How To Become A Pro Photographer, Part 5 - Finding Success

Posted on 10/25/2010 by Daniel H. Bailey | Printable Version | Comments (0)

Now that you’re armed with all the knowledge gained from Part 1- Making the Jump, Part 2- Getting the Gear and Expertise, Part 3- Marketing and Self-Promotion and Part 4- The Business of Photography, you’re ready to strike out into the world and carve your own niche as a working, creative, and business savvy image maker.

Today we finish out the How to Become a Pro Photographer Series by exploring what it takes to achieve success in what we all know to be a very tough, competitive and rapidly changing industry.

Getting Started

When you’re standing at the very beginning of your career, things can seem rather daunting. You look around and see all the images that are published every day, or you hear about all the other portrait studios and wedding photographers who are constantly booked up and you wonder how you can possibly break into the market.

First, realize that it will take time. As I pointed out in the first lesson, you’re in this for the long haul, and it will take time to get things rolling. That said, the best way to get started is to jump right in.

Launch yourself into the mix and start promoting yourself. Research potential clients and make initial contact. If you’re interested in shooting stock, study what kinds of images sell and what agencies you think might be good outlets for your work and check out their submission guidelines.

Same thing with editorial photography. If you want to shoot for magazines, contact the ones that seem most likely to publish your type of imagery. As with stock agencies, most magazines have submission guidelines posted right on their website.

If portraits or weddings are your line of work, then advertise and market yourself locally and start talking up your business to as many people as possible. With this kind of photography, word of mouth is key, so make good use of Facebook and other social media where people can share and pass your name around to their friends.

Consider “friending” your customers so that you can tag them in photos that you post. That way, their friends will seem those images and word will spread even more about your work.

If you’re looking to get into to commercial photography, put together a good looking portfolio and contact some ad agencies, graphic designers and marketing firms. Go local at first, that’s usually your best option if you’re just starting out.

If event photography is your niche, then get your rig together and start shooting local races and events, or contact the event coordinators and see if you can be the ‘official’ photographer for the event.

Of course, you will undoubtedly run into roadblocks, especially at first. Sometimes it seems that noone cares about a brand new photographer, but don’t worry, we’ve all been there. Just keep plugging away with a positive attitude and lots of energy; things will get easier the more you get your name and imagery out into the marketplace.

Building Your Portfolio

What if you don’t have an established portfolio yet? That’s often the case for beginning photographers, although if you’ve decided to go pro then you probably already do have a strong body of work and a definable style.

Still, you may need to round out your portfolio with up-to-date work, in fact, you’ll do that throughout your career. Fill holes in your book by continually shooting new imagery. Create self-assignments and projects that you can complete. You might be surprised what you learn along the way or where the experience takes you in the end.

Although I said that you should never give your work away, there are times when you may actually find it beneficial to shoot jobs for no pay in order to network or to round out your portfolio. You need to honestly gauge whether shooting a particular job for free is really worth it. Often times it’s not. Don’t do it just because you need the work or to undercut another photographer. Free can be an effective marketing too, but use it sparingly.

It’s better to offer discounts or trade services with your customers. It’s also ok to shoot family and friends. Just make sure that they’re the right models for you, though. Just because they’re your friends, doesn’t mean that they have the look you need.

Remember that your portfolio, whether it’s in book form or online, is your first impression to the world. Make it count.

Finding Success

Establishing a successful photography career takes time, often years. When you first start out, you may not see immediate results. In fact, much of the work that you do are things that may end up paying off down the road, like marketing or shooting stock. Don’t get discouraged, work hard and believe in yourself. That counts for as much as anything in this game. Not every photographer out there is “The Best,” but they’re still making money.

In fact, you may never be “The Best.” That’s ok. Of course, you’ll constantly strive to be the best photographer that you possibly can and you’ll never stop learning and improving at your craft, but one thing you need to realize is that there will always be someone else who seems “better” or more successful that you are. Don’t waste your time worrying about what someone else does and why you’re not a successful as they are.

Every photographer follows a unique path in their career and they have a different set of strengths, talents, skills, networking connections and methods that has allowed them to get where they are. You included. Competition is a way of life, especially in this industry, and in fact, if you stop to think about it, competition actually makes us all better photographers.

