Basics Guidelines to Becoming a Pro Photographer

In today's age of digital manipulation and overabundance of imagery, it is quite common to turn on your computer or phone, hop on the internet, and instantly become bombarded with dozens of images. From soccer moms to Insta-famous teenagers, just about everyone seems to be a photographer these days. With easy-to-use website and portfolio templates, affordable DSLRs, and tutorials all over the web, becoming a “professional” photographer is easier than ever. While I am all for following your dreams, here are some basic guidelines for your journey to becoming a pro.


Respect comes in many forms and just because you can afford a 5D Mark III and some L-series glass, doesn’t mean you don’t have to pay your dues. Paying your dues comes in a lot of forms, and having fancy equipment isn’t one of them. Take time to learn and develop. Use tools like all of the amazing tutorials and articles on this website to learn and understand what you are doing before you go out into the world and start telling everyone you are a photographer. Your work will develop over time, and as it does, don’t be quick to judge others starting out. A lot of photographers like to compare their work to their peers. In my opinion, this is a huge mistake. No two artists are the same and comparing your work to someone who is at a completely different level doesn’t make sense.

Sharing Information

I often see photographers who are protective of their secrets and techniques. While how much information you share is completely up to you, I am a firm believer that what you put out will come back to you. If you share your techniques, people are more likely to help you when you are in need. Besides, with the huge amounts of forums, blogs, and websites specifically for photographers, there is a wealth of information — so if you aren’t willing to help someone, someone else will. The last thing you want is a bad reputation with other photographers. When I was first starting out, so many of my paid jobs came from other photographers that got offered the job but didn’t have time or weren’t interested in the specific gig. It may not be your dream shoot but it could be a great opportunity to learn and make some cash.

Making Money and Working for Free

I often hear mixed views on working for free. There will come a point in your career when you want to start charging people. When you get to this point, I highly suggest that you do your research. Learning and understanding pricing is crucial to development as a professional photographer. If you are overcharging, chances are you will lose clients or not get any to begin with. If you undercharge, you are only hurting yourself as well as other photographers in your market. Too often I see really talents photographers undercharging or offering “mini sessions.” Know your worth. Undercharging and plastering your dirt-cheap prices all over social media is a great way to infuriate veterans. While I believe there will always be clients who are willing to pay extra for great work, lowering the client's pricing expectations does nothing for the the rest of the photography world. In my opinion it is an issue of not just good business practice but respect as well.

With so much information at our fingertips, it is easier than ever to become a photographer. But along with this wealth of information comes an insane amount of competition. Don’t compare yourself to other photographers, because there are so many amazing photographers out there and it can be easy to get discouraged. Remember, with a little hard work, sweat, and some stress-filled nights you can become a true professional. Feel free to share any other tips or advice below.

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Ralph Hightower's picture

I'm still pinching myself that my wife bought me a 5D Mk III since I thought our budget would just allow an APS-C DSLR. But I've been shooting since 1980. Yes, I used film and I still do. But photography is not my profession. I joined a local camera club and the pros are willing to share their information. As a film shooter, I shared my knowledge of B&W film and the contrast filters.

Prefers Film's picture

Take pride in the fact that most of the members on this site under 30 years of age couldn't properly expose an entire roll of 36 exposures. You've paid your dues.

Ralph Hightower's picture

Thank you. There's a generation that don't know how to operate a film camera. Years ago, at Kennedy Space Center, I handed my camera to two guys to take a photo of me against the congratulatory wall wishing the Atlantis crew a successful flight. One guy didn't know how to shoot my A-1; fortunately, the other guy figured out how to use the camera.

Eric Mazzone's picture

I bet you that the ONE down vote on the article is from someone upset about the statement that advertising low prices is disrespectful of veteran photographers.

J D's picture

I enjoy helping out "beginners" very much. The only secrets I will keep are locations that are private property or places I have been asked by the land owner not to tell about. We lost two good spots in town because people couldn't follow rules or clean up and those land owners booted us off.

Johnny Rico's picture

This sounds like it was written by someone who is still in the process of becoming.

Ralph Berrett's picture

There are two basic items every how to be a pro photographer article seems to forget.
(1) Have the skills and the ability to deliver what you promised. There is nothing more painful than being a pro who has to pick up the pieces from a crash & burn of another shooter. A photographer should know the basics before they start calling themselves pro.
(2) A pro needs to have confidence. I don't how many new shooters start apologizing for their lack of experience and skills before they release the shutter. If you do not believe in yourself how can you expect the client too. That first impression changes the client's outlook from looking forward to their images to dreading their images.