I’ll let you into a little secret. A professional photographer is just someone who once an amateur. (And at heart may still be, in the sense of loving photography. Amateur has the same word root as amour after all.) The difference between the two? A pro photographer makes money from his or her photography. That’s it. There is no weirdly arcane secret known only to professionals that amateurs don’t get to hear about.
That said, you do have to think a bit differently as a professional. But these ways of thinking can be used by amateurs too. So, here are five simple ways you could benefit from thinking like a pro…
1: I Am What I Am
There are two ways to make money from photography. A photographer can be a jack-of-all-trades, taking on any job that comes along regardless of what it involves. Or, he or she can be a specialist, doing only the photography that interests them and ignoring everything else. There is no right or wrong answer to which approach to take.
The first option is especially beguiling, particularly in the early days of a pro career when jobs may be few and far between. And it is a great way to learn a lot very, very quickly. Newbie pros often find themselves in situations they’ve never encountered before, which means a lot of thinking on feet to quickly find a solution. (A client isn’t paying a photographer to scratch their head for hours on end, after all.) However, this option can be a bit of a trap. Photographers can spread themselves too thinly for one thing. And, depending on their personality, it can be an unsatisfying and frustrating way to make a living.
A specialist on the other hand has a much narrower er… focus. This means that related skills develop too. Take landscape photography for example. This involves accurate map reading for one thing. (Not something a portrait photographer may need to know much about.) It also means developing an understanding of the effects of weather, and what that could mean for a day’s photography. And so on and so on.
Amateurs don’t necessarily need to think about whether to specialise or not. However, this does often happen to one degree or another. Personally, I’d highly recommend specialising, either for a short period of time or for a specific project. Even if you prefer a more general approach, anything you learn as a temporary specialist will benefit any photography you do in the future.
2: I Really Don’t Feel Like It Today
Professional photographers rarely suffer from that ‘Monday morning feeling’. There is no 9-5 job waiting once the weekend is over. However, that doesn’t mean pros skip light-of-heart to every photography job they’ve been booked to do. Pros are only human. They suffer from the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune as readily as the next person. There will be times when life isn’t sweetness and light, and when a photography job is the last thing they want to do. Unfortunately, as a good reputation can be quickly lost, so pros often just have to knuckle down and get on with it.
There will be days when you really don’t want to do photography too. It could be as simple as the weather not being right, or you may feel the muse just isn’t upon you that day. However, it’s well worth pushing on and forcing yourself to shoot regardless. A little bit of adversity can be a wonderful stimulus to creativity, and may even make you feel a bit better about yourself too.
3: One More Wafer Thin Mint?
Ultimately, a professional has to make a living from his or her photography. This obviously means getting someone to pay the photographer. But it also means not spending money on equipment unnecessarily. (A pro photographer does need to make a profit after all!) Any piece of equipment purchased really has to be thoroughly justified; there’s no sense in buying something that will lie in a cupboard gathering dust. (It also means that there’s no point in keeping unused equipment either, if it can be sold off it goes. A pro can’t afford to be sentimental about camera gear.)
Now, I’m not saying that you shouldn’t treat yourself to a new lens or camera. Of course you should, you deserve it after all. But it is worth thinking about the pros or cons of the equipment you’re considering. Think in particular about whether it will actually improve your photography or whether you’re just buying it on a whim. If it won’t or you are, consider spending the money on something like a course or even a photography holiday instead. Those may end being a better investment long term
4: Woosh, There Goes the Deadline…
Clients invariably want their shots pretty much immediately. (Some even want them yesterday, an impossible demand until time travel is invented.) And do you know what? That’s not an altogether unreasonable request. Clients may have a deadline to meet too, and don’t want to be let down by a third party like a photographer. Assuming the deadline is agreeable to everyone, then a pro has to deliver on time. This means that there can’t be any messing around during a shoot, and the pro has to make as few mistakes as humanly possible.
Obviously, you don’t want to put yourself under pressure. (You should enjoy your photography!) But working efficiently at the best of your abilities is really something to aspire too. One way to do this is to practise using your camera – every day if possible – and get accustomed to its various controls and options. The ideal is to be able to pick up your camera and use it without thinking. Do this, and you will leave more space in your head for creative thought.
5: Plan 9 From Outer Space
In order to meet a deadline pros really need to plan ahead, thinking through every possible problem, to work as efficiently as possible on the day. (Sometimes of course the unexpected will happen to throw plans into disarray, but this is when a pro’s experience and ability to think fast will generally save the day.) Planning can take many forms, from talking to a client and finding out exactly what’s needed, to ensuring that any necessary paperwork is filled out ahead of time. (This can be as simple as having model release forms signed, to liaising with councils for permits.)
Planning ahead really is a good habit to get into. It’s perhaps more necessary for some genres of photography than others – landscape photographers need to know what the weather is likely to do, for instance. But it will make you a better photographer. Honestly. It means you can concentrate on your photography rather than sweating out the details as you shoot.
David Taylor is a British award-winning landscape and travel photographer, who was born and raised in Newcastle upon Tyne and now lives in the ancient market town of Hexham, Northumberland. He took his first photograph at the age of 14, when his parents gave him a Kodak Instamatic for Christmas, and he has been taking photographs ever since.
His landscape photos have been used in publicity materials by local businesses, councils and tourism organisations, such as the Northumberland National Park Authority. He has also supplied images and articles to both regional and national magazines including Living North, Countryfile, Black & White Photography and Outdoor Photography.