Starting as a pro photographer

So you want to start out as a pro photographer? Making it a profession means it will pay your rent, mortgage, bills, as well as your business expenses, 365 days a year. As such, it’s not for everyone. It’s easy to take pictures of an event or snap a portrait of your cousin but being able to do it everyday, despite all odds, is not for everyone. You will loose opportunities to competition, to people who do the job for free, you’ll have to learn constantly, and be discouraged by customers who will turn towards user-generated media.

However, if you are willing to put in the effort and time, being a pro photographer can be hugely satisfying. You meet many creative people everyday, such as dancers, actors, make-up artists, models, activists, entrerpreneurs, powerful politicians or entrepreneurs who make headlines. You will have lots of fans raving about you and following your footsteps. You will have a Google-able name. You will travel often to be on place where there’s the action. You will hunt after sunsets, fog and the elusive light. You’ll be able to reveal and magnify the beauty, hideousness, vices of humankind and nature and perhaps contribute into making photography an art form.

Business

A pro photographer needs to have a plan on how to bring business:

  • Positioning : positioning means knowing what unique kind of photography you love and want to focus on, and also making sure that field is lucrative enough to support you. This might mean a lot of soul-searching, a lot of trying, a couple of accidents before settling in. Since photography is very competitive, you must make sure that you will have the unique mix of talent, experience, service, gear and technique to do this kind of photography.
  • Business Networking : making contacts with influential people in Montreal can be the #1 source of business. Attitude is key here and you will need to display a minimum of hustle and confidence. That means you will have to create and maintain good relationships with other photographers, creative directors in ad agencies, magazines, modeling agencies, fashion designers, art galleries directors etc. You can start out by going to fashion shows, vernissages of photo exhibitions, or also just pitch directly to creative directors. Make sure you have a couple of amazing photographs to show off!
  • Word of Mouth / Social Media : knowing how to create word of mouth and a good social media presence will generate a lot of leads. This means having pictures, videos, quotes and other material that people can easily share and forward/share to their friends. They might not book you right away, but be sure you’ll be in their minds for the next project. Warning : social media can be a massive time-sinker so it’s also good to have a plan and rules there.
  • SEO : search engine optimization makes you findable by potential customers. That means having to setup a simple and clear website that can be easily indexed by search engines, and then taking the time & effort for a few months to get relevant websites to link to you. Often, you will see photographers that only have basic skills but who are able to make a decent living just through good SEO.
  • Advertising : SEO can take 6 months or more to get significant results, so you might want to turn to advertising, through Adwords, getting into relevant directories, or offline advertising. Make sure you have a great product/service to show off before advertising!
  • Financing : Being a pro photographer means having pro equipment that delivers reliable results, 100% of the time. You will also need to choose a system (either DSLR, mirrorless or other) and then get all the necessary accessories. You will also need to calculate what’s your monthly expenses and projected monthly revenues before calling yourself a pro photographer.

If you are starting out, the best plan to learn business is to be an assistant photographer for a successful photographer and learn as fast as possible. Search for Montreal photographers on google and facebook, and try to connect with the ones who have a lot of following and who also showcases popular names.

Creative

Here are a few points that you will have to work on on the artistic and creative side:

  • Push the boundaries : Amateurs take quick snapshots, professionals take the time to experiment and innovate. The best pro photographers I know take pictures in their free time, on weekends, in their trips, on evenings. They are excited by new subjects and new techniques.
  • Start significant projects : Pro Photographers take on significant projects that take weeks and months to achieve. It always starts out as an intuition and a discovery, with the daily motivation that you will create, build, and show off something at the end. For many pros, that’s often a proof that you’re not an amateur and you will be able to forward the link of your project to those interested in your work
  • Collaborate : Amateurs work alone, pro photographers have to deal with customers and other creative talent into making something greater than themselves. That means being able to being able to recognize who are the good people in your field, find ways to collaborate
  • Know your tools : being a pro photographer means you know the inside outs of your tools, such as what are the ideal conditions, what are the best combinations, and being able to re-create them in any conditions. Customers pay you to have guaranteed quality, and as such you will have to make sure you know your equipment, and have fallback plans, such as having a 2nd and a 3rd camera, a decent set of lens, various light sources. This is equipment that you will have to know by heart and customize.

I've written more about becoming a pro photographer here, especially for the montreal area

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