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The Aspiring Entrepreneur's Guide to Getting Started in Photography

written by: M. J. Abernathy•edited by: Rhonda Callow•updated: 8/12/2011

So you want to live your life behind the lens but you're not sure how. There are lots of different ways to get into photography - let's get you started on your way.

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    Photography – A Job or a Hobby

    Almost everyone who enjoys taking pictures will probably dream of making a living with their camera at some point. There is a certain type of photographer1 romance surrounding the idea. People dream of traveling the world, cataloging never-before seen places, fighting their way through a press release for the morning paper or getting behind the barrier at a concert to get photos of a rock star. Perhaps you are hoping to start your own digital photo album business featuring fanciful wedding photos or candid images of young children. No matter what kind of photography you want to do, it will take more than a love for taking pictures. Being a successful photographer takes a lot of drive, determination and a fair amount of luck. So how do you get started in photography as a career?

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    Different Types of Photography

    The path to becoming a professional photographer typically involves specializing in a particular type of photography. This is not to say that a photographer who specializes in lens landscape photography won't accept a job doing family portraits, but only that the photographer will get most of his or her work through landscape photography. This will be the service that they advertise most often and where they want to make the majority of their money.

    Before you can even begin your career as a photographer, you will want to set a few goals for yourself. The most important of these is to choose what type of photography you will specialize in and who your client base will be. Whether you want to do portrait photography, infant photography, pet photography, event photos, weddings or something else entirely, you will want to stay focused on your choice. Research well-known photographers in your chosen niche and about how they came to find success.

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    Practice Makes Perfect

    You might think this is obvious, but the first thing many would-be pro photographers need to do is learn to use their camera. Before the age of digital photography, photographers often had no choice but to learn their camera inside and out. Having a solid understanding of the basics of photography like shutter speed, aperture and depth of field could make or break a photographer's career. With a digital SLR many of these skills can be faked through automation, but a real pro photographer should be able turn off all the automatic functions and still have complete control of their camera. Although it is not as vital as it once was, knowing your camera is a huge step towards getting into photography.

    A habit every photographer should get into is to always carry a camera with them. Again, the reasons for this should be obvious. Always carrying a camera means you will always have a camera on hand if a great photo opportunity presents itself. It also means that everyone you know will start to associate you with your camera - a great thing for generating business!

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    Building your Portfolio

    A photographer needs a portfolio. A portfolio is basically a collection of a photographer's best work and sometimes a few tear sheets. A tear SLR Camera sheet is a copy of published works. As an example, if you had a photo published in a magazine on page 56, a photocopy or cut-out of page 56 of that issue is called a tear sheet. It shows that your work has been used in a publication and what the end result looked like. Some photographers keep more than one portfolio if they specialize in more than one photographic niche. There is an art to creating the perfect portfolio and it goes beyond taking wonderful photos. For tips on how to build a portfolio check out our guide on putting together a photography portfolio for beginners.

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    Getting Work and Building a Business

    With an understanding of how your camera works and a portfolio to show off your work, you now have the basics needed to gain work and photographer2 start your career. Although you now have the tools, learning how to attract clients is a whole new learning curve. There are lots of options and depending on the niche you choose, they may all be right. Each niche does have a standard way of finding work. Establishing a professional website featuring your work and providing information about your services is a great place to start. Portrait photographers often take out ads in local papers or run classified postings through online services like Craigslist and Kijiji. Wildlife photographers often contact book and magazine publishers to sell their work. Your tactics will depend on your niche, but word of mouth and a strong online presence are critical to finding clients.

    So, how do you get started in photography? You learn everything about your camera, you gather up your best photos into a portfolio, you learn about the niche market you want to jump into in terms of what you want to photograph and then you learn how to sell your work or skills in that area. It takes time, determination and an unbelievable amount of drive. If you have these qualities and photography is your goal then go, shoot and succeed!