How to be a photographer
During my time being a professional landscape photographer I am often asked how to be a photographer or more specifically what does it take to become a professional photographer.
There is of course no one correct answer to this because there are many different genres in which to become a professional photographer.
There are some common factors that are useful skills for all photographes to have and some that are more specific to particular types of photography and I will outline both in this post. There are also some basic equipment requirements which I will run you through.
Firstly if you really want to become a photographer of any type then a passion for making pictures is essential because it is this passion that will keep you taking pictures and striving to improve your photography. It was passion for photography that managed to drag me up the mountain to take the shot on the left. This passion often shines through and if you combine it with a love of say, people for wedding photography or nature for landscape photography then you are much more likely to create great images and in turn sell more of your work because your passion will shine through.
To be a photographer you need to have a creative side because one of the most important skills a professional or amatuer photographer can have is the ability to envision or “see” a photo.
Basically this ability allows you to imagine what type of shot you want to capture and then you can plan your shoots to maximise the potential for this kind of shot to be taken.
For instance I might be walking through a landscape and imagine some beautiful trees lit up by the crisp clear sunshine, I might think that this shot would look great with snow or frost in to add to the crisp feeling. After working out how I want the scene to look I can then plan when it is most likely to look this way so for example in the following shot I knew to shoot it during a Winter morning when it had snowed so I could get that crisp, clear air and beautiful sidelight.
So you can see that not only the ability to see a shot but also being able to plan ahead is a great skill to have for any photographer, whether you are planning a landscape shoot or a studio shoot with a top model the ability to envision the photos you want to capture makes it much more likely you will come up with the goods. This ability to plan is also essential in order to plan your business and where it is going. You wont get very far if you wander around aimlessly taking photos with no plan in place for selling those images and your business will not grow unless you plan for it to grow.
Some people will not agree with my next point but I am a firm believer in knowing and understanding the basic theories of what makes a great image so that you can break down the elements of a picture and understand why it works. I think this is an essential skill because the ability to deconstruct one image helps you to be able to construct other photos in the same way.
Now its not an exact science and I would never claim you should go about taking you photos in this psuedo scientific way but having that knowledge in tha back of your mind can help and eventually you will use it subconsciously to help you take better photos.
I dont always consciously use lines and s curves or the rule of thirds in my photos but often subconsciously some of these elements will occur in my images and in general they are better for it.
It is also better to break these rules and theories when you know about them so that you are able to make informed decisions as to why the image is better in a certain way.
You can learn all you need to know from a variety of magazines and books and luckily in this day and age we are spoilt for choice with great publications that make learning fun and easy
Now the argument against studying theory is that you can get bogged down in it and it may make the process of taking photos too stiff and therefore would inhibit creativity but I disagree with that because I think that knowledge sets you free, it frees the mind to make decisions based on what you know rather than what you don’t.
I’m sure if you look at most of the past masters of art then most of them had a sound understanding of the theories of composition but it did not stifle their creativity.
Possibly the most important skill to have if you want to become a photographer is business acumen because it is a very competitive market out there with thousands of people all vying for the same jobs as you so it is essential that you can stand out from the crowd to earn a living.
Now it’s up to you how you do this but you must be able to market yourself effectively to survive. You need to try and create a unique selling point for your business, maybe you offer better service than competitiors or perhaps due to your business savvy and contacts you are able to offer lower prices, whatever it is you better make sure that people know about it otherwise it doesn’t matter how nice your images are they wont sell.
Do your research and know who you are planning on selling your images or services to and then work tirelessly to make sure they know about them and buy them. This might mean advertising in the right places or sending submissions to magazine editors. Whatever you have to do, make sure you do it efficiently and consistently and don’t let a little bit of rejection put you off. Take a lead from Thomas Eddison’s way of thinking when asked about inventing the light bulb “I have not failed 10,000 times. I have
successfully found 10,000 ways that will not work.” although you may want to think about finding another career if you find anywhere near 10,000 ways that your pictures don’t sell (and yes I know it is debated whetheror not he was the true inventor but you get my point)
People and in particular photographers can get hung up on the equipment they use but it is not the equipment that makes a photo good or not, it is you the photographer.
