Do you dream of becoming a professional photographer? You might wonder how to get started, whether or not you need a degree in photography or if it’s a profitable career path. In this guide, we’ll take a look at six pathways to starting your career. You might decide that some avenues are more in sync with your personality and ideas, and that’s okay. The main takeaway of this piece is to show you there is more than one way to become a photographer.

Once you’ve decided that this is the career you want to follow, it’s important to give yourself an opportunity to both practice your skills and develop new ones for the long-term. Being number one in the industry isn’t a must, but you do need to make sure your skills are on par with business standards. Learning as much as you can early on will ensure that your final photographs are always of outstanding quality, even as your natural style emerges and you experiment with different niches.


Start Doing Portraits of Family and Friends

Those you know can provide a wide range of real lifestyle models for your burgeoning portfolio. Get your camera set up and experiment with different types of shoots; some could be designed as e-commerce clothing shoots; others could be family portraits. Your loved ones will get keepsake imagery for free while you get an array of versatile experience.
Working with people you know gives you a low-risk environment to practice your skills and figure out what type of photography you enjoy shooting. Not everyone wants to do lifestyle portraits, and that’s fine. But flexing your skills in a variety of settings will allow you to diversify your portfolio and become more employable.

Set Up a Social Media Account Exclusively for Photography

Sharing all your professional work on a personal account can hinder your image as a photographer. Have an account that’s solely for business, and upload your best shots there. Make sure you tag your location that might help you attract new clients. For example, #houstonphotographer or #atlantaweddingphotographer can help your posts show up when potential clients are searching for professionals online. Social media is also a fantastic way to easily share your digital portfolio with potential employers.
You shouldn’t forgo a website, though. Instead, use social media as your main hub and keep a portfolio on the web as a resume. Combining both will give you the most well-rounded professional image and enable you to attract clients from both Instagram and Google. You may even decide to inventively promote some of your work using TikTok, where thousands of people will get a behind-the-scenes look at how you bring shoots to life or edit images.


Get a Degree / Take Workshops

Photographers don’t need a degree to become successful, but it doesn’t hurt to gain an expert-level education in your trade. Earning your bachelor’s degree in photography will teach you everything there is to know about taking professional-grade images. You can even choose a specialization like fashion or photojournalism to sharpen your skills and build a portfolio that gets you hired after graduation.
There are many different degree options both in-person and online, but paying for it is one of the biggest hinders to most students’ education. While college is expensive, you can pay for your photography degree with student loans and scholarships. Private student loans are flexible and allow you to borrow higher amounts than you would probably get through a federal lender. You’ll be able to allocate the money as you see fit, giving you more money to buy equipment and supplies.

Look for Jobs as a Photographer’s Assistant

It isn’t glamorous, but hauling equipment and setting up shoots can teach you the ropes and give you a chance to learn from a professional. This is the common career path for most self-taught artists, especially those who have decided to forgo higher education and want to learn through direct work experience instead. Some of your duties as an assistant may include:

  • Preparing cameras and equipment for shooting
  • Staging the set for a shoot, including lighting and props
  • Directing clients on how to pose during a shoot
  • Changing settings or swapping out props during shootings
  • Booking appointments, scheduling consultations, and responding to phone calls and emails on behalf of the photographer or agency
  • Editing images with software like Photoshop and Lightroom

Advertise Locally

Reach out to small businesses in your area, like restaurants or hair salons, and ask them if they’d allow you to shoot at their business in exchange for free promotional images. These shots can be placed on their social media where you are tagged, which helps you grow your portfolio while getting on-the-job experience. If they are really happy with your work, they may even hire you to shoot for them in the future.
You can also decide to just photograph some of your experiences at an establishment and tag them on social media. If you ate a great meal at your favorite pizzeria, edit the photo and give them a shoutout. When you have a professional account set up, this gives businesses an immediate way to access you in the future.

Set Up a Shop

Etsy and Redbubble are two major e-commerce platforms for photographers to earn money from their prints. They allow you to have your best images printed on a variety of products. From posters, t-shirts, mugs, and laptop stickers, there are numerous ways you can get your name and art out there while making a small profit. Even though it may not pay your bills right away, having a store also helps you build a presence and earn a little money on the side.
As your business expands, you might find that you’re able to earn more for your work. Some of your happy customers might even reach out to you for commissions. You could also offer courses online using a platform like Udemy; this will allow you to pass on your skills and knowledge to others who are just starting out.

About the Author

Justin Weinger is a married father of 3, with over 15 years of corporate finance experience in various industries. He is an avid personal finance enthusiast, blogger, and chaser of passive income streams.