Steps Toward Becoming a Professional Photographer

Jon Williams has been a professional photographer and industrial filmmaker for the past 38 years. His client list includes Nike USA, Hershey Chocolate, Picabo Street, Larry H. Miller, Comfort Suites Hotels, Sears, and many others. Jon maintains his own photography school called Jon Williams Photography Seminars and Expeditions®. Students come to him to learn a wide variety of photography and business skills. Hundreds of aspiring photographers have benefited from these classes and field expeditions. Classes are taught at Jon's Ogden, Utah studio and also "on location" at many relevant locations. In this article, Jon shares some suggestions on transitioning into a career as a legitimate professional photographer.

First Year

      • Become passionate about photography and elements of successful small business.
      • Believe that you must begin to earn some money in order to continue in photography.
      • Determine and decide the type of photography you you want to do.
      • Analyze your chosen market to determine feasibility and profitability.
      • Print some business cards and begin to market yourself as a photographer.
      • Establish your prices and services in writing and adjust them as needed.
      • Find a photography job, including charitable work and otherwise unpaid work.