Even so if you are considering becoming a photographer then there is a certain level of quality needed and so I will list a few of the essential items that I use as a landscape photographer. I am also adding links to some of the products on Amazon, if you buy through those links then it wont cost you anymore but I will receive a small commission which helps towards my costs so thank you to those of you who use them.
Modern DSLR Camera
Almost all will produce good enough images for sale. You should consider your main purpose for the camera and get one with features to suit.
A fast shooting rate is not important for landscape photographers but will be if you plan on shooting sports.
A weather resitant camera body is great for landscape photographers but not needed by studio portrait photographers.
Lenses to suit your needs
Again it is best to work out what your intended use is and then buy as needed. For landscape photography optical quality is the most important aspect but “fast glass” for shooting in low light at quick shutter speeds is not, so lenses with apertures of f/4 and smaller are fine.
However if you’re shooting weddings then fast glass is essential to enable you to use fast enough shutter speeds to get sharp photos in dimly lit areas such as churches and receptions so you will probably want to be looking at apertures of f/2.8 and possibly primes with even larger apertures.
There are hundreds of essential accessories but here are some of the more important ones:
Flashes-especially useful for portrait and wedding photographers to avoid using horrible on camera flash.
Can also be handy for landscape photographers including to light up foreground objects.
Memory Cards memory cards are essential for storing all your images on and have become increasingly cheap. Dont get fooled by all the marketing hype surround ultra fast cards, most people dont need them and older cameras don’t even benefit from the higher speeds. Buy to suit your needs, I use several 4 gb and a couple of 8 gb memory cards from Sandisk and Transcend.
Batteries- spare batteries are esential if you plan on shooting for any length of time and particularly for wedding photographers as you dont want your batteries to run out before important shots. You may also consider a battery grip to give you more power without the need to swap batteries.
Tripod- A tripod is eesential for getting tac sharp landscape images and it also helps to slow down your photographing process so you think about shots more which often results in better photos. It will also enable you to shoot still subjects in low light without having to use flash. Get one with seperate head and legs and preferably one without a centre column as this can be fiddly to alter when your hands are freezing cold on a Winter shoot. Try Manfrotto, Gitzo or Giottos.
Bags- If your going to have all this kit then your going to need some way of carrying it to your shoot locations. If your shooting weddings then over the shoulder bags can be handy because they are easy to access but for walking distances they may not be as comfortable as a rucsack style bag.
I have several bags with different carrying capacities and designs, all from Lowepro and the design and build quality is superb.
Try and get one that fits your needs but allows room for your kit to grow. Great features like waterproof covers can be denoted by the AW designation on Lowepro bags.
Post processing software- You will need some software to process your images to make them look as good as possible. Canon DSLR’s come with Canon’s own DPP processing software which can do the job for you. However many people choose to use Adobe software either in the form of Photoshop which is the industry standard and the most comprehensive and therefore expensive package or you can also buy a slimmed down version called Photoshop Elements which should do the job for most people.
Finally there is Lightroom which is aimed more at photographers and includes tools to import,organise, process and export your images.
I personally use Lightroom as I like the workflow best but you are best off downloading the free trials from adobe’s website to see which best for you.
Monitor hardware calibration tools- If you are selling your images in any format then it is essential to calibrate your computer monitor to ensure that you are seeing colours correctly, this way you can be sure that the product you are sending out is colour correct.
Try looking at the following calibration tools from Eye One, Spyder 3 and colormunki.
Finally if you made it this far I hope you found the article useful and I’d love to hear your comments, perhaps you can share your tips on how to be a photographer or perhaps you have some essential kit that you think others should know about.
If you found this article helpfull then I would really appreciate it if you click on the amazon links to do your shopping there. It wont cost you anymore but means I can earn a small commission which helps towards my time blogging.
I would also recommend a couple of books for further reading, these really helped me out and I still refer back to them time and again.
Is quite a serious book on composition and may be a little heavy going for some of you but if you really want to know your stuff the I can highly recommend it.
Is a great book that is well written and really explains how to get the right exposure in every condition. This book really is essential reading.
And finally this selection from Chris Weston is more than just a nature photography book as it is one of the best books I have found to explain virtually every aspect of photography from composition through to the histogram on you camera and what it means. Enjoy your reading and let me know what you think.