Becoming a Professional Photographer

Becoming a Professional Photographer

by Lee Duguid, January 15, 2015
LANDSCAPE PHOTOGRAPHY | tips | Becoming a Professional Photographer

I was kindly interviewed on the topic of ‘Becoming a Professional Photographer’ by Education website training.com.au. You can read the interview over on their website: training.com.au or find my gory, unedited answers below.

1. How did you get your start as a photographer?

Becoming a professional or successful photographer isn’t something that happens over night. Very few photographers, especially the ones that love shooting landscapes get ‘a start’ per say. Instead it’s a slow process and one of constant work over several years. I think it’s important to keep in mind what your end goal is, then figure out the steps you need to take to get there. For me, it was a case of traveling, taking lots of photos, marketing myself and building a following using all my spare time and holidays from work. I’m now getting some recognition and paid work, but I feel I am yet to get ‘a start’ in photography.

2. Was it originally a hobby or did you always know it was something you wanted to do professionally?

My interest in photography started when I traveled Asia and Australia for the first time back in 2003. I found myself in competition with my travel companion, as to who was able to take a better photo. I traveled with both a film SLR and a digital point and shoot. The immediacy of digital helped me learn quicker and review which shots I should take with the higher end film camera. I got the film developed and printed as I traveled, reserving my best shots for a small portfolio book that I carried to show people. With some encouraging feedback I had found my passion.

A couple years on, living in New Zealand, I started to entertain the idea of doing photography as a business. My flatmate at the time just so happened to also enjoy photography, so we traveled and photographed the stunning countryside together. With the resulting photos we launched a website and I began learning about the marketing side of running a business. It really interested me, however I soon realised I would be better off on my own. It’s very hard to run a business in a partnership as there is more often than not one person that has more drive or time to dedicate to its success.

I moved to Australia in 2006 and started to brand and marketing myself.

Wollogorang-Australia-10117310

3. What percentage of your time is spent travelling as a landscape photographer?

I generally spend about one to two months travelling each year.

I’m not a full-time photographer. To become a full-time photographer – shooting exclusively landscapes – is not an easy task. It takes a lot of time, hard work, some luck and good business savvy. Often the full timers subsidise there landscape income with another genre of photography (wedding, real estate). For me it made more sense to keep my day job as an Engineer. It’s something I enjoy doing, it pays well, I get a pension (superannuation), financial security and all the other benefit of a ‘normal’ job… It has also brought me to Nice, France a great base to explore more of Europe. If you’ve ever shot a wedding you might see why I prefer this option.

On the flip slide, I’m somewhat limited by how long I can travel, because of my job. However, in reality as a full-timer if you aren’t getting paid to travel then you are limited anyway.

4. What would you say are the most important elements of capturing the perfect shot?

For me there are a number of factors that make a perfect landscape shot.

  • An interesting and clear subject.
  • When I look at a photo it needs to be obvious what the subject is. If it isn’t clear then the viewer will lose interest very quick.

  • Great light.
  • Shooting in the magic hours of sunrise and sunset will give you the dynamic light needed to make a winning shot. Flat or harsh light rarely makes for good photos.

  • Multiple elements.
  • A pretty sunset is nice but giving it context will result in a better photo. Try to find an interesting foreground and a strong subject in addition to a good sunset for a winning shot.

  • Good composition.
  • Use a strong compositional foreground to lead the viewers eye into the frame and to the subject. Make sure there are no distracting elements especially around the periphery of the photo.

  • Good separation between the elements (simple, clean and not cluttered).
  • Simple compositions work best, hands down. Everything should have it’s own space within the frame (so nothing overlapping or conflicting).

    All that in one image? It is possible. Look at your favourite photos and see how many they tick off my list.

    Manarola-Cinque-Terre-Italy-10135472

    5. What does a typical workday look like for a photographer?

    As much as I love the creativity of photography, spending all my time doing it won’t help me reach my goals. This is always at the forefront of my mind and determines how I utilise my time. I joke that my passion is running a business rather than photography.

    I’ve almost finished modernising my website, so for the last several months the majority of my time has been dedicated to that. I’ve still got some work to do before I can move onto my next set of tasks, such as; creating better products (instructional videos, printed images) and marketing.

    If you look at the typical workday of any photographer the reality is that little time is spent on taking photographs. Most of it is spend on other business related tasks including administration, accounting, planning and marketing.

    6. What should beginning photographers look for in an academic course?

    I would focus my energy studying Marketing with some modules on Business. Of course it is important to learn the technical and creative intricacies of photography, however you will never have a successful business if you aren’t business savvy. It doesn’t matter how good a photographer you are. I see many great photographers that don’t have a successful business or achieve their goals due to a poor knowledge of business. I also see (much to my disappointment) many below average photographers with good business acumen running a successful business.

    That being said, it took me over ten years to get to the level of photography I’m currently at. Studying photography will help cut that time considerably.

    7. What are the best venues for beginning photographers to start selling their photos?

    Its much easier to sell photography if your customer can see, touch and buy into what you are selling. For art and photography its very hard to portray quality selling online. It’s also hard to sell yourself as the artist if all they see is your online persona. I’ve had the most success selling my photos in solo exhibitions. Exhibitions have by no means been lucrative and often cost more to hold than they make in sales.

    For what I sell (high end, low production, not particularly cheap) I think a permanent gallery somewhere with lots of tourists and foot traffic would prove to be most fruitful.

    Claustral-Canyon-Blue-Mountains-National-Park-Australia-#11129861

    8. Your Bio mentions that you’re a member of the AIPP – How helpful do you think professional organisations are for budding photographers?

    I joined the AIPP with the goal of becoming a Master Photographer and to get to know others in the industry. I started as an Emerging Member gaining a full membership after completing their Business Mentoring program. This one year course helped me structure my business, create a Business and Marketing plan, and openly discuss my own questions regarding pricing for goods and services. I have also attended a few of the AIPPs yearly weekend seminars. I found these a fantastic way to broaden my network and to speak to some of the top guys in the industry.

    When starting my career I looked at the photographers who I admired in the industry; those who were running photography tours, selling prints, travelling, and generally living the perceived glamorous life of a landscape photographer. For the most part these photographers were AIPP accredited Master or Grand Master photographers. I saw being a member and achieving this status as a ticket to my success. While there is some truth to this, the success of a photographer is still down to hard work, a good business savvy and of course being very talented photographers.

    Ask yourself, what you want for your business and how important the AIPP is to achieving that.

    9. How can photographers best promote their work?

    Photographers need to first figure out their personal and business objectives in relation to what they want to achieve and how much they need to earn. This can be done by creating a business plan. Even if it is only a very simple document, it will allow you to then devise a marketing plan.

    Promotion is a mixture of marketing to photo buyers and to photographers. I tend to market myself to other photographers as this is what I find easier. This involves writing technical or interesting articles on my blog, and updating all my Social media channels with new photos and interesting conversation. Marketing to photo buyers is a bit harder. I spend my time doing SEO (Search Engine Optimisation) and optimisation of my website so that people looking to buy photographs of specific location should be able to find my work.

    10. Do you have any final words of advice for a student interested in breaking into the photography field?

    Those who succeed in photography – or any business for that matter – are the ones that work the hardest and never give up.

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