Many people dream of turning their passion for photography into a full-time career. In some ways, the barrier to entry into the market has never been lower. However, the competition is immense. In this article, we’ll give you a guide on how to become a professional photographer.

This article was written in 2016 by the original author and updated/modified in 2022 by the editorial staff.

Start by Choosing Your Genre

The first thing you need to do is clearly decide what type of professional photographer you want to become. There are many genres of photography from aerial to underwater and everything in between. I would recommend following your passion, shooting what you love. Although some genres may not pay as well as others, if you follow your passion, you will have much more fun and satisfaction.

Decide on Shooting for Others or Opening Your Own Studio

Being a professional photographer is more than just taking and delivering good pictures.  Unless you’re shooting for another studio, you’ll need to wear the many hats of a small business.  Yes, that means you’ll be an accountant, marketer, HR, customer relations manager, salesman (or woman), etc.

To get started, consider taking the Photography Business Training System by SLR Lounge.


The sad fact is that there are not too many full-time photography jobs out there, so the best option for most people is to become a small business owner themselves. It’s a lot of hard work, and your income will be based on the quality of your work and how well you can market yourself.

It is not all bad news, however, as there is plenty of money to be made and many lifestyle advantages to being self-employed. So, if you want to become a professional photographer, what are you waiting for?

Develop Your Brand and Start Your Portfolio

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The next step is to decide on your branding and messaging.  This starts with identifying your target audience and building the graphics, images, and text on your website and online presence to appeal to that target audience.  Use these assets to create your logo, website, and social media profiles and start building out your portfolio on your website and the major social media platforms.

Here are a few useful resources:

Invest in Yourself (Improve Your Skills)

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Once you decide what type of professional photographer you want to be, it’s time to invest in yourself and improve your photography and editing skills. Simply put, like most things, the more you shoot and work on your craft, the better you will become. Many people believe it takes 10,000 hours of work to truly master a skill.

Learning from an experienced mentor in person or on an online course or workshop can speed up this process dramatically. Going back to college or university is not always the best option for aspiring professional photographers, as it can be quite expensive with no guarantee of a job at the end. It is definitively worth weighing the options and costs involved. For some people, it may be a better decision to stay at your day job while you train and learn the skill set required.

Another option would be to assist or second shoot once you have the basics mastered. Often these jobs will not be advertised, so you will need to reach out to local professional photographers and studios.  Our recommendation is utilizing our SLR Lounge Premium Membership to develop your skills.

Market Your Professional Photography Business

There are 10 primary ways to market a photography business.   See the previously linked article for the full info.  Here are the most effective methods:

  • Referrals (past clients, vendor networks and other professional photographers)
  • SEO (search engine optimization)
  • Social Media (Instagram, Tiktok, Facebook)
  • Directories (niche specific directories such as Wedding Maps)

Refine and Build Along the Professional Photographer Journey

After you land your clients, you’ll need to refine and build all of your systems.  What CRM (customer relationship manager) system will you use? Here are our recommendations.  Will you scale to multiple shooters?  Should you hire a studio manager or editor?  All of these things will take time to develop.

If you’re interested, we’ve also written a specific guide on How to Become a Professional Wedding Photographer.

How to Become a Professional Photographer Infographic

There are many paths to becoming a professional photographer.  This infographic is only meant as a rough guide to hopefully speed up your journey a little bit. In no way I am stating that I am a master professional photographer or a business guru, I have simply created this to help any other professional budding photographers out there.