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Professional Photography

Becoming a Professional Photographer

How do you become a professional photographer or start a career in photography?

First and foremost:

  1. Do your homework
  2. Study your subject matter
  3. Do not go into any situation shooting blind- Know your subject – build relationships

The more you know ahead of time, the less time you will waste trying to come up with relevant, intelligent art. Let’s take the simplest of situations shooting a sunset.

Be helpful to other photographers, especially other pros. A career as a Freelance photographer is a very difficult way to make a living so help out. Share info and equipment if you can. Be tolerant and friendly to amateur photographers who ask your help. They show their love and respect for something you believe in.

Professional Photography photo shoot of woman jumping

Rules of Professional Photography

You must never be a part of the situation you are shooting, whether it is a wedding or a news event or a family gathering. You must learn to be an unattached observer or you alter the purity and honesty of the events before you. You must not photograph people when you are in a private place unless you have their permission. That is invasion of privacy and against the law.

If you get their permission you are well advised to tell those folks what you intend to do with the photo. In fact, you may not sell that photograph for commercial purposes, even though you received permission to photograph the person, unless you have a “Photo Release” form from that person, giving you the right to use the picture for commercial use.

If you are on public property and manage to photograph something that transpires on private property you may use that photograph for your personal use, and have it published in a legitimate media – like a newspaper or Internet website – however, you may not sell, or use, that photograph for the purposes of making money off of it.

Being a photographer carries with the responsibility of never altering a photograph. (You can lighten, darken, sharpen, or crop the image and be safe. To alter is to “Make or become different in some particular way, without permanently losing one’s or its former characteristics or essence – either through darkroom techniques or digital “enhancement” – you are compromising the purity and integrity of the art.) Photography has an inherent quality of honest and you must have the courage to stand by the image.

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  1. Im an amateur photographer and I loved this article,thanks for posting! I have a Nikon L320, Its actually my first ever camera and im learning as I go long so this article was of great help.

  2. I got my first camera when I was 9, and I’m now 70, and I’m still learning. I love DSLRs!!! The secret to taking good photos is to take photos every chance you get, and be very honest when you examine the photos. Look at each one for a preliminary decision right after you shoot it, and look at them again when you have more time. Be honest with yourself. Look at professional’s work every chance you get, and read their comments.

    Be creative in composition, lighting and exposure!! Try stuff to see what it will look like. This is how you’ll learn what doesn’t work in one situation, but looks good in another.

    BTW, the advice in this column is gold!!!

  3. Hi there, I appreciate the site. It gives clear, to the point info. Looking at photo editing: I am a beginner with a Rebel t2i. On my laptop I carry Lightroom 5.2 and I use it.

    As I like to learn on the spot I shoot a lot in “Manual” mode. Make mistakes with white balance and light. Yes, sometimes LR 5.2 “saves” my picture and allows me to enjoy the memory. I hope eventually to edit less and do right the first time more, but for now I am happy the software exists.


  4. I have had a passion for photography for many years now. Until recently I have always used a “point and shoot” camera or my “cell phone” camera, with some pretty amazing results for a “poor” image quality camera. Prior to purchasing a several hundred dollar camera that I knew nothing about, (DSLR) I wanted to do my homework. I have a few friends that have gone to school for photography, paying a couple thousand dollars in tuition fees. When I began lesson#1 I knew as much about DSLR as I know about my “point and shoot”. After reviewing all the material offered on this site and extensive note taking, it has given me a much better understanding of my point and shoot, as well as the solid foundation needed to advance my skills to the next level. Now, I am very anxious to get my first DSLR and begin practicing my new found skills. With the knowledge I have obtained here and a little practice I feel confident that I can compete with my “professional” friends. I simply can not thank you enough for designing this user friendly, plain English and totally free site!! Any photographers who I may encounter in the future, regardless of their skill level, I will HIGHLY recommend this site to them!!!

  5. hi i really need to get help on my photography as i want to be a professional portrait photographer. I mainly find it difficult to geet good pics indoors as they seem to be really dark! I am buying a white backdrop and support stand any tips on this issue?
    thanks. look forward to hearing from you

  6. I read a comment about posting/sharing a flickr account for constructive criticism? I am an amateur looking to better photograph; I would love to share my photos with pros who can give me good advice!
    Great site – I am learning a lot on here!

