The Big Leap

I often get the question what it takes to become a professional photographer. Here are some brief thoughts on what one should consider before making the transition, based on my own experience.

Photography is a wonderful craft, whether you are pursuing it as a professional or as an amateur. For me it’s brought me all over the world, connected me with people of all kinds and made me understand and learn more about the world at large and the various conditions that human beings seize to exist on this planet—not to mention how much it has taught me about myself. Still, and maybe most importantly, photography is a way to express ourselves through images; articulate our concerns, emotions and innermost opinions through a personal vision manifested in the multifaceted media that we call photography.

This is the basic drive behind most photographs I know. And that is also why many photographers who start out as amateurs—as most do—at some point dream about making a carreer out of their passion. Unfortunately, and in all honesty, it’s a tough path to choose, but if you bring the passion and a desire to succeed along with you, it’s all worth it. At least if you ask me. You will probably find that you lose the freedom you so much appreciated when you were still an amateur, you lose control of your artistic expression, and you lose yourself in the commerce and trade of the business. But it’s still worth it—if you ask me.

So what does it take to make the leap to become professional? I have already answered one part of it. It takes a desire to make it. Not necessarily to become the best photographer in the world, but to survive. It takes persistence to keep at it, even when it seems all in vain. It simple takes a hell of a lot of work, both as a photographer and as a businessman or -woman. You will probably work more than you ever thought you would do, but then again, if this is your passion, that’s quite okay, no?

There is a lot that can be said about making it as a professional photographer. In fact there are books written about it, so I will only point to two equally important abilities in addition to desire and persistence which for me are the ultimate prerequisites. To even be considered for hiring to shoot for a magazine or a client or whatever, you need to be able to show a coherent body of work. Not so much work you have previously done for clients, but work that shows your personal vision, work that shows your passion for photography and work that shows that you can handle the craftsmanship in such a way that your vision comes through in every picture. That is why the best recommendation I can give to any aspiring professional—or any professional who wants to stay in the business for that matter—is to produce personal work all the time. Do a long term project and/or do shorter projects. But do. And do it continuously. This is anyway where your passion will find its outlet once you become professional.

The final point I would like to emphasize here is a willingness to constantly develop. Don’t ever think that you have made it to the top, that you are good enough. The moment you think like that, you are not good enough any more. The world around you develops all the time—and faster and faster for each year—and you need to, too. Learn more about the craft, learn more about what you are photographing, keep developing your vision and don’t get stuck in old ideas just because they seem to have worked this far. And not the least keep develop your creativity. In the end this is what you are trying to make a living out of.

For me creativity is the most fantastic part of the actual shooting and also the reason why I have devoted my blog to this topic. To try to understand how creativity evolves and functions in our brains and how we can facilitate its wondrous act is nothing less than fascinating.

Just to make a few, final thoughts here, the four most important factors that will boost your creativity—as far as I see it are: First—and most importantly—be passionate. I am not talking about passionate about photography, but about the subject you shoot. With passion for the subject, the rest will come easily. Without you will never make interesting pictures. Secondly; do the work. As already stated, you will have to work and keep working, also when it comes to creativity. Without daily practise it will shrivel up and vanish. Nothing boosts the creativity as much as being creative. Again keep working on those personal projects. Thirdly; step out of the box, as the expression goes. It means challenge yourself, get out your comfort zone, do something you thought you would never do or dare do. Fourthly; keep your creative well inspired. Get out there, look at the world, enjoy Mother Nature, travel, watch a good movie, go to an exhibition or just sit down on a street café and enjoy a cup of coffee. A famous photographer once said; if your pictures are boring, it’s because you live a boring life.

So have fun, while you photograph the world around you.

59 thoughts on “The Big Leap

  1. Thoughtfully written with good points regarding the downfalls and the perks of going professional.The topic of creativity is good timing, too after a horrible photo shoot(not professional) with challenging lighting and motion blur and yuck results. Persistence pays off.

  2. I think in another life this is what I would work for and aspire to, but I came late to photography and I still love my job, plus only 7 yrs to go until I retire! So your advice is great and encouraging for those with the drive to do it, but alas far too late for me.

  3. Love that quote. All that you say about succeeding in photography is true for art too. It can be hard to maintain passion with persistence, but it makes life and our creative output so much better.

  4. I’ve known some professional photographers personally and as you say I think one has to be dedicated and absolutely love and desire to excel in this profession with all its ups and downs. Thank you Otto.

  5. Great thoughts Otto. I consider myself a ‘fine art photographer’ and don’t really attach the word ‘professional’. It takes the pressure off to create to make a living. I shoot and show what I like and if someone wants to buy a print or publish an image, it’s a plus and supplemental income. As a graphic designer, from the beginning I wanted photography to be my fine art medium. Since I live in an area with tourists I sell in a few local galleries/shops.

    1. It does take off any pressure when you don’t have to make a living out of something. For me, the hardest is wedding photography because there is no way to make another attempt if you screw up.

