10 Tips for Turning Pro in 2020

10 Tips for Turning Pro in 2020

If your goal for 2020 is to become a full time professional, make sure that you start doing these things now. 

2019 is certainly drawing to a close. I am in the final throws of shooting the last few big campaigns of the year before taking a break over Christmas. If you are looking at making the jump in 2020 to being a full time professional photographer, then now is a great time to get a head start on all of the new years resolution. It is easy to put things off until a standard start time, but there is not need to wait until the 1st of Jan for a career change.

You could get a good chunk of the grunt work done now whilst still in full time employment or education and get a real head start of those who are putting off the work until the new year. 

Start Block Working

Block working is the biggest change that I have ever made to my work/life efficiency. Thanks to block working I have been able to continue to write for Fstoppers, start a YouTube channel, and have a day off a week. If you haven’t heard of this before, in its simplest terms, it’s doing all similar jobs together. For example, I am currently writing 10 articles for Fstoppers and next week I will be adding all of the digital assets and uploading them all. It saves on set up and pack down time on jobs. It might sound a bit buzz wordy, but it is very much worth doing, especially whilst you are jugging a full time job on the side. 

Only Check Your E-mails Once a Day

This goes for texts, social media, and pretty much any forms of communication. I have a rule that I only check and respond to messages once a day. If I replied to them as they came in, I would spend all day chatting to people online. Don’t be held hostage to your inbox, be in charge of it and use it on your terms. If people urgently need you, they will call.

Get a Workspace

Granted, if you are starting out you probably want be in a position to buy or rent a studio space, but you should certainly make sure that you have a small corner of your house set aside for work. Preferably away from where you do most of your relaxing. You will be so much more efficient and happy if you can separate work from play. Watching Netflix on the sofa with your laptop on your knees wont cut it in the professional world. 

Set Goals

I know it sounds a lot like going back to school again, but once you become freelance, it is easy to fall back into the same old day to day slog. Without having a tutor to boss in place to keep you motivated and on track, it is really important that you have a set of targets or goals that you can keep yourself accountable to. It might be worth finding a buddy/fellow freelancer and meeting with them once a week to make sure that both of you are keeping on track and completing the work that you need to in order to achieve your goals. It is certainly something that has worked well for me in the past.

Don’t Shoot Unless You Can Justify How it Will Make You Better

If I see another photographer claiming that they will get better by shooting more, I might cry. The act of taking more photographs wont make you a better photographer, it will simply make your faults and short comings better practiced. If you really want to get ahead of the masses, every time you pick up your camera there should be a reason for it. Yes, it might be that you need to pay rent tomorrow, that is as valid a reason as any. Although it can also be that in todays shoot you want to work out exactly how to calculate hyperfocal during a high pressure shoot to ensure that for every single portrait that you shoot you have the tip of the nose to the ears in focus. Working out where to set the focus in order to achieve this and how to alter you camera settings as you move closer and further away for certain shots. Then the most important part is reviewing this before working out where and how you need to spend more time perfecting the skill. 

Cash Cow or Portfolio Work Only

Once you are a professional, there are only two types of shoots that you should be saying yes to. Cash cows and portfolio shoots. If the job wont give you loads of money (relative to how badly you need that cash, we have all been skint and taken naff jobs to make ends meet) or an image so good that it will boost your portfolio, then kindly decline or point the person in the direction of someone who may be interested. Every time a proposal of a photo shoot comes your way, vet it for cash cow of portfolio potential before going any further. 

Stop Buying New Camera Gear

I don’t know you and I don’t know what camera gear you have, but assuming you have a camera and a lens, don’t buy anything else until you make money. If you are a hobbyists, go and buy what ever you want, but if this is going to be your business, then you need to carefully plan your purchases to receive a return on that investment. Whilst you still have a day job, use the money that you start to make now from photography to carefully re invest in gear. Don’t go and blow your wages, savings, or worst yet, credit card on the latest and greatest camera gear. I promise you that it wont help. 