  7. Hi, this website is great, but it will be very nice if this website has a studies for a detailed type of cameras. Like studies of Canon EOS 1D Mark IV, it would be great because I was using it. Thank you.

  8. Hi, i was wondering what are the minimum qualifications required before someone can claim they are a professional photographer?

  9. Hi, Great website.
    I was wondering if a photography has to get permission from the make-up artist and hair stylist on a photo shoot? I was guessing yes????
    Thank you

  10. My name is gangadhar from INDIA and i am intrested in wildlife photography. i really like to do this and i dont no how to go about and it i have taken pictures also and if you can please guide me i would really be thankful to you and i have tried searching inregards to this but am unable to locate things related to that.

  11. In going to formal education you’re taught the elements and principles of Design. You are then given assignments and your photos are critiqued and then you’re left to go out and try again. We’re working on getting the ability to do that here. But for now many of our sponsors such as AIOnline are doing it already. I wouldn’t feel bad charging people money for photographs even though you haven’t had formal classes, I would just charge more as you learn, see the errors in your old photos, and improve upon them. I know plenty of sub par photographers who don’t blush to charge for a family portrait, just like web designers that charge $150/hr for poor work. So if people are genuinely impressed with your work don’t be afraid to charge, just charge what you feel it’s worth and never stop trying to improve.

  12. Hello, my name is Tresa, I am a photog enthusiast! I have won several photography contests and have shot for people just for the fun of shooting. I have been told that I should do this for pay, but I am not sure. I know that I take good pictures and I love doing it…..the problem is I am not sure of the techniqual end of the whole thing. I feel that in order to charge someone for taking their photos then I should at least have some kind of education behind me. I have read about these online photography schools that offer degrees in photography (AIOnline) What are your thoughts? Is something like this needed? If not, what do you suggest as far as education?

  13. Hello, the names Joanna, and im very interested in photography. I’ve read all of your beginner course, and it’s amazing!I’ve written down so many notes and im studying them right now 😀 I have a canon Reble Xt EOS 350D that im practicing on, and i have many questions to ask.I would definitely recommend this website to many friends!

  14. Hello. My name is Shandi, 23 years old, and I’m planning on starting a photography business. Mostly shooting people and pets. I’m looking at dslr cameras and was wondering what one you would recommend. I was thinking a Nikon D90… But I’m not real sure… Thank you for your time.

  15. Hi…… I’m Magenta 18 years old and I am really interested in photography… welll I’ve been through a lot of online photography course and I really believe that your site is the very best….. I’m just starting out… and I have a canon powershot G6….. love your site ….. I’ll definitely recommend your site to my friends who is interested also in photography…. Thank you so much…..

  16. I believe it is okay to edit portraits, but if some talentless person takes a picture of a lake with the setting sun and a tree. the picture can be crap and if they change it it looses what it originally was. I rely on my own skill with a camera to capture the beauty of nature. I could take a bland photo with nothing interesting and no beauty and still be proud of it, where as some one else would do that and be disappointed and turn it into a work of digital manipulation that is better looking and more popular. but my photo would be the true look at nature as it is, not as someone wants. look at my deviantart and tell me my photos are not good even though I only change the armature and the color to black and white and sepia, before hand.

  17. Tony, Thanks for your comment and contribution of talent to the world of photography. I too agree with your opinion that all image enhancement is not bad. One of the wonderful things about Photography Course is that it has various contributors from different realms of the photography world. Skip, a photojournalist, wrote this article and so you can understand his commitment to tell the truth with photography. As a designer who writes the Photoshop Tutorials, I’m more in your boat along with Carrie, our wedding/portrait Photographer.

