Succeeding as an independent professional photographer without specialized training
A professional photographer is a person whose only source of income comes from photography. We are both professional photographers. We live in the United States, where we have been running our own business for many years, and we love it. We are completely self-taught. We have no specialized training in photography. However, we manage to make a living.
Our journey has not been easy, but we have had the patience to wait for the seeds we have sown to yield their harvest.
An atypical career history
Our unusual career history has helped us a lot. We started photography as a hobby in 1987 with a completely manual Olympus OM 40 camera. At that time, our focus was landscape photography. Then, when we became certified divers, we felt the need to preserve the underwater scenes that gave us so much pleasure. Wildlife photography came later when we had the money to buy a lens with a long focal length.
Until the end of 2000, photography was just a hobby for us. We worked as computer engineers in Paris. At the beginning of 2001, when Isabelle got a contract with a US telecommunication company, we had the opportunity to live in the United States for 3 years. Unfortunately, Amar only got an L2 visa. He could live in the US, but couldn’t work. In 2003, we thought of creating our own company, and our beloved hobby became our job.
Then, our past as computer engineers helped us a lot, because the digital revolution had arrived. Pictures were no longer developed in darkrooms with chemicals, but on computers. Digital photography was in its infancy. The photography world was boiling with new technology. ISO had just been created. Photographers heard of RAW files for the first time. For many of them, these new acronyms and terms were foreign and incomprehensible. For us, however, they were very familiar. It was a great advantage. Only years later did we realize just how lucky we were in how much our old training helped us with our new career.
The initial investment
We have spent tens of thousands of dollars on computers, software, cameras and lenses. Becoming a professional photographer requires a large investment. This is even more the case today. The fact that we got excellent wages as computer engineers made it much easier for us to create our company.
The price of photography equipment, such as good lenses and professional cameras, has increased. The price of memory has certainly decreased (in 2003, 1 gigabyte of memory was 300 dollars!). However, most other equipment has not followed this downward trend.
We recommend saving up plenty of money before trying to start a photography company. The initial investment that a photographer needs to set up his or her own company is around 30 to 40,000 dollars.
Good basic skills
If you want to start a career as a professional photographer, whatever type of photography you choose, it is essential that you know the basics. They stay the same, no matter what kind of photography you practice.
To learn about photography, we read a lot of informational magazines and books. However, these resources did not contain everything that we needed to know for some of the more specialized areas.
Since we have no specialized training, we attended courses by the best photographers in various disciplines in order to learn the specialized techniques. These courses have always taught us exactly what we needed to know for our business.
Despite our lack of formal training, we have been able to master all the skills we need by learning from the experts.
Even today, when we want to learn a new technique, we find a training course with the best specialist in that field. That is the way to learn the most in the shortest time. These courses are often very expensive, but they are always worth it, because they allow us to avoid wasting time in vain research.
Marketing: a necessary tool for a professional photographer
We always say, "If the most beautiful picture of the world is hidden in a drawer, or in the memory of a computer, it will remain the least known and most misunderstood." A professional photographer should make it known that he creates beautiful photographs and is willing to sell them. More than that, though, he must make his photographs distinctive. He must have a vision, which should be based on his areas of expertise. It is important not to become spread-out. We have chosen to showcase the beauty of nature in contemplative, artistically conceived photographs. That is our vision, and all our photos must fit it. We have chosen to provide fine-art photographs and teach photography workshops. We are not trying to work for a magazine. All of our marketing is centered on people who will be interested in what we offer.
Marketing is a very difficult and complex discipline. We have attended numerous courses and seminars to understand the fundamentals so that we could apply them to our business.
Marketing has changed a great deal in recent years. The techniques used today are completely different from those used even 10 years ago. We must always keep learning. We regularly attend seminars to stay abreast of developments in this field.
Today, our business success is partly due to the things we learn from these seminars.
Sales: an indispensable asset
When we started our career as professional photographers, we neglected one of the crucial skills for success in business: sales.
We began looking for customers without really understanding the techniques of this field, where everything is based on communication. We were basically technicians, and we underestimated the importance of sales. We quickly realized that without a good basic knowledge of sales techniques, we would be unable to succeed. Everyone agreed that our pictures were beautiful, but the sales did not correspond at all to what people said about our work.
As we did in marketing, we attended many seminars to learn what goes into building an effective sales strategy. It took us two years to get a good handle on sales. We carefully implemented everything that we learned in our business.
Today, we have fully integrated sales strategies into our business. If we had not taken the time we needed and learned to sell our products, we would not have succeeded with our business.
Living our dreams through a difficult and complex job
Becoming a freelance professional photographer is quite possible even without training from a photography school. We are living proof. We believe that in addition to an excellent technical basis, good communication skills, marketing, and sales strategies are necessary. These are the spearheads of a successful business.
Living our dreams is possible, but we must always continue our training, and learn to surround ourselves with competent people in order to succeed in such a project.