How to Be a Professional Photographer

Updated: Dec 27, 2018


In the world of new and upcomping technology, almost everyone calls themself a photographer. You are different though. You want to actually run a photography business, not just take photos for your brothers Prom group. You want to be a professional photographer.

But how do you do it?

Two people Having a Business Meeting

Well this is exactly how. If you don't know where to start, this is the place, with these three principles.

Before we get into the principles, I want to invite you to check out our gallery and pick your favorite picture. Let us know what you think.

2 Photographers

When starting a professional photography business, you have to become 2 photographers.

You have to be Business Photographer and Artist Photographer. Most photographers, enjoy photography because they enjoy the art.

Others only enjoy the business side. To be the best, you must meld the two.

The Artist Photographer

A male photographer holding a camera

If you were looking for a great photographer, you would want someone who could make any photo look like a dream come true.

You’d need someone who could interpret what you wanted as the customer and bring it life.

You’d want someone who could surpass your expectations when it comes to photo-creation and editing.

All of that comes from the Artist Photographer.

The artist photographer knows the techniques, and stays up to date with all of the newest and coolest ways to capture a memory.

There’s a problem though. The artist photographer is willing to sacrifice money for THE SHOT.

You can’t run a business like that.

When that happens, people stop asking you to take their photos, and they ask their hairdresser’s cousin’s niece who just got a camera for her 14th birthday.

That’s why the business photographer exists.

The Business Photographer

A business person holding a tablet

The purpose of the business photographer is to make the business work.

As an artist, you spend a lot of time working on the photos.

As the businessperson, you spend even more time promoting your business.

You realize that no one can appreciate your art if they can’t find your art.

The business photographer understands that a business has costs.

As a business owner you understand completely that if you craft the business successfully, it will produce its own success.

Because you are the consummate professional photographer, you know exactly how to meld the two together.

This article assumes that you are already an excellent artist photographer.

So read on and learn how to be the best Business Photographer.

Customer Experience

When you go to a spa, you don’t care about what is easiest for the spa.

You don’t really care about what the spa thinks will attract customers.

The only thing that matters is what really attracts customers, that means what customers want.

The same goes for photography.

As a photographer, you need to think about what the customer wants and needs.

Take into account what a customer feels as they go through the entire process of getting their pictures taken.

Smiling People

Think about the moments when they aren’t thinking “I’m glad I paid for this,” and then make sure they happen less and less.

When at a photo shoot, think about the little things that are uncomfortable or annoying.

You, as the photographer, need to be the person with all of the solutions.

When trying to improve your business, you need to always base your changes on data when possible.

To do that, you need to gather data.

Perform basic market research to get an idea of what your customers want.

A great tool is Google Trends.

Google Trends will show you the trends surrounding search terms through a specified period.

For example, I looked up family portraits in Utah on Google Trends and it showed me that there was a spike during the middle of October for some reason.

This tells me that in Utah, there is more demand for family portraits during that small period.

Maybe I’ll want to tailor my running ads to cater to that demand.

You can also ask your customers what they think is good about your business, and what they’d improve.

Marketing Donut says though, “don’t ask for feedback if you’re not prepared to make changes.”

In all things, you want to be ready to provide what your customer needs, before they know they need it.

Every customer goes on a journey.

It’s the same for each customer.

They go from Awareness, to Consideration, to Decision, to Retention to Advocacy.

More or less they go from hearing about your service, to telling others about it.

What you need to do is deliver value at every stage of that journey.

You need to learn how to WOW your customer every time they interact with your business.

Yes, that does mean you’ll need to spend time thinking about your business and how to develop it.

Unless you don’t want to be a professional photographer.

Then you can just fly by the seat of your pants.

The world of wearing one hat is gone.

As the photographer, you’ll need to wear multiple hats.

As the boss you need to understand every element of your business.

You can definitely outsource it, in fact depending on your market and your situation, that might be what you should do.

No matter what, you should understand it though.

The person who gets paid the most is the person who controls the most.

You can’t control what you don’t understand.

The good thing is, that you can understand your customers very easily.

Here’s a trick.

Whenever you are out on a photoshoot, make a note of all the times your customers smiled or laughed without having to be told to.

This is a great way of figuring out what worked.

At the same time, pay close attention to the moments when your clients hesitate, disapprove, or outright dislike something.

It’s not an exact science, but it will improve your business little by little.

Quality Photos

A job that both the artist and the business photographers can both help accomplish is the quality control of the photos.