  6. Capturing a moment in time with photography is phenomenal.. Being able to look at it, re-live it, even years later, is priceless. Very nice blog post.

  7. Very interesting post. How has people having access to various forms of high quality cameras and social media affected professional photographers, both rookies and seasoned ones?

    1. In some ways it’s made it harder for professional photographers, because these days everyone thinks he or she can take great photos. But those who actually need great pictures, know it’s not that simple – and are willing to pay for professional photographers. The actual capturing of a subject is only the end station of a long process leading up to taking a worthwhile photograph.

  8. I’m struck again by how much of this I’ve come to understand from writing. I especially love that last point you make about boredom. I’ve always said that I write about what interests me, because if I’m bored by the subject matter, my readers are going to be bored by what I write.

      1. But I know people who do that. They listen to “gurus” who tell them “you need to write romances, or historical drama — that’s what sells” — and then try to write that, even if they hate the genre. And there are bloggers who ask, “What do you, my readers, want me to write about?” As you say, what is even the point?

  9. Hey Otto,
    interesting thoughts…i am a advertising -and editorial photographer since 25 Years , started analog and trained myself to become digital…you are right, everything changes and this faster and faster…but with all love i put in my job…what will you do if around you everything breaks down…less newspapers, no more big outside placate campaigns , less people on client side working with photographers..most of them only need a fast food Instagram shot….shot with a handy camera…situation is strange and no light in sight…yes, we have to work on us every time but my aim can not be to go 10 feet back to start a photographer career on Facebook or Instagram , so what to do if you are a passionate photographer who loves his job but a lot people , clients ,around want to have cheap fast food shots…not easy in the moment… Best regards, Jürgen

  10. Wonderful blog Otto – very thought-provoking. Interesting for me to understand why I am not a professional photographer even though I feel I do have several elements to be one.

    1. The thing is, to be a professional, that is to make a living out of it, you need to be more than a skilled photographer. There are many great photographers who aren’t professional.

  11. Excellent advice, Otto. It is a difficult field to excel at (as in, make a living) and I know so many amateur photographers that are way better than me and still think they don’t have what it takes. My guess is, they lack self-confidence to even try…

  12. I think that your comment about being willing to constantly develop your craft is truly key. It’s key in becoming a professional photographer, and also very important in all crafts where excellence is valued. A boring life cannot be part of any creative process! You’ve delivered some excellent direction, Otto.

  13. Photography is a gift….technical skills with artistry. I have tried so much to learn it but I realize it is tough and doesn’t come easy to me. I love seeing beautiful works of art so thanks for always sharing your beautiful photos and words of wisdom! 🙂

  14. i had intended on becoming professional, at the end of my 3 year training i did a ‘thesis’ on a photographer who had a portrait studio.. by the end i was like….. NO. 🙂

  15. Sounds like solid advice. I considered the merits of going pro about 45 years back, but opted to take another path. I suspect even if I had the advantage of your good advice back then I would have made the same choice; one that took the pressure off from making a living at it, but left room for the creative aspects. But I completely respect making the choice to go pro too and sometimes wonder, what if…

    1. Like I respect anyone who makes the decision not to go pro. It sure opens up for not having to rein in creativity, at times at least. And, yes, who knows what would have happened if we had taken a different path, no matter in which direction…

  16. You boiled down a big and daunting topic to some excellent considerations. It’s sad that a lot of artists, through the centuries and over a wide range of media, have lived like paupers to stay true to their creativity. And I think it has gotten even more challenging in recent decades.

    1. It’s hard to say if its gotten harder in recent decades. Just think of van Gogh, who hardly survived. But, no doubt, globalization has put pressure on creative use and what’s been paid for it.

      1. Yes, at least van Gogh wasn’t competing with digital technology and the sheer volume of people who are willing to offer their own work at dirt cheap prices or steal someone else’s work for nothing.

  17. It’s obvious that you love what you do, Otto. I know there’s a lot of work involved but you are lucky to have your passion and make it work for you. 🙂 🙂 Enjoying an Easter break?

  18. Interesting thoughts and advice from someone with vast experience and a deep love of photography. I particularly like your emphasis on passion and creativity. These qualities are the lifeblood of any fulfilling career.

  19. So agree with our quote ‘Nothing boots the creativity as much as being creative”. Very powerful post Otto. I must say that although your photos are stunning and proof that you don’t live a boring life, it is your writing skills and thoughts that particularly inspire me. Hope you will take this comment for what it is, a compliment.

    1. I do take it as a compliment. Thank you, Dominque. I especially appreciate it because photography and creativity as always been my main outlet, so it’s encouraging to hear that my writing is working too. 🙂

      1. Indeed it is working! Pretty well actually. Don’t get me wrong, I love your photos. I see lots of creativity in your writing as well. It is always a pleasure to read you Otto. Have a wonderful and creative weekend.

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