So don’t worry about the other guy. In fact, reach out to them. Ask them for advice. You might be surprised, but most professional photographers are happy to share their insight with the younger shooters. The strength of our industry depends on an open sharing of knowledge so that we can all be on the same page. Make the effort to establish good working relationships with your professional colleagues. You’ll both benefit. They might even give you referrals.

Carve out your own path that’s based on your unique set of strengths, ideas, location and talents. Build a brand that reflects you, your own personal vision and what you have to offer the world. There is enough work for all of us in this business, especially for those photographers who have a positive attitude and work hard.


These days, most successful photographers have diverse careers that are broken up into many different outlets, each of which produces a separate income stream. All those streams come together to create the river that makes up their total income. The global economy is simply too competitive for anyone to count on just one type of income, especially those who are self employed.

Branch out. Shoot different styles or different types of jobs. If you shoot stock, consider shooting editorial, assignment or portrait work. Teach photo workshops. Write articles. Write a book. Sell prints, calendars or greeting cards. Explore various internet commerce options. Again, create self assignments for yourself that highlight your specific talents.

Although there is fierce competition and massive consolidation within our industry, there are incredible and increasing opportunities for photographers to reach out, find customers across the globe and earn money in ways that never existed in previous decades.

We’re standing on the dawn of an exciting new era where technology allows unprecedented opportunity to those who are driven and willing to explore new ideas and find success.

Of course, everyone has a different measure and definition of success. It might be simply working at a career that you love and making enough money to support yourself. Or it might be defined by a specific income level, the number of jobs you shoot in a year or an apparent level of status among your peers.

Success is whatever you decide it is for yourself. In the end that’s what matters.

So, be creative. Be inspired. Stay focused. Do what you love. If you have the dedication, you will achieve success.


Well, we’ve reached the end of the series. If you’ve been following along all week, I want to thank you for your attention and for reading these rather long posts. I know that your time is valuable and I hope that I’ve been able to provide you with useful and inspirational information regarding what it takes to pursue a career in the photo industry. Your final assignment is to put it all together and start laying the first bricks in your own road as a professional photographer.

If you’ve enjoyed this series and found it helpful in anyway, pass it along to others. Retweet it, Digg it, share it on Facebook or just tell your friends about it.

Also, be sure to come back or subscribe to my blog and like me on Facebook so that you can stay updated and read more photography articles, reviews, industry news, introspective and technical tips and see a variety of new outdoor imagery.

Here is one more book that may fuel your own inspiration and help you find your way in today’s photography industry. Not that books have all the answers, and of course buying lots of books won’t make it so that you don’t have to reach down deep and do the hard work, but sometimes reading one or two good books can help jump start your motivation.

VisionMongers: Making a Life and Living in Photography, by David duChemin is a follow up to his well received title, Within the Frame, where he explores the journey of creative photographic vision. VisionMongers is specifically geared towards those who are looking to make the transition into the world of professional photography.

In this book, he explores how to stay true to your own creative vision and and offers advice on how to translate that vision and commitment into a successful photography business. David presents an honest look at the fact that there is no one single path to success and that each photographer must create their own personal journey towards finding success in this industry.

The book contains profiles of a number of other photographers, including Chase Jarvis and Gavin Gough, and he explores the individual paths that each of them has taken, as well as what has worked for each of them throughout their careers.

Aside from being filled with great insight, wisdom and information about marketing and the business of photography, it’s a beautiful book that’s filled with stunning imagery.

Thanks again for reading and best of luck with your career.

Copyright © 2010 Daniel H. Bailey. The above article may not be copied, reproduced, excerpted or distributed in any manner without written permission from the author. All requests should be submitted to Selling Stock at 10319 Westlake Drive, Suite 162, Bethesda, MD 20817, phone 301-461-7627, e-mail: wvz@fpcubgbf.pbz

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Jim Pickerell is founder and a regular contributor to, a online newsletter that publishes daily. He is also available for personal telephone consultations on pricing and other matters related to stock photography. Fees for the consulting service are $2.50 per minute. He occasionally acts as an expert witness on matters related to stock photography. For his current curriculum vitae go to:  and he can be reached at: 112 Frederick Avenue, Suite H, Rockville, MD 20850, phone 301-251-0720, fax 301-309-0941, e-mail:


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