Get Your Files Organized

Do not do what I did: Have a handful of hard drives that you have time to sift through to find images, then get super busy, throw another 10TB of data onto them and suddenly realize that you do not have a clue where anything is. Even if you are yet to start a proper storage system, when you do, make sure it is future proof. I have lost so many weeks of my life trying to find badly stored photographs because I left it too late to get my files in order. 

Set Up Email Templates

There are several emails that you will find yourself sending out all of the time. Invoices, chasing invoices, confirmations, contracts, and a host of other dreary and dull admin related responses. Write them once, save them, and then use them as templates for ever more. No one should have to type an invoice reminder email from scratch.

Get on Workshops

I might be against investing in gear, but I am certainly not against investing in knowledge. That $3500 camera that you lust after will be long gone in a few years time, where as that amazing workshop you attended will be there forever. And the images you create because of it will be far greater than any camera upgrade. If you do have any spare money, go and invest it in an education. 

What would your tips be for turning pro?

Scott Choucino's picture

Food Photographer from the UK. Not at all tech savvy and knows very little about gear news and rumours.

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Great post! Thanks for sharing!

Thanks, glad it was of use.

Very good article! I'm not going to wait till 2020, I'm starting now. Thanks!

Good stuff Vladimir !

Exactly the point I'm at now.. serendipitous timing. Thank you!

Thank you for the great and helpful post. GAS is a terrible thing...though I guess it nudged me into trying to make money off of all the stuff my wife and I bought.

Scott, good post! Thanks for sharing your tips. Although I’d have to disagree about checking your email only once a day. We run a busy NYC photo studio and a lot of inquiries come in throughout the day, with customers inquiring about pricing and availability. Some use the contact form on our website, others yelp/IG/email, and yes, some call. If we didn’t check and reply to emails at least 3 times daily, today’s on-demand customers would be lost to our competition. Perhaps after-sales customer support can be maintained on once-a-day email routine, but initial sales and customer acquisition demand a responsive presence.

The title of the post says: going pro in 2020. If you're already a professional studio that is super busy most of it already probably doesn't apply to you. So your disagreement was unnecessary :)

"Don’t Shoot Unless You Can Justify How it Will Make You Better", "Cash Cow or Portfolio Work Only"
These were the best from today, thanks.

In addition to Dana Goldstein comments, the real difference between a amateur and a professional is that the pro is in business, while the amateur can ignore business principles while filing as a profitable hobby. A photographer who turns pro, turns into a business person. To be successful you not only have to be great as a photographer, but you have to know the small business side of the daily grind.

There are basically two business models for photographers turning pro: Consumer/Retail and Commercial. Each is completely different from the other while the photographic craft and skills overlap to a great extent.

"Don't buy any more camera gear" ...unless you are not properly equipped. You need a backup camera, another flash, more batteries, and SD cards.

"Don’t Shoot Unless You Can Justify How it Will Make You Better"
Best among all. Thank you for sharing. :)

How am I going to get my first 50 or 100 customers, and how can I turn each one of them into a referral machine.

And good advice from Chef Bobby Flay...“When I’m opening a restaurant I don’t think about, you know, conquering the whole menu in one day,” said Flay.

“I take one dish at a time.”

Great article, thank you. For me, the most important point is, getting the word out there. Let everyone know what you are doing and take every opportunity in the beginning, it may lead to bigger opportunities and put you in contact with new people who might be interested in your services. I took some photos of a yoga instructor in a gym and ended up taking shots of the whole staff in this particular gym...
Good luck everyone :-)

I think this is also a great reminder and guidance for anyone already doing this "pro thing" - really needed this push!

Thank you for sharing your wisdom, Scott. Is is always nice to read unskewed towards some product articles. In my experience need for education should come naturally. The best way to develop own craft is to have a sense of direction/flow/motivation and they are not a strictly analytical capabilities, but in large, part emotional, thus deciding to take a purely rational course without a gentle emotional stirring could be unproductive. Bottom line: maintain healthy emotional attitude toward making a viable commercial product while trying not to become hugely disorganized and low on savings.

Great article!
Always easy to suggest adding an additional "something" afterwards, I will just say MARKETING.
Figure out how to market yourself on all the multitudes of options out there. And what a pain in the ass this part is.

some great tips here even for those who are just wanting to up their game in 2020.