How Do I Go into Professional Photography?

Dan Cavallari
Dan Cavallari
A photograph of a waterfall in Tasmania.
A photograph of a waterfall in Tasmania.

No specific level of education is necessary to get into professional photography, but college programs do exist to prepare a person for a job in this field. If you choose to get an education that will prepare you for professional photography, you will first need to complete a high school education and develop basic math and communication skills. The admissions requirements for such programs can vary, so be sure to do some research to find out if you qualify. Otherwise, you can become a professional photographer without formal schooling by developing a passion for the craft and learning the techniques on your own.

A photo of a plate of chicken piccata, taken by a professional food photographer.
A photo of a plate of chicken piccata, taken by a professional food photographer.

The best way to get into professional photography is to start taking photos — lots of them. Learn how the camera works and what adjustments are possible, and focus especially on finding good light for shots and composition of interesting photos. These skills can take many years to develop, and some people never get good at them at all, but if you have a keen eye and are persistent in your pursuit of professional photography, you will be able to learn the best techniques through vigilant studying and practice.

A professional photographer may choose to specialize in photographing people.
A professional photographer may choose to specialize in photographing people.

Develop a portfolio of your best work. This will accomplish two very important things: first, you will begin to develop a sense of what kind of professional photography you want to do for a living; second, you will have something to show potential customers who will want to see examples of your very best work. Your portfolio should be an ever-evolving entity, with your best shots being added as they are taken and weaker shots being deleted. Your portfolio can be a hardcopy binder with prints, or it can be an online website that showcases your digital work. Whichever medium you choose, be sure the portfolio is easy to navigate and aesthetically pleasing.

An aspiring photographer should constantly be adding to his or her portfolio.
An aspiring photographer should constantly be adding to his or her portfolio.

Begin to look for professional photography jobs by networking and advertising. You may need to do some free jobs at first to build your portfolio, but once you have built a good portfolio, you should come up with a pricing structure and you will need to protect yourself with model releases and other contracts. Prepare these documents ahead of time, and have a plan for dealing with potential customers. Along the way, you will need to invest in the proper equipment, which can be an expensive endeavor. You have two general options for accruing the equipment you need: you can either buy each item piece by piece over the course of years, or you can take out a business loan to get started. Either way, you will need to have quality equipment in order to make quality photos.

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    • A photograph of a waterfall in Tasmania.
      A photograph of a waterfall in Tasmania.
    • A photo of a plate of chicken piccata, taken by a professional food photographer.
      A photo of a plate of chicken piccata, taken by a professional food photographer.
    • A professional photographer may choose to specialize in photographing people.
      A professional photographer may choose to specialize in photographing people.
    • An aspiring photographer should constantly be adding to his or her portfolio.
      An aspiring photographer should constantly be adding to his or her portfolio.