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10 Attributes Professional Photographers Need to Succeed

10 Attributes Professional Photographers Need to Succeed

Written 5 years ago by Lee Milthorpe

Taking the leap from photography hobbyist to photography professional is a huge step for anyone to take, but it’s something that many amateurs aspire to! From the outside, being a photography pro might seem like a glamorous career choice, a relaxing, chilled out job with no worries or stresses. Unfortunately, that assumption would be way off the mark and in truth, being a professional photographer can be one of the most challenging and stressful jobs out there! It can also be one of the most rewarding though, which is why so many of us would be willing to take that step and tackle the profession.

Professional photography definitely isn’t for everyone, and if you are considering taking that step up the ladder, here are 10 attributes that I believe you would need to make a success from it.

1. Passion

If you have read this far, it’s clear you already have a passion for photography and in my opinion, being in love with what you do is by far the most important attribute you need to become successful. Having a passion also makes the job easier, it makes all the effort worthwhile and when you enjoy what you’re doing, you will do it better than something you weren’t all that bothered about.

2. Knowledge

A pretty obvious trait, but there are professional photographer’s out there who have entered the trade without knowing half as much as they really should. Some of them might actually be successful, but you’ll give yourself a lot more chance if you go into the game already having the knowledge. I’m not just talking about knowing your camera inside out, you need to know about the job itself and all the problems it could entail along the way and how you will deal with them. It might be a good idea to become an assistant before going it alone.

3. Time

If you enjoy your rest, sleep and leisure time then the world of professional photography probably isn’t for you! Shoots can be long and tiring, then when you finally finish, you can’t just put your feet up as you have all the post processing to do, the printing and packaging to organise and the sales to make, not forgetting the business side of things like accounts and invoices. Photography is one of the most time consuming professions you could get yourself into. This is where having that passion for it is a must.

4. Money

There are definitely more expensive businesses to start, but starting up in photography isn’t cheap so you’ll need a large chunk of capital behind you. You’ll want top of the range equipment, somewhere to store it all, you might need to buy or rent office space, possibly even more space to host viewings, not forgetting a studio. There are also many ongoing costs too; travel expenses, cleaning products, equipment repairs, replacements and upgrades! Not cheap at all!

5. Contacts

Ever heard the saying, “It’s not what you know, it’s who you know?” It couldn’t be more right! The main contacts you’ll need are for the printers and framers. If your contacts are good, reliable and within budget then you’ll save yourself a lot of problems in the long run! It’s also a good idea to network with as many people as possible, you never know who might be a lead to your next shoot! If you’re in the wedding photography business, you want contacts with everyone related to weddings, such as venue’s, florists and wedding organisers! If your niche is shooting live performances, get to know band managers, gig venue’s and music store workers. Contacts lead to more contacts, so start networking!

6. Confidence

In one way or another, you’re going to have to deal with people and having confidence will get you everywhere. Even if your path is landscape photography, you’ll need the confidence to sell your work to retail outlets and to people. It is a massive trait to have when you are photographing people directly. The more confidence you have, the more comfortable your clients will be. I’m not saying be cocky, it’s a fine line, but if you’re shy and nervous, it will show in your photographs and that’s the last thing you want!

7. People Management

This one probably ties in with confidence, but being able to manage people is a necessity if they’re your subject! You need to be able to tell them where and how to be without getting everyone stressed. You need to be stubborn with people because many WILL try to take advantage if you show any sign of weakness. If you have great people management skills, your job will be much easier and your clients will be happier.

8. Patience

It doesn’t matter what route you have chosen, patience is really important with photography. When you’re shooting outside, it could take hours, even days to get the perfect light for the shot you want! If you rush and settle for what is there at the time, the results might not be as impressive. It’s the same when shooting people, there might be an awkward child who just wont pose how you want them to, or it might be a group where everytime you release the shutter, one of them looks away. Again, if you get fed up and rush, you’ll end up with poor results and that definitely isn’t good for business!

9. Business Sense

Speaking of business, all the passion and enthusiasm in the world isn’t enough if you lack the basic skills to run a profitable business. Photography is a really difficult profession to stay disciplined with. It’s so easy to want to buy that new cool lens, the most expensive frames and to spend hours editing your favourite shots, but doing that will kill your profits and your business. You have to make decisions based on calculations and not on gut feelings.

10. Sales

Where is the work going to come from? Being a fantastic photographer isn’t always enough, you need to be able to sell yourself to prospective clients to get your new career off the ground, especially in the early days when your work isn’t well known enough to sell itself. If you think your sales skills aren’t up to scratch though, it doesn’t mean you wont succeed as you can always hire someone else to go out and get you the work, but that is an extra cost which wont help the profit margin!

If you tick all 10 boxes, you’ll have a good chance of making a success of yourself as a professional photographer. If on the other hand, you want an easy lifestyle, I would recommend keeping photography as nothing more than a hobby, maybe do the odd bit of paid work here and there but choosing to become a full time professional really does mean full time!

