Photography Business: What Qualifies You To Get Paid?

A battle has been raging in the photography industry for a while now: Wannabe Photographer vs. Seasoned Professional, with no clear winner emerging. The truth, though, is that there should be no winner or loser! Newcomers help the industry evolve and grow, whereas the seasoned professionals should be helping the newcomers embrace the business skills they need to survive and keep the industry going. "Win-win" might be a cliché, but it's essential if we are all to prosper.

Open Letter To Newcomers To The Photography Industry

My goal as a photography business coach is a simple one:

To help all photographers, irrespective of their experience, photographic niche, age, or length of time in the business find peace of mind in their business.

While most of the posts I write, the interviews I record, or the books and articles I produce are aimed at helping people of all levels, this is not one of them…

This particular post is aimed mostly at someone wanting to become a professional photographer, and I’m hoping that some of the other seasoned professionals who are reading this will also weigh in with their opinions and advice – so please do leave a comment at the end, and take a moment to share this article in any way you can.

What Makes Me Qualified To Get Paid?

The spark that started this specific post came from a question posed on one of the many LinkedIn groups to which I belong.

Paraphrased, the question was from someone quite new to the business:

I have a passion for photography, and have worked on some projects without compensation. What would make me qualified in this industry to be paid?

We’ve all been where this person is. Some of you reading this are there right now. For others, it was some time ago. But we’ve all experienced at some time or another the same confusion and doubt expressed by this photographer, who simply wants to know what they have to be or do in order to merit being paid for their photography.

Photography Is An Easy Job To Get Into

Becoming a professional photographer is one of easiest careers to move into, with very little barrier for entry, other than a camera, some lenses, passion for what you do, and a telephone. No exams to pass, no licenses required to practice, no overseeing body that controls what goes on…

As such, it’s very attractive to a lot of people, especially in recent times, in the wake of higher unemployment, and the lack of more “regular” jobs.

Before I go any further, I want to make it crystal clear that I honestly believe that anyone who wants to earn a living as a photographer, and who has the skill, drive and determination to do so, should be allowed to give it their best shot (no pun intended).

I have nothing whatsoever against what some photographers like to call the “soccer moms” and other talented amateur photographers who want to become professionals.

Most professionals working today, in fact, began their career either learning from other photographers or flying by the seat of their pants with only their own mistakes to serve as education.

A Willing And Happy Client Is All It Takes

In answer to the original question, the main requirement that really qualifies any photographer to be paid for their work is simply having a client who appreciates their photography enough to pay the photographer for it.

I believe that if you act like a professional, shoot like a professional, treat your clients with respect, give them a good experience, value your own work as you expect others to, demonstrate real heartfelt passion & dedication for photography that you can potentially succeed.

But, having said that, potential and actual reality are two entirely different things!

Before you allow yourself to get carried off into the sunset by your passion, desire for success, and determination, there’s one major obstacle to overcome first…

actually at least three…

Business, Marketing And Selling.

The first thing I would advise any would-be professional photographer to do is to put the camera away, close Lightroom and PhotoShop, and spend a LOT of time learning the business of photography, the marketing, how to sell, and to spend time developing the proper business mindset.

Because if you learn one thing today from this post, it should be this:

Professional photography is composed of at least 80% business and 20% photography, and that’s being generous!

Think about this: No marketing means no clients, which equals no money in the bank, and lots of unnecessary anguish, not to mention a failed photography business. Same goes for sales.

You Also Have A Responsibility!

I’m sure you’re not totally thrilled reading about all this need for business, marketing and selling – after all, most photographers came into the industry to get away from such horrors! I mean, if you loved business so much, you’d be an accountant or something, right?

Unfortunately, you’re just going to have to get used to the idea. The good news is that it’s actually a LOT more fun than you might think. There’s no better feeling than knowing your business is working like a well-oiled machine (well, perhaps there is, but not that I can write about here).

But, wait, there’s more…

Oh, now what?

Along with the skill, passion, drive, and determination to be a photographic success comes a big responsibility.

This is where most of the newcomers to the industry really mess it up, and it’s why so many of the seasoned professionals in the industry are really mad at them!

The responsibility you must shoulder before moving on is to respect those who came before you. Not because they’re particularly better than you, or just because they were here first, or even because they’re older and wiser.

It’s simply because they paved the way for you.

Look At The Beauty Of What We’ve Inherited!

The professional photographers who came before us, our business ancestors if you like, created an amazing industry where we can enrich other people’s lives through the beauty and mastery of what we do. They began a tradition of celebrating the legacy of our clients’ memories through every type of image imaginable. They established a framework and terms of reference within which we can grow and evolve as creative professionals.

These photographers, many of them pioneers in their own lifetime, have literally created the world of professional photography for us to enjoy.

Film or digital, it really doesn’t matter – it’s the art of the finished photograph that counts…

Send In The Clowns!

But then it seems like a bunch of clowns with the latest and greatest cameras show up, waving their telephoto lenses around with no regard for anyone else in the industry, thinking that the only way to survive is to kill off the existing population through a process of discount-driven attrition.

No wonder some professionals consider it to be a war on moms with cameras.

Now I’m not suggesting that YOU are one of those clowns, far from it. In fact, the very notion that you’re reading this probably means that you’re one of the converted. In a sense, I expect this is preaching to the choir.

I’m just trying to illustrate the fact that the professionals already in the industry deserve respect and gratitude, and should not be considered as a bunch of old-timers whose life-expectancy suddenly shrank because digital photography came along or that it’s suddenly cool to give everyone’s work away for free on CD (Read more at: Photography Business Sense: Giving Away Digital Files On CD).

A Final Word For The Existing Professional

Since this is not intended to be a bash on the head for the new guys, I’d like to finish this post with a final word to the existing professionals in the photography business:

There are always going to be newcomers to the industry; that issue is never going away, and is an essential part of the natural evolution of both the art and the business.

And, despite the tongue-in-cheek section above regarding the clowns, not all newcomers are hell bent on taking over the photography world by giving away their work for free, and trying to put every other photographer out of business.

In fact very few, if any, have that type of mentality. By far the overwhelming majority just don’t know any better, and are doing the best they can to break into an industry that appears at once both simple and incredibly complex

So give these people a break. Lend them a helping hand, and do what bit you can to educate them about what they need to do to run a healthy business in your community.

Take a young aspiring photographer under your wing and show them what it’s really like. It’s not rocket science, nor is it hard – in fact, it can be a lot of fun. I’ve done this in the past and I’m proud to say that at least one of those individuals has turned out to be a great photographer in her own right, and will undoubtedly be successful.

Think about this seriously, and let’s all do what we can to keep the professionalism in professional photography.

Thoughts And Comments

How do you feel about the thoughts and opinions expressed in this article? Are you a newcomer who is struggling to find your feet? Are you a seasoned professional who feels that the industry is in turmoil?

Please do share your thoughts, as I know I’m not the only one with an opinion on this sensitive subject!

Thanks for reading, and I wish you continued peace in your business.

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