Dear Katie: How Can I Become A Professional Photographer?

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When I started my business in April 2013, I had to answer this question myself, “How do I become a professional photographer?” As I reflect, having recently passed my three year mark, I realize a lot of what I thought qualified me as a professional, is not what I necessarily see to fit the category today. 

When you start the journey of self employment, the majority of us are starting because we learned we could make a little side cash doing something creative that we love. We figure we love it so much, we might as well get paid for it. So we pass the word along to friends, cousins, customers in your day job. “Yeah, I’m starting my own business! Let me know if you need assistance in…”. In my experience, I got a pat on the back. “We’re so proud of you, can’t wait to see how you grow”, and that’s basically it. Starting a business from the ground up is hard, but creating a professional and well trusted business is another. 

Here are a few things that I thought would instantly launch me into the “professionals” category: 

x Nice Equipment
x Photoshop
x A Website
x Being over 21 (I was 20 when I started my business)
x A Facebook Page

Sure, nice camera equipment, photoshop, and a website are tools professionals use, but never in that list did I mention knowing how to use them. And just so we’re all clear, being over 21, and having a Facebook page didn’t make me a professional either. 

So here’s the part where I meet you. You’re asking yourself “how did you move from that list above to where you are now?”. And the honest answer, is hard work, and a lot of struggle. There was no smooth transition. I didn’t see an instant rise in my bank account. I didn’t receive hundreds of inquiries at once. It was steady, and it was tough. 

Here is now the list of things that make me a professional:

x Reliable Equipment
x Knowing the ins and outs of my camera
x Excellent knowledge of Adobe programs
x Exceeding customer service skills
x My eagerness to practice
x A professional website that represents my brand
x Consistent practice
x My connections to the community
x More and more practice

The key to becoming a professional at what you do doesn’t rely on what cameras you own or where you edit your images, it relies on your use and respect of your time and skills. I didn’t suddenly wake up and know how I would become a professional, I practiced, I worked, and I practiced until I had the knowledge to make myself confident in what I did. Sure, there are a few key elements that separates the quality of the images from a professional photographer and a hobbyist, but when you practice, you learn those things quickly.