In all things, make sure you do them well.

Never release photos that know for sure will elicit bad reviews.

Be aware of the power of the word of mouth.

It accounts for 5x sales more than paid media impressions. Word of mouth builds trust faster as well.

So make sure that your photos are excellent.

Here too, the key is to WOW the customer.

A whole batch of amazing photos can be overshadowed by the one blurry image that trumps the clarity of the other pictures.

Use the artist photographer to craft breathtaking photos and use the business photographer to cold heartedly impose standards of excellence.

That all sounds much more disjointed than it really is.

In reality, you know how to make good photos. You just need to know exactly when to say “Try again.”

This is incredibly hard considering that you’ll probably be working within a deadline.

You’ll also probably be working on more than one project at a time.

So how do you schedule all of these things and get them done?

There are a few tips:

Create Systems that allow you to quickly get rid of the poor photos, and let you focus on the winners

-Actually schedule time to edit into the fulfillment time

-Do the projects with the fastest approaching deadlines first

-Communicate constantly with your customers

These are only a few tips, and there are doubtless more, however these should get you started.

The beautiful thing about photography as a business is that with every new project, you get more to put in your portfolio (obviously you’ll have to let your clients know this).

This means that you’ll constantly get new material to put in brochures, on business cards, on social media and on your website.

Since, you’ve spent so much time focusing on making these photos excellent all of your marketing pieces will be of excellent quality.

The professional photographer always focuses on quality.

Quick Turnover

Photographer with Camera

The professional photographer always finishes their projects quickly as well.

There is a dichotomy between quick photos and quality photos.

You could have an entire two hour photo done extremely quickly if you didn’t care at all for the quality of the photos.

You could also take ten years editing one photo trying to make it perfect.

In either of these situations, you don’t make any money because no one wants to hire you.

So you’ll need to find the balance.

As a professional photographer, you track everything you do so you know, because of data, exactly how long it should take, on average.

You’ll then communicate this number to your clients so they understand and accept the wait time and the quality of the photos they’ll receive.

Doing quick photos is easy, but doing quality photos quickly is harder.

Here are a few tips to keep your quality up even when you are in a rush:

-Edit the photos at least twice with a little time in between

-Let someone you trust look at the photos

Ask yourself, “Could I sell this in a picture frame?”

Create a quality checklist

Again, these are just tips, but hopefully they can help you in a bind.

The worst thing would for someone to take a chance on you and you not be able to deliver.

A professional photographer gets the job done, and does it well.


Photographer in the rain

This article was, in now way, definitive on what it means to be a professional photographer, however, now you have a place to start.

You’ll want to spend time improving on all of these ideas. They are skills and it will take time, but the good news is that the more you practice, the better your business will be.

That means you will make more money.

As you do make more money, please share your success stories with us. We are a photography business located in Utah county.

Or if you’re looking for a photographer, check out our gallery and give us a try.

Either way, we’d love to hear from you.

BONUS:5 Ways to Wow your Clients

As a bonus here are 5 ways to really WOW your clients. They aren’t that complicated, but they are things that the average photographer doesn’t think about. Here they are:

1: Bring Water

How many times have you driven out to a very secluded location and everyone at the shoot was asking, “Does anyone have any water?” A great way to meet your client’s needs is to bring extra water. It will usually be bottled water, and if you make it that artisanal water it adds a nice touch.

2: Bring Rain Gear

This includes an umbrella and even a poncho. Rain ruins makeup, and dresses. It’s also cold and annoying if you are in Utah. Bring an umbrella or two and let your clients wait out the storm in between poses.

3: Give them a Free Consultation

Either over the phone, on Skype, or in person, sit down and talk with your client. Ask them about things they want, and let them know your expectations. This is a great time to tell them about the amount of photos they can expect and in what form. Ask them about possible locations for the shoot. Offer professional suggestions. It shouldn’t take more than 30 minutes.

Boots on a log

4: Bring Correct Footwear

If the photo shoot is taking place in the mountains and your client is wearing a wedding dress, then provide them with some sort of hiking shoe if they need it. If your shoot entails walking in water, bring some flip flops and a small towel to dry their feet.

5:Bring Snacks

After driving an hour and modeling for an hour, your clients will appreciate a quick snack that gives them the energy to keep going. It’s a simple thing, but people appreciate the simple things.

There you have it. How to be a Professional Photographer + 5 Bonus Ways to Wow your Client.

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