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Step-by-Step Guide: How to Become a Photographer

Photography is a great way to capture memories and create art. In recent years, more and more people have started to turn this hobby into an actual job.

Are you also looking to turn your photography into a lucrative career but unsure where to start?

You’re not alone! Many photography hobbyists and enthusiasts often think about earning money from their work.

Luckily, we got you covered. This step-by-step guide on how to become a photographer will walk you through the process and everything you’ll need on the way.

An Overview of a Photographer Gig: A Primer

At its core, a career in photography means taking pictures with a camera. However, it’s a profession that requires special skills, like a keen artistic eye and knowledge of composition and perspective.

As a photographer, you’re expected to find the right balance between the technical camera settings and the visual elements you’re working with. 

Specific distinctions between different photography jobs vary depending on the client. Ultimately, the goal is to take meaningful photos that serve their purpose, whether for fashion magazines, wildlife documentaries, or social media. 

Being a photographer is one of the most popular gigs today because of the many industries and specializations you can get into with this career. Some popular examples are travel, wedding, and sports photography.

How Much Do Photographers Make?

Data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) shows that in 2021, photographers earned an average of $18.73 per hour or $38,950 annually. The broadcasting industry accounts for the highest median hourly pay for photographers at $24.10.

However, over 60% of these photographers are self-employed. That said, the pay can vary from person to person, depending on how many clients they can take on during a regular workday.

What You’ll Need to Become a Photographer & Associated Costs

A young female photographer taking photos in the garden

Aside from a camera, your go-to tool for this career path, there are some other necessities. Below is a short rundown of the basic requirements for photographers.

  • Camera-related Equipment: While a camera is the most basic requirement, you’ll also need other tools like tripods, light boxes, and memory cards, to name a few. Expect to spend around an extra $1000 for all of this gear.
  • Photography Classes: These aren’t a strict requirement, but aspiring photographers pursue courses in their field to learn more about the craft. These classes also offer more opportunities to learn from the pros. 
  • Artistic Skills: Photography is a type of visual art, meaning those in this career path need artistic skills so they can decide which looks visually pleasing and which doesn’t.
  • Technological Competence: Photographers combine their keen eye with technological competence to capture high-quality photos. They need to know which photo editing software and camera settings to use to get the best results.
  • Business-mindedness: Most people who pursue this career work freelance and set up their own businesses. To do this successfully, you need to have strong business skills that will help you talk to clients and get gigs.

How Much Does It Cost to Become a Photographer?

One of the primary driving costs of becoming a photographer is the equipment and the degree program if you choose to enroll in one. Total costs can range between $6,000 and $10,000.

Investing in high-quality cameras, a wide variety of lenses, and other related equipment can drive this number higher. For those who want to focus on studio photography, they’d also need a designated space for their photography studio on top of these expenses.

Is It Hard to Become a Photographer?

This is a tough question to answer because while it’s easy to get into photography since there aren’t any formal qualifications, mastering the skill and building a loyal clientele can take a while.

While taking visually pleasing photos may come naturally to some people, there’s still much to learn because this art form is constantly evolving. Photographers are constantly developing creative and innovative trends.

How Long Does It Take to Become a Photographer?

It takes roughly one to two years to finish a degree program in Photography, with the exact length depending on where you’re taking the course. However, you still have to build a portfolio before you can start working with clients.

So, a reasonable amount of time would be around three years. 

How to Become a Photographer in 5 Simple Steps

It’s time to get down into more detail! Below is a 5-step walkthrough of how to become a photographer.

A male photographer taking professional photos of a model in a studio

Step 1: Consider a Degree in Photography

We want to begin by saying that aspiring photographers aren’t required to have a college degree to pursue this career. However, a photography course can open many opportunities to learn and grow.

A degree in photography or fine arts can offer students a deeper understanding of art theories, composition, and exposure, among others.

In a photography class, you also get to learn from others as you share techniques and talents with other students and professors.

Step 2: Invest in Photography Equipment

With today’s technology, anyone can take pictures with their smartphone. That said, investing in cameras can significantly help you make more creative choices because they give you more control over technical settings.

