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!