Photography is such a cool industry to be a part of and it can be a very fulfilling career. However, it can be a little scary to make the jump to becoming a photographer, especially full-time. If you are just starting out, you may be wondering how to become a full time photographer.
While this can seem like a daunting task, there are a few things that you can do to set yourself up for success when you finally do decide to pursue photography as your career. And while I absolutely love being a full-time photographer, entrepreneur, and business owner, there is something special about the side-hustle phase of any new career or business, so don’t rush through it.
Having a side hustle in photography is an amazing and steady way to build a solid foundation for your future full-time business. So here are some of my top tips on how to become a full time photographer.
Before you decide to dive headfirst into this exciting endeavor, it’s important that you build a brand first. Now, this is definitely something that you will build upon and evolve as you grow, but there are some key things that are important to have right off the bat.
First, it’s important that you at least build out a basic visual brand. This means having a logo (or a few), a color palette, and type suite (the fonts you are going to use everywhere). Now, you may not think that these would be so high up on the list because people are going to hire you because of your amazing photos, not because of your logo or colors right?
Yes, you are totally correct, but a solid brand can make your business feel more professional and put together and people are going to be more likely to trust you. It also makes you more recognizable, so after people see your brand a few times, they’re more likely to remember it and your work.
Along with your visual branding, you want to make sure you have a basic brand voice. This is the language you are going to use throughout your social media and website (which we will talk about next).
Maybe you want to be a bit more professional with your brand and language or you may want it to be more personality-driven and relaxed. Whatever brand voice you choose for your business, you want to make sure you use it everywhere.
You don’t want your website to sound very professional and clean, but your social media be fun and outgoing. People may get confused about what your vibe actually is and if they are going to be the right type of client for you!
I know, a website can be very daunting but it is such an important part of your business. You want to make sure you have a solid, functional website from the beginning. Now, you don’t have to feel pressured to hire a designer to make you a fully custom website at first.
There are a ton of website templates out there that are a great starting point for your web design or you can try to DIY it completely on your own. Whatever you choose to go with, you want to make sure that your website is easy to navigate and has all the information about you and your services that potential clients would need.
You may use social media primarily for things like showing off your work and marketing, but your website gives you the space to tell a larger story. Your website should at least have the following:
Your website is something that you will most likely grow and update as your business grows. If you start off with a template or by creating your own website, you can always hire a designer later down the road after you have your feet under you and your business has started to take off.
When it comes to how to become a full time photographer, finding who you like to work with is a key part of your business’s success. This is something that can take a bit of trial and error and you are most likely going to be able to start to work this out within your first few clients. (In full transparency, it took me about two years to truly find and understand my ideal client, the kind of people I love working with that light me up).
There are a few different things you can work through to figure out who your ideal client is. For example, you may find that you really like working with introverted people who are shy in front of the camera or people who are doing their first photoshoot. Maybe you like working with families and kids over just couples.
Think about what problem you’re solving for them, what they do for a living, where they like to hang out, and how they spend their money. Knowing these things will help you better understand who you’re speaking to across your website and social media (with your consistent brand voice!) and better appeal to them.
Whoever your dream client is, focusing on just that type of person is going to make your life as a photographer so much more enjoyable and help you market your business to the right type of people! I know it sounds scary, but over time, niche down and serve the people that want what you offer as best as you can.
This is a very important piece of your business to work out and one that can also evolve over the years. There are so many types of photography services you can offer and you may feel a bit overwhelmed and not know what you should do for your business.
The first thing to remember is that no two businesses are going to be the same. Just because you see another photographer in your area offering seven different services, doesn’t mean you need to. My advice is to start small and then build as you get more and more comfortable.
If you prefer to shoot weddings, you can start out with just weddings and then add on things like engagement shoots, couple’s sessions, etc as you get more comfortable as a photographer. You don’t want to overwhelm yourself with too many services when you are just getting started or burn yourself out doing services you don’t love to do.
You can also choose to just specialize in one type of photography and become a go-to expert for that. If you only want to do elopement photography and that is what you enjoy doing the most, then just do elopements. Just because you see other photographers offering elopement and full wedding photography, doesn’t mean you have to!
Every photographer is going to have their own unique piece that they add to their service that sets them apart from everyone else. Part of it may be something you include in your packages (like a wedding album, engagement shoot, etc), something about your editing style, or even something about your process (like planning calls ahead of time, turn around time for getting pictures back to clients, etc).
But another part will most certainly be something that comes from you as a person. The reality is that there are a ton of great photographers out there and styles can be replicated, especially with editing presets. But the one thing no one can replicate is you! So take some time to figure out what makes you different and lean into that in your branding, personality and the client experience you offer!
Whatever it is, you want to find that unique feature in your business and highlight it throughout your website, social media, and marketing. You want people to easily see what makes you different and why they should choose you over all of the other options out there.
This can sometimes be hard to do because there are so many photographers that people can choose from so my suggestion is to start small. Look at photographers in your area who are working with the same types of clients that you want to work with. See what they do in their business and what you do differently that can make you stand out from them.
Another exercise I also love is ask the 3 to 5 closest people around you to give you a list of 5 words that best describe you. These might clue you in as to what people see in you that stands out.
Over time, as you work with more and more clients, you’ll start to gain clarity and can evolve your brand and offerings accordingly.
Building out a solid portfolio is a major part of starting your business off on the right foot. Your portfolio plays a big role for one of two reasons:
It is also important that you showcase your portfolio across multiple different platforms and be consistent with editing style. Everyone who finds you is not going to find you in the same place. What I mean by this is some people are going to come across your website, others may see you on Instagram, and others may come across you on Facebook.
You want to ensure that if people only see you on one of those platforms, they see just as much of your work as if they were to look at everything. A really good way to do this is to have social media posts featuring new shoots you do go out around the same time you add them to your portfolio on your website!
Networking is a great way to not only meet new photographers in your area or in your same niche but can also be a great way to get more business. While it may be a little intimidating at first, try to reach out to other photographers on social media, go to conventions, or talk to photographers you see at events you go to.
There are a few different reasons why this is a great thing to start doing early on in your career but I’ll go over my top two reasons:
When people are figuring out how to become a full time photographer, this is something that is often overlooked but it is so important. Internal systems can help keep your business organized and running smoothly so you don’t have little things popping up that take your attention away from what is really important.
It’s important that you get some sort of CRM system (customer relationship management) set up that will allow you to organize things like your inquiries, contracts, invoices, and more! I highly recommend Sprout Studio if you are looking for one specifically for photographers.
You should also make sure that you have systems in place to keep all of your deadlines and files organized. Whether this is through something like Google Calendar/Docs, Trello, Asana, Notion, etc, this will make sure that you know what you have to do and when you have to do them! Oh, and figure out your photo backup system now before you have thousands upon thousands of photos to store long term. My biggest regret in
Finally, don’t be afraid to invest in yourself! Take courses or attend workshops hosted by other photographers. There is always going to be someone who knows more than you when it comes to running your own business or photography in general.
Look for courses or opportunities to learn from people who are in the position that you are aiming to be in. Oftentimes, they will share mistakes and roadblocks that they hit when they were first starting out and can help to give you a leg up as you start your business.
While trial and error is part of learning and growing a business, there’s a lot of value in someone else telling you their mistakes and the solution they found. This will save you so much time and headache (probably money too, in the end) and help you build momentum faster!
Don’t get caught in the cycle of constantly wondering how to become a full time photographer. You are not alone in this journey and hopefully, these tips will help you make the leap with confidence and create a photography business that flourishes!