10 Myths About Being a Professional Photographer

After dreaming about it for years, I decided a few years ago to turn my photography passion into a profession. I soon learned the difference between sweet dreams and cold reality. Not that I’d do it any differently, but I’ve discovered many of the myths about what it’s like being a pro. Maybe you’ve discovered some of your own.

Now that I have a few years under my belt, here are some of the myths I can dispel. Drumroll, please …

Myth #1: Pro photographers get paid to shoot what they love. While there are times you get to shoot what you love, most often you shoot what the client wants, at least if you want to get paid. I know a few pros who envy hobbyists because they get to shoot what they want for the sheer enjoyment of it.

Myth #2: It’s hard to make money as a professional photographer. Okay, not all my dreams were dashed completely. Making money, it turns out, is not that difficult. Making a living is. In addition to demanding advanced skills, you have to be savvy in business, marketing, bookkeeping, customer relations and negotiating.

Myth #3: The market is oversaturated with photographers. While there are wagonloads of photographers shooting overexposed natural light pics, there are far fewer with the skillset needed to tackle professional work. Master your craft and you will have something to offer that few others do.

Myth #4: Professional photography is going away. Not so. Some genres don’t pay what they used to (like wildlife photography), but there will likely always be a market for unique, high-quality photographs.

Myth #5: If you build a nice website, clients will find you. Early on, I built an expensive website and made it SEO-friendly. My clients, though, have nearly all come through networking and personal contact. A website is a necessity, but it’s not a silver bullet.

Myth #6: You can make it as a professional photographer without having to shoot people. I never wanted to photograph people, but I soon realized I’d have to be more open-minded and versatile if I wanted to stay in business.

Myth #7: I need professional camera gear to be a pro photographer. While pro gear gives you more versatility and durability, photography is not all about the gear. Pro photographers usually make better photographs than amateurs (though not always) because their skillset and creative vision have been honed over time.

Myth #8: Professional photographers get to set their own schedule. Not quite. Clients will demand that you work around their schedules (wedding shooters, for example, often book all their weekends). Also, you’ll often have to schedule shoots around the best light, which happens at the margins of the day. You’ll have some flexibility, but doing what you want when you want? Not so much.

Myth #9: Everything can be fixed in Photoshop. Okay, this one’s mostly true. But many fixes require marathon sessions in Photoshop. You don’t want that, and your clients don’t want to pay for it when the photo could’ve been easily fixed in-camera.

Myth #10: Images straight out of the camera are good enough. While there’s much you can (and should) get right in camera, even the best image probably needs some post-processing. This was true even before digital; Ansel Adams spent as much effort in the darkroom as he did on the mountain. Retouching is an essential professional skill.

Professional photography is not everything I’d dreamed it was. But I’d still rather do this than anything!

3 Responses to “10 Myths About Being a Professional Photographer”

  1. Absolutely GREAT!! I would like to address a few especially awesome "myths!" Myth #5: Rarely do they come, even if you build the most magnificent web site in the world. Unlike in Field of Dreams, the professional has to be out there networking 24/7= Myth #8. Snow storms; hurricane; birthdays; deaths (except the photographer's of course): clients expect/demand you to be there. Myth #9: try to fix blurry in Photoshop! I don't care what plugins you've got, or how well you can draw over the photo in Illustrator, blurry is blurry. However, I hardly ever shoot people (Myth #6). As an architectural photographer, they rarely are included.

  2. Love this. Particularly Myth 10 as I had a client who insisted on seeing ALL my photos of events, suggested I not post process until they made their decision. Not knowing any better I went along with them...once. From then on I post processed and deleted the losers beforehand. Worked much better, for the client and for me.

  3. Love it! Too true about the web site. I get almost all of my work via client recommendations, word of mouth or just getting out into the public and talking to people.

    your own schedule? Ha! Other than telling the client who wants to shoot outdoors that the best light is early morning or late afternoon/evening, you shoot when they want. If you want the work, you do what they want and deal with it. Sux but it is what it is.

    Straight out os camera (SOOC) is good enough! lol, sure it is if it's a shot for grandma to see the kids. But if you want your stuff published in any kind of high end magazine, you had better know how to do at least some post processing. And to that note, no, gear is not everything, but you'd be hard pressed to get the same kind of sharpness and dynamic range out of a $500 DSLR like the Nikon D3000 as you can get out of the $6000 D4 or the $3000 D800. It's just the nature of the gear. And the better the glass, the sharper the shot.

    Great blog post bro! Keep it up!

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