Lenses are a bit more complicated than tripods, though. Different lenses will make your photos look like they were taken on entirely different cameras (or worlds), and it’s safe to say that as a beginner, your head is probably already starting to hurt at the thought of the million lenses that exist on the market today. Therefore, we’d recommend you stay put with the lens your DSLR comes with when you’re starting out because you’ve already dented your bank account enough. Another lens is just going to make your headache even worse, and it’s definitely not going to help you learn the craft or camera faster.
Okay, so you’ve taken your beautiful photos and… now what? Editing, of course! And you can’t edit an image without having a good display and software. If you’re looking into buying one, a Dell XPS or MacBook Pro laptop will be more than enough for starting out and learning how to edit. They’re the preferred machines on the market for a reason, because their power and gorgeous displays set them apart from the competition. It’s just your time to choose whether you want to go the Windows or macOS route.
With your camera ready, pictures taken and transferred on your laptop, you’ll now have to edit them. Essential software for photography is relatively simple. You’ll only need Lightroom and Photoshop, and when you learn to take advantage of these two powerful tools offered by Adobe, you’re going to be that much closer to going from photography novice to expert.
Speaking of Adobe Lightroom and Photoshop, it’s best that you look into some editing classes or courses, too. If you don’t want to pay for extra classes, though, there are many alternatives like searching up online tutorials for anything you may need. Need to retouch a person’s face or mask out something in the background that should not be there? We bet there’s a YouTube tutorial waiting for you out there.
There’s no rushing this learning process. Just sit down and get to know the programs first. They need to become second nature to you because you’ll always be using them. Sometimes even more than your camera equipment. Online photography courses cover a lot of tools and tips on how to use them, due to many beginners putting massive dents in their pockets and still not knowing how to use any of the expensive gear they bought.
Many master photographers and editors were self-taught, so don’t get discouraged if you don’t have the extra resources to listen to yet another course. But, if you do want to, there are many photography courses online that offer editing tips and tricks.
Learn Camera Basics
Understanding how the fundamentals of cameras work are crucial for your career. Be it food photography or nature photography, you’ll need to know the basics of every camera, which are: ISO, Aperture, Shutter Speed, Frame Rate, and White Balance, and here’s a short breakdown of all of them so you can get a feel for what you’re getting yourself into:
What is ISO in photography? Simple, it’s the camera’s sensitivity to light. More ISO means a brighter image. During the day, you don’t need as high of an ISO. However, in very dark environments, there will be a point where increasing the ISO won’t help you; it’ll just make the image grainy and seem “low quality.”
Aperture is how much your camera lens is open, similar to how our human eyes constrict and loosen to let light in. With a smaller aperture number (often called the “f-stop”), you’ll have a shallower depth of field, which means fewer things will be in focus. With a larger f-stop, you’ll have more things in focus—perfect for landscapes!
Shutter Speed is the number of times that your shutter is open. This is more prominent in video recording, where shutter speed affects if the footage has more or less motion blur.
Frame Rate means how many frames (or images) are captured during one second of the video you’re shooting.
White Balance is how your camera sees the light and gives the image a particular color depending on the Kelvin scale. Different times of the day and different settings with or without artificial lights have their own Kelvin value.
Building The Perfect Photographer Portfolio
When you’re applying for jobs, your portfolio will make or break your chances of landing the gig or any other gig in the future. And if you didn’t already know, a portfolio is the collection of images, designs, and ideas you’re going to show your potential clients. The thought of creating one can be daunting, and for the most part, it is because you’ll have to showcase your best work while keeping it simple and to the point.
A good portfolio should be focused on your personal style and niche. You should also consider creating more versions of a portfolio if you have several types of niches you work in, and depending on the kind of job you’re applying for, and you should only send the relevant version that could elevate your chances of landing the gig.
Categorizing the photos by project and creating case studies will help you make the whole portfolio feel like one cohesive showcase of your work. You shouldn’t just throw all your photos together without guiding the client through your best work history.
Social Media Accounts
Successful social media accounts count as good portfolios, too! This puts you in the limelight for potential clients to see your work, and of course, if they like it, they could contact you and offer you a job on the spot.
Looking at how other good photographer professionals organize their portfolios and social media accounts like Instagram, Twitter or Behance is beneficial when starting out. Look up a few photographers you really like and analyze how they’re promoting themselves. There’s a reason they’re successful, and there’s no shame in peeking over into somebody else’s yard only if you don’t start copying everything they do. A lot of Instructors in the best online photography courses highlight this as one of the most important aspects of starting your photography career, so be sure to listen, take notes and always think about how you can improve your portfolio!
A Photographer Website Is A Must
It’s the 21st century, and you already know that if you’re not online, then you don’t exist. So, making a top-notch website for showcasing all your work is a must if you plan on landing jobs in the future. Websites fall somewhere in the portfolio spectrum, where it can act like one if it’s created and promoted correctly.
While you can easily promote it through your social media, you’ll also need a good SEO strategy developed for your website if you want to be found online through search engines such as Google.
A lot of money could go into creating a website, but it’s not for nothing. If you’d sit down and make a list of must-haves for becoming a professional photographer, a good website with your best quality work would be up there in the first slots alongside camera and lenses.
If you’re not an experienced website creator, you could always use a fast website creator such as Wix or Squarespace, which offer brilliant photographer templates that will save you time and money.
Dealing With The Business Side Of Things
In the age of rapid ever-growing social media, a good word can be a blessing when you’re a rookie. Try to connect with like-minded creatives and build relationships with them. Being alone is the worst thing you can do, and if you look hard enough, we guarantee you’ll find a handful of people who are also looking to connect with other photographers. And, who knows, maybe you’ll stumble upon someone who’ll help you propel your career up to levels you’ve never even imagined.
You need to be active on social media, post regularly, and interact with all kinds of people, especially fellow photographer amateurs and professionals. Therefore, you should always be ready to learn new things. You can also try to contact up-and-coming influencers to do a few shots for them If that’s the kind of thing your niche is in, or ask events if you can take their photos for a lower price than usual. A lot of the online photography courses cover the basics of the business-side of a photography career, so it’s important to cover them as much as anything else in the course.
Make Business Cards
Business cards aren’t a dying form, even if there is a shift to a more and more digital space. You need a well-made, professional card that captures what you as a photographer stand for. If you’re not as savvy at putting together a neat design in Photoshop or Illustrator, you can find a graphic designer who’s new on the field and is looking for work. That’s how you get connections; you may never know what’s going to come out of a particular partnership or friendship in the long run.
Joining a few social media groups and interacting on photography forums will help you get your name out there and let people know that you’re available to work. And also, these communities often have sections where you can share your work and get it critiqued—which isn’t a bad thing!
Go to Festivals
Festivals and expos are amazing for up-and-coming photographer enthusiasts because it gives you a chance to see all kinds of equipment that you haven’t even heard of until then. It also allows you to communicate with seasoned professionals in the photography field.
How Much Is The Average Photographer Salary?
According to salary.com, the average salary for photography in the U.S. as of late 2021 is around $67,000, although it ranges between $53,600 and $76,300. These numbers seem like they’re all over the place, but the range depends on the skills you have, your education, certifications, and how many years you’ve been working in the photography field.
Furthermore, according to careerexplorer.com, as a photographer in the District of Columbia receive the highest average photography salary, with a whopping $84,720. So, it’s safe to say that where you work can play an essential role in how much you will make annually.