  18. Many thanks for sharing your experience and skills!
    I have set up as Freelance ‘Photopreneur’ this year selling my images from South America, Norway and UK, plus doing commissions locally (portraits, commercial photography etc). Slowly but surely I’m getting a reputation.
    I am not sure I agree with your opinion that all image enhancement (‘altering a photograph’) is ‘out’… can that not also be artistic? Is a musician / guitarist not allowed to add effects to their music, a cook add herbs and spices to their food?! I do object to some of the manipulation, but not all.
    Best wishes!

  19. I an a amature photographer, and i apreciate that you belive that the editing of photos is somewhat unprofessional. i have taken many nature photos and the only thing i have ever changed was befor i took the photo. the settings on my camara is the only thing that changes the way my photos come out. the things i change are aputer, black-and-white, and sepia.

  20. I just started a photography business after being laid off. Most of my people pictures were people that allowed me to take the picture, but they do not know their pictures are on my website. Also, I have 3 school logo’s and places of experience business logo’s pasted on my website just as a credential and reference purpose, but I’m not sure it’s legal to do that. However, I do have permission to use the logo’s of the PPA (Professional Photographers of America) and the IFPO (International Freelance Photographer Organization).

  21. Nice read. I may object and have to add that photomanipulation is also an art, just hope people use it for that and not to say look what i shot..lol

  22. PS-Donna…if your shooting a wedding before and you never have-so a search online for photo poses…wedding photography poses…get some ideas on what others have done. Good luck!

  23. I’d say the best thing if you want to be a professional photographer is to study one. Do internships, practice…on friends, family, nature…anything you can photograph. A great site to watch and see how photographers do it is http://www.flickr.com

    You can see what many people post and some of it may not be for you but if you hire a photographer who shoots nature and not people then you will have a problem as he or she isn’t used to having a mobile subject. Some people are versatile in everything…You have to do your research. It’s not something that happens overnight but if you work hard at it and study properly you can become a great photographer. Good Luck to everyone to seeks this path, I love it and would not change it for the world.

  24. Donna, haven’t ever used a Sony Alpha, though I’ve seen the fancy adverts they’ve got going. For some basics on wedding photography the “Digital Photography Book 2” by Scott Shelby, does a good job of illustrating basic issues with lighting and dealing with the the Bride/Groom and other family members at a wedding. Awhile back I interviewed Cliff Mautner, one of the best Wedding Photographers in the world today, his website is a good resource. He also offers classes if your up for learning from the best.

  25. Thanks so much for sharing this information! I thoroughly enjoyed it. My husband bought me a Sony A350 for Christmas. So far I have been very impressed with the picture quality. Have you heard anything good or bad about the Sony Alphas, or have you used one? I am doing a wedding (for a friend) in July, so I really hope to learn more about wedding photography. Any suggestions on literature for learning the ins and outs of wedding portraiture?

  26. I really love the information available on your site. Several people I have met who make their living on photography have been very peeved of offering assistance. One friend has taught me alot and is there for most questions though. Any advise on usuing dslr canon? Is there lessons for the compositions rule?

  27. Thanks for sharing all the wonderful tips with us. Being an amateur or rather an enthusiast I have found myself more questions than answers. And unfortunately most sites briefly indulge into explanations. Your explanations are more detailed and focused. Great help to me. I’ve recently acquired a Canon EOS 40d 28-135mm kit….and I have so many questions! Would you have the time to share your insights and experience with me. I can also post photographs for you to evaluate. Thanks again. Take Care.

  28. i am 16 years old i like photography i wish to be a professional photographer ,,,, i have a fujifilm s9600 ….. need ur mail to ask u alot of questions plz … and thanks alot for this informative coarse

  29. Thank you Kishan, glad you found the information useful. Photography is a wonderful profession. To be able to capture the beauty around and share it with others.

  30. Am a phography enthusiast from Mauritius and it is so often easy to find people boasting being PROFESSIONALS on photographs they selects from hundreds and claim talent. None will come and teach you how to achieve a good phography on on the instant and do it in front of to prove what want others to believe. I admire those amateur who understand the basics and try to get something great. On your site I felt like an elder brother teaching me how to use my camera, properly! Thanks dude, it helped me lot. I had had enough of people telling me, cm’ on man set ur cam to auto, use flash and thats it! I will advise those who ask me to visit ur site.


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