Getting Started: Some Pointers if You are Thinking of Switching Into Photography

In the three years that I have been taking pictures, one of the most common questions I get is: “How did you make the transition from your old job into photography?”

Well, folks, the true answer to that question is, “Not intelligently.”

I was laid off my old job due to downsizing, and I saw it as a wonderful opportunity to pursue something I had been toying with for several years. I have always been interested in art/photography/writing but did not have a clear idea as to what form this interest would take. Couple that with the depressing stories of starvation whenever you learned of many artists, and I was leery of taking the plunge.

But then, suddenly there I was, jumping into the pool in just my birthday-suit so to speak.

Unfortunately, I did not have much of a plan. I knew little of the industry and I didn’t even know what my personal interests would be such that I could aim for an end product. I was also a bit intimidated by the technical aspects of the camera, not being the most tech-savvy person out there.

So, here are some pointers of things that I have learned along the way to save you some time if you ARE considering making a jump into photography as a full-time gig.

1. Know that there is a great difference between ‘hobby’ and ‘living’ when it comes to photography. If you just want to enjoy taking pictures, keep it as your favourite pastime. If you are prepared for some serious effort and can be objective about your work, the market and still think you have something to offer that hasn’t been done before, give it a try.

2. Research the industry before you make the jump. Know where you want to offer your work, and take into account how many others will be offering the same thing. You will probably need to be flexible and diverse in order to draw enough money to make a living. Just to be sure, try a ‘phased-in’ approach where perhaps you work on your photography business part-time while still clinging to some steady income.

3. Network. Get out there and meet people! Too many photographers are ‘lone wolf’ types who figure they can do it on their own. Not anymore! This is the digital era in photography—everyone is online, and many market their portfolio and their services by making contacts with other photographers.

4. Keep trying! Although all of us secretly believe we are going to be the next ‘wunderkind’, the reality is that we are not. While you may be a very talented photographer, that does not mean you are selling images. Making a living at photography comes from the happy meeting of talent, chance and perseverance. It also helps if you are good at business and marketing. Any skills you have can be brought to bear on making a successful go at it. You may have to try new things—repeatedly—as the industry changes. See these as challenges to help you grow, not obstacles.

There is a bit of a glut out there of good images. Excess supply often means lower sale prices, which in turn hurts photographers’ bottom line. Also, our culture tends not to view photography as art (unless it falls into that grey zone of gallery-esque ‘fine art’). So even when times are good, it can be hard to make a living at it.

The final word? Yes, you can make a living at it. But you must be smart, adaptable, have many skills, a belief in your work and the patience to be poor for probably some time before you get the recognition you deserve.

Still with me? Then get shooting!

The Road to Success

The Road to Success

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~ by Samantha on April 22, 2009.

2 Responses to “Getting Started: Some Pointers if You are Thinking of Switching Into Photography”

  1. Hey Sam,
    I just got to reading your blog. Great advice for beginners! I’m just beginning to realize how much work you guys must put in to make a living at nature photography. Just the process of getting your images prepared for stock submission is a time consuming task, and getting paid by magazines… well don’t get me started on that! I consider myself lucky that I am willing to do weddings (for now), otherwise it would be kraft dinner for us.

    Also, great advice about the self assignments, I have started to do the same kind of thing. I really questioned how much it would help me, but I have come to find that it is something I MUST do. Being in Ontario, I get pretty down and lack inspiration on a regular basis but have found that I can still produce decent images if I just get myself out there.

    I’ll keep checking in on “Sam’s Rant”, talk to ya later!

    Wayne

  2. Hi Sam

    First of all; Love your photos! Then my question is, how do nature photographers make a living? I understand in portrait/wedding photography it is possible but like me (and you) I love outdoor photography, nature, flowers, birds all that! Is it a lot of stock imaging, publicity? Just curiosity to know how you do this for the last three years.

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