Are you ready?
Making the transition from amateur snapper to professional photographer is a life-changing step – are you ready for it?
As much as you may enjoy photography as a hobby, succeeding as a business is a completely different matter. You must place a value on your work, which is difficult in an industry that is ever-changing and devaluing photography
Tom Mackie , landscape photographer
Getting a foot in the door of the photography industry, attracting clients and producing enough saleable pictures to put food on your table: it’s a daunting prospect. That being said, the change in lifestyle and the chance to fill your day doing something you genuinely love is hard to resist.
“I left school with little in the way of formal qualifications. After a brief stint working in a supermarket I got a job in a bank,” says in-demand bird photographer David Tipling. “During my time working as a cashier I spent all my holidays travelling taking pictures. On a trip to Kenya in 1984 I took an image of a leopard sitting in a tree. There was nothing outstanding about this image but it was a nice portrait in a good setting and was selected for inclusion in a Telegraph Colour Library Stock catalogue.
“During the first six months the image was on sale it made me more money every month than I was earning in the bank. I realised then that my dream career was perhaps not too far away. However, I continued
working latterly as an auditor for a building society for six years until being offered voluntary redundancy, which gave me the push I needed.”
It’s a familiar theme: passionate amateur photographer holds down a regular nine-to-five job in order to fund camera gear and photography trips, all the time wondering if they could do this for a living. It’s a slow burn, and it can take years to build up the confidence and financial reserves to make the big step. However, there are those photographers who commit to it from an early age.
“As my dream has always been to be a professional photographer it was quite a straight line,” says nature photographer Sandra Bartocha. “I studied media studies at university and during this time I always took photos, worked on smaller projects and articles, and networked. This paid off when I got my first two paid jobs almost at once. I took a chance, resigned from my studies and plunged into professional photography. My thinking was that there wouldn’t be a better chance, as my overheads were quite small at that time and so I didn’t need much in order to pursue a living.”
If you’re considering turning professional, a stint spent assisting a pro is a great way to get first-hand experience and help you decide if the full-time life is really for you. “I worked as a shoot assistant, a printer in a dark room and a photographer’s personal assistant for several years before I started to get my own work,” reveals fashion photographer Kirstin Sinclair. “I think it is imperative to gain first-hand experience within the industry. It has been invaluable to me to work in a number of different roles, from a photographer’s studio assistant to an intern at a magazine. This has all played a huge part in my learning and understanding of how the photography, fashion and publishing industries work and I would recommend this route to anyone.”