What do I need to become a professional photographer? What IS a professional photographer? How will I know when I’m ready?
These are all questions you’ll undoubtedly be asking yourself, if you’re looking to make money with your camera.
If you ask a group of three professional photographers out there today, I expect you’ll get three completely different answers!
Also, what you ‘NEED’ to be a professional photographer changes, as the years go by…
When I started you NEEDED a Hasselblad, a Metz flashgun, a Standard lens, a wide angle lens, a spare body (if you were posh) and a small step ladder (don’t ask).
As digital became popular, we saw a slew of professionals switching from medium format to dSLR’s. In the early days of digital photography it was considered you needed a 6mp camera (Generally Canon, Nikon or Fuji), a spare body, a standard zoom lens (I saw a lot of photographers at this time using quite low quality zooms too!), two dedicated flash guns and a fistful of memory cards.
Today there seems to be a movement towards cameras with huge 30-40mp sensors, dedicated flashes a selection of prime lenses, zooms, additional bodies etc.
Once upon a time (Many years ago) I was taught photography is all about the photographer… not his equipment. Now this seems to have inverted and there is a feeling that you can only be a good photographer with good equipment. This is not the case.
So, what DO you need to get started as a ‘Professional’ Photographer?
If I were starting out today, this is what I would consider to be the bare minimum to get business off the ground. Please bear in mind that these are just what I would say… I have no doubt that there are others with differing opinions!
- A GOOD camera. What makes a good camera? A dSLR, with a sensor of a minimum of 18mp.
- A back up body. Same lens mount, but perhaps a lower quality body. Hopefully you’ll never have to get this out of the bag!
- A standard and a telephoto zoom. Covering (in 35mm terms) from around 28 to 210mm. These both need to be the very best quality you can afford, the top of the range lenses. If you are using an APS-c sized sensor, these figures will be a little different.
- A back up lens. Quality is not so important, but the best you can afford.
- A good dedicated flash gun. Preferably the manufacturers own brand and their top of the range. I would get a backup that is exactly the same. I’ve always found that there is far more difference in the flash gun ranges than there are in the camera body ranges.
- More batteries than you think you’ll need! I have always used third party batteries by companies such as Hahnel and never had an issue.
- Really, really good memory cards. This is one area I would NOT skimp on. Buy brand new. Buy from a reputable seller. Buy the very best you can get. I have used Sandisk for many years and found them to be excellent. Be careful, knock offs are rife!
And that’s it for the equipment. I wouldn’t leave home without back up equipment. It is worth carrying your main and your back up equipment in separate bags. Carry one with you and the other with an assistant or stored in a safe location.
New photographers think that the most likely problem will be a camera going wrong… In my experience you’re far more likely to have a camera stolen. It’s no good having back up equipment, if it all disappears at once.
We’ve discussed the equipment you’ll need, but actually, that really is just part of the story. You’re probably going down this road because you love photography, but remember, you are starting a business!
These are some of the essentials you’ll need.
- An accountant. You may be amazing at doing your books, but personally, I was always very poor. It is really worth investing in a good accountant. On the whole, what they cost is worth far more than the’ll cost.
- Insurance. Don’t leave home without it! You’ll need professional indemnity, public liability and equipment cover. You might be tempted to skimp and not bother… Don’t!
- Really, really, really good terms and conditions. There are a number of T&C’s you can download from the internet, some good, some bad. I had mine drawn up by a solicitor and I think it was worth every penny.
Marketing & Advertising
You’ve got your camera, a contract and you’re ready to go… But what you don’t have is any work! So, what do you need to do in the way of Marketing and advertising?
This is a bit of a minefield and I’d argue it’s actually where you need to spend the most amount of money first… As a guide you need to spend around 10% of your income on marketing and advertising. Here’s where some of that money should go:
- A website. This is THE most important thing you need for your new business. Don’t scrimp. Unless you really know what you’re doing, get a professional to do it for you. Keep it updated regularly. I can’t stress enough, if you’ve got a dead website, you’ve got a dead business.
- Social media. People make the mistake that they think they should be on EVERY form of social media available. This is true if you want to spend your WHOLE life on social media. I made this mistake early in my career. It is far better to do one form of social media and do it really, really well. I’d go further to say if you’re doing any form of social photography, you’d be best on Facebook and if you’re doing business or commercial photography, I’d invest my time on LinkedIn.
- Business Cards. If you’re going to make your business successful, you’re going to need to drop in to every single conversation that you have that you’re a professional photographer… Undoubtedly you’ll be greeted with “Oh what a lovely way to earn a living” as you try hard not to remember the Bride from Hell. However, if the conversation goes well, you should at every opportunity produce a business card! I love moo cards, because you can produce a pack of cards with a variety of different images on the front.
- Advertising on some websites. For most forms of photography (especially weddings) you’ll find third party websites where you can advertise for a small fee. There are also a plethora of free websites, such as Freeindex that are all worth registering with.
And there you have it… The very basics of what you ideally need, if you’re going to be a professional photographer.
This is not an exhaustive list and to be honest, it’s all open to discussion. However, knowing what I know now, after 23 years of photography behind me, I honestly wouldn’t start with less than the items I have listed, if I intended to charge a client for photography.
If you’re just going to do photography for free and fun, it’s a completely different story.