I’ve just launched a new personal blog where I talk more about business and how I turned my passion into a successful career at leemilthorpe.com

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Comments
Jeffrey Byrnes  5 years ago

This might fit under “contacts” but, clients can provide a huge resource when it comes to landing more work. If a client is more than impressed with the quality of work that you have given them, chances are they will be more than happy to make recommendations as well as brag about your business. Having clients that are willing to help you when you are just starting out can also make establishing a photography business flow a little easier.

Lee Milthorpe  5 years ago

Definitely! Word of Mouth is the best form of advertising, it’s personal, people know exactly what they’ll be getting AND it’s free!

It actually ties in with a lot of the points above. If you have knowledge, good people skills and confidence, you have more chance of getting those few early clients to refer you to their colleagues, friends and family, leading to more contacts and more work!

Jackie Wu aka GeckoKid  5 years ago

May I also point out that one would need to learn to drive, that’s what my boss is telling me. For myself, not being able to drive is a massive hindrance as I cannot go to remote places on my own. I went to Galway, Ireland a month or so ago and I had to take a guided bus tour around the country for photos, hence there were a bus full of tourists surrounding me. Good for the first trip, and I was very lucky that the weather was gorgeous. However I do wish I could stay on the cliffs of Moher for a little bit longer.

Of course one could hire a driver but that’s just a little bit too expensive.

Lee Milthorpe  5 years ago

That one is a great point, obviously something I take for granted by missing it out but it’s definitely one of the more important things, especially if you plan on doing shoots all over the country. Imagine Attempting to get all that gear on public transport…

Paul Sveda  5 years ago

I agree with all points, except I think point 4 “Money”. Yes you do need it but how much capital you need can vary. I’ve seen PLENTY of photographers get by with mid range gear that is several years old and a home office all the while using the web (relatively cheap) as a place to show, print and distribute their work.

Your point 4 sounds a little “scare-tactic-y” would be my only concern.

Neill Watson  5 years ago

Number 10 is withouit doubt the most important and something that no photo courses ever tell you. I had a 15 year background in specialist cars before becoming a professional photographer in 2002. Without that and some advice from other professionals, I’d never have succeeded.
And selling / marketing is a constant thing, it never goes away and as technologies kill of one market and open another, you need to constantly re-invent yourself.
Paul’s comment about money and a scare tactic has some value, but it’s still scary how modern digital kit is without value in a short time. Film gear used to have a much longer life.

Hope this helps someone!

selina maitreya  5 years ago

I would add, faith, consistency of effort, tenacity, marketing skills,
marketing tools, and more faith!

Neal Pritchard  5 years ago

Very good post. The confidence to promote what you think is a good photograph is my point of focus in the next year

Terry Day  5 years ago

As a working professional for over 30 years I have to say.. Excellent post! Very helpful for anyone wanting to succeed in this industry.

Matthew Adam  4 years ago

very good tips! our business started up a few years ago from scratch and we are learning all the time.

SSB GERA  4 years ago

Excellent tips, particularly the 4th one and of course the 10th.

Lisa Lees  4 years ago

As a newly qualified and recently employed photographer, I found this post very helpful and informative, and even point 4 hasn’t put me off! Although I have a part-time photography job, I am also setting up a small studio so that I can start doing solo work. I still attend college and intend to continue on that path for the next couple of years at least. Passion and commitment are, I think, the two attributes that one needs in abundance; I am juggling work, studying and family life, but with one key ingredient – my husband’s total support, both emotionally and practically. Real support is a must and I would not be able to realise my dream of being a professional photographer without it.

BlueRose  4 years ago

Can I add one more ?

ALWAYS carry your business cards on you somewhere :)

Angel  4 years ago

This is very informative…I have so many people tell me I should go into business, but I know I am not ready. What holds me back is #2. I want to know more about my equipment, I know most things, but until I know everything about it, I am not ready. Post-processing is another skill I lack knowledge in. I have great programs, but dont know how to use them. Even though only a true photographer would be able to pick up on it, I know I am not 100% so I would not ba able to give 100% to my client.
Thanks again for this article.

Buddy  2 years ago

Hi Guys! just started photography a year back and im LOVING it!! i was on self study at the start, learning from youtube, pod casts, magazines, etc. i have a canon EOS 600D with 50mm f1.8 and 18-200mm f3.5-5.6. my friends asked me to shoot for their daughter’s birthday and they loved all the pictures. i know very much that i still have a LONG WAY to be very good in photography, since i love landscape and portrait photography, please suggest what lens to use. i dont have much financial budget for lenses and equipments, so please suggest me a good set-up to start with. thank you very much for your time in reading this and hope you will have a fabulous shooting days ahead of you. THANK YOU for these tips. this will make me better (i hope) in taking photos.

Cheers, :)

Steven  2 years ago

A lot of photographers forget that selling their art involves more than just the ability to produce great photos.

There’s plenty of starving artists out there who produce amazing work, but have no clients.

Thanks for sharing – I think it widens the perspective and illustrates that there’s a lot more to having a photography business than just taking good photos.

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