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Qualifications to Become a Photographer

written by: Annette Pope•edited by: Rhonda Callow•updated: 1/14/2011

Like many creative-based jobs, the qualifications to become a photographer sound deceptively simple—buy a camera, learn to use it, do what you love and get paid! Sounds easy, right? Well, it's not quite that simple to join the world of professional photographers, as you'll soon discover.

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    At some point in life, many people begin to look long and hard at their current state, which usually brings them around to their job. Are they truly happy in it? Those with a passion for the more creative aspects of life—writing, illustration, and of course, photography—start to dream of making a living with their obsession. While the idea of “doing what you love" is a tempting lure, there is a lot more to the qualifications to become a photographer than just loving to take pictures.

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    Photography Niches

    The term “professional photographer" is a broad one, covering everything from wedding photography to photojournalism to fine art photography. Before canvassing the countryside with fliers, it's a good idea to decide which photography niche works best for you, your personality and your interests. Some popular niches are:

    Wedding Photographer – Probably the first niche people think of when thinking of a “professional photographer". Wedding photographers are outgoing, energetic, passionate and not afraid to take charge when necessary. You must have a strong grasp of the technical side of photography and know how to work your camera in fast-paced environments with changing light.

    Commercial and Industrial Photographer – These photographers work with businesses to provide images of buildings, products, machinery and workers for advertising, catalogs and books. Work is almost always done on location, so a traveler may enjoy this niche.

    Photojournalist – Simply put—news photographer. Typically photographs for newspapers, magazines or television stations and goes where news happens, such as political gatherings and sporting events. Current event junkies may be happiest in this niche.

    Portrait Photographer – These professionals may also work in the wedding photography niche, or may simply focus on senior, business and family portraits. Portrait photographers usually have their own studio to work in, but also go on location for shoots. If mostly one-on-one interaction with clients appeals, this may be the niche for you.

    Fine Art Photographer – Perhaps the hardest niche to focus on because “art" is such a subjective term, a fine art photographer takes high-quality photographs and sells them as fine artwork. Artistic talent, creativity and excellent photography skills are a must for the fine art photographer.

    If more than one of these photography niches sound interesting to you, find some photographers in your area who specialize in your top choices and contact them. Ask them questions and request to join them on their next shoot as a second shooter. That way you can see what's really involved in each job before settling on the one that calls to you.

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    What are the qualifications to become a photographer? Business sense, photography knowledge, dedication and personality, for starters. You can't become a professional photographer without knowing something about business and photography in the first place, otherwise you're setting yourself up for heartbreak! Book smarts aside, dedication and personality also play a big role in a successful photography business too. Learn about these qualifications and more in this informative article.
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    Business Know-How

    One of the most important qualifications to become a photographer is business sense. Surprised? Don't be. Professional photography is 80% business, 20% photography. You can have the best images in the world, but if you don't know how to run your business properly, it won't matter. Great images do not make up for lackluster marketing, a neglected website or a weak web presence. You need to keep up with your business—keep investing, keep improving, keep working. Sometimes you have to set aside the “photographer" cap and put on the “business owner" cap instead.

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    Photography Knowledge

    Seems like a “no brainer" that photography knowledge would be a qualification to become a photographer, but there are a surprising number of “professionals" out there who don't know their f-stop from a bus stop. Just because cameras nowadays have that little “auto" mode on them doesn't mean that's what you should be satisfied with using on a regular basis. Get out of “auto" mode and learn your camera. Learn all about photography and f-stops, apertures, shutter speeds and ISO numbers. Experiment. Never stop learning.

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    Professional photographers don't work 9 to 5 and generally can't call in sick. You have to be ready to do the job, even if you don't feel like it on a particular day. Sick days, holidays, vacation days—all days you DON'T get paid. As a professional photographer, you have to ask yourself if you have the dedication, the drive, the tenacity to keep going, especially during slow periods. Anyone can love what they do when it's making money, but what about when it's not?

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    Your professional personality is one of the most important qualifications to become a photographer. Clients like to do business with people they like, so take a hard look at your personality and interactions with people to help figure out which niche you're best suited to. Wedding and portrait photographers, for instance, need to be approachable, amiable and overall likable, with a friendly, outgoing personality. If you're more the loner type, try photojournalism or commercial photography. Dealing with photography clients is much more than just doing the job and taking their money, it's about forging relationships and making them feel comfortable.

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    In addition to knowledge and dedication, you need photography equipment and image editing software for post processing to become a professional photographer. These qualifications to become a photographer are important, but you don't need to break the bank for either. Find out more about what's important in this informative article.
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    Contrary to popular belief, you do not need the biggest, fastest, most expensive camera equipment available to become a professional photographer. You also cannot perform your job adequately or on a professional level if you only have a point-and-shoot, or a lower tier consumer camera and the kit lens that came with it. Becoming a professional means investing in yourself. Do your research. Find the right camera and lenses that meet your personal and professional needs and use them to their fullest advantage. Upgrade when you reach the limit of what your current equipment can offer.

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    Photographers who abandon their images after clicking the shutter do their clients a disservice. Some will claim to “get the image right in the camera" and not need to do anything additional to it afterward. Some claim that post processing software, such as Adobe Photoshop or Adobe Lightroom, somehow “cheat" the client because “those programs can make a bad photo look good". This, to put it bluntly, is poppycock. The truth is:

    • Skillful post processing enhances a photo; it makes a good photo great
    • While the correct in-camera adjustments and settings are important, you will not get every photo 100% perfect every time
    • Almost every photo would benefit from some degree of processing
    • “Photoshop Processing" is not synonymous with “FAKE PHOTO"
    • The term “Processing" also applies to simple adjustments, such as cropping, straightening and contrast adjustment
    • No amount of processing in the world will “fix" a bad photo
    • No amount of processing in the world will make a bad photographer look like a good one

    What people seem to forget is that film photographers “processed" their photos, too—they just used chemicals and light instead of a computer and mouse. Ansel Adams, one of the world's greatest landscape photographers, would spend many hours in the darkroom making adjustments to his famous images to get them to look exactly the way he wanted.

    Find a photo processing software program you like and are comfortable with, and learn to use it. Your photos, and your clients, will benefit!

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    Is loving photography a good qualification to become a photographer? You bet! In fact, it's the most important one. Find out why love of the field, and not a college degree, is the most important part of choosing a career in photography in this informative article.
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    College Degree

    While colleges do offer Bachelor of Fine Arts and Master of Fine Arts degrees in photography, most clients generally do not ask for these credentials when seeking out a photographer. If, however, you have the interest, time and funding to “make it official" so to speak, then by all means head to school. But it is by no means a requirement. If getting a degree for your photography career is important to you, try a business degree such as marketing instead.

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    Here we come to the grand-daddy of them all—possibly the most important qualification to become a photographer is to be passionate about it. All else aside, you must have that passion, that burning desire in your soul to create with a camera. Having all the business sense in the world and knowing every tiny little screw hole in your camera won't make up for a lack of passion. You have to eat, drink, sleep, dream and think about photography every day, love it, live it, obsess over it and annoy your friends and family by talking about nothing but. When it permeates every fiber of your being, that is when you are a professional photographer.

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    Professional photography can be a very rewarding career choice, if you approach it as such—a career and not simply “something you do". As with other creative careers, starting out and finding clients can be difficult, as you have to compete with all those other photographers—the already settled ones as well as the other aspiring souls like yourself. Never stop trying, never stop learning, never stop moving forward and you may become one of the next big names in the field!

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