You don’t have to spend thousands of dollars in one go, as the saying goes, “Art isn’t in the tools, materials, and equipment you use. Art is in the way you see the world.”

So, you can just as easily start with more budget-friendly cameras, and upgrade as you go.

Some examples of the best cameras for amateur photographers are the Sony ZV-1 and the Canon EOS Rebel T7.

In addition to your camera, you’ll also need tripods, memory cards, lightboxes, bags, and lenses. The cost of these can depend heavily on the brand.

Nonetheless, just like in cameras themselves, spending your money on quality materials is a worthwhile investment.

Step 3: Learn About Editing Software

Photo editing is an essential part of photography. A popular software choice is Adobe Photoshop, but there are many other free alternatives, like Photopea and Pixlr, if you’re worried about subscription fees.

Regardless of whichever you choose, you need to master your software because this is where you’ll enhance raw photos. With photo editing, you can add your personal touch to every photo.

Additionally, it can polish errors that you weren’t able to catch during shoots. This means you don’t have to start from scratch when you see something you don’t like in your photos.

Step 4: Find Your Niche and Build a Portfolio

After mastering the technical settings of your camera and editing software, it’s time to get out there and gain experience. Try out different gigs so you can see where you work best. This is a great way to build your portfolio so that you can attract more clients.

Showcase your best work in your portfolio and highlight your style. Most aspiring photographers begin with freelance photography or gigs like selling photos online

During this period, they can look for the niche, specialty, or field of photography that they find most interesting. Some popular choices include becoming an event photographer, fashion, or wedding photographer. 

Sometimes, your niche can also come to you naturally! This is why it’s great to explore the field and everything it has to offer before you zero in on one specialization.

Step 5: Get Necessary Licenses and Permits 

While you don’t need a license to become a certified professional photographer, you do need a business permit if you’re planning on setting up a photography business. Requirements for these permits vary from state to state.

Before you start your photography business, ensure that you’re doing it legally! Double-check with your local business authorities if you need to acquire any licenses.

Reasons to Consider Becoming a Photographer

A photographer taking photos of people walking on the street

A career in photography is competitive, but it’s also rewarding! Below are four reasons why you should consider becoming a photographer. 

  • Freedom to Freelance: Photography has a wide variety of specialties and industries! You can freely explore any of these and find the right one for you by becoming a  freelance photographer.
  • High Earning Potential: Becoming a photographer is a lucrative second job once you find your niche. Photos have become a major part of people’s lives, which means photography will always be a sustainable career.
  • Flexible Hours: Most people in this career path work flexible hours because they’re their own bosses. This makes achieving a work-life balance easier.
  • A Creative Outlet: Photographers are artists! Photos are a great creative outlet to express yourself and explore imaginative ideas.

Frequently Asked Questions

What Degree is Best for Photography?

A Bachelor of Arts (BA) in Photography is the best degree for this career path. Another excellent degree is a BA in Fine Arts (BFA) with a focus on art photography.

These courses help aspiring photographers develop their artistic skills and learn new techniques in the field.

Is It Hard to Be a Photographer?

There are no licenses or certifications required to become a photographer. So, no, it isn’t hard to start the journey of becoming one. 

However, there are certain challenges within the field that make this career tough. Some common ones include booking your first client and constantly learning the latest techniques and tools of the trade.

Similar Gigs to Check Out

Okay, so what if becoming a photographer isn’t for you? Here are some other gigs you can check out.

  • How to Become a Graphic Designer: If you want to stay on the creative career path but focus less on pictures and more on visual concepts, you might want to check out becoming a graphic designer.
  • How to Become a Freelance Writer: Interested in freelance work, but unsure which industry to try? Then, why not check out a freelance writing career?
  • How to Become a Blogger: Bloggers, like photographers, also share experiences, moments, and knowledge through their lenses. The only difference is that bloggers use words instead of photos.

Wrapping up

That sums it up for our guide on how to become a photographer! This career is challenging; it takes a lot of hard work, effort, and passion.

It won’t always be easy, but you have to trust the process. Work towards finding your niche, growing your skills, and working with the right clients to ensure a successful photography career.

Don’t hesitate to leave your thoughts in the comments below and share this how-to guide with anyone else who might be interested in becoming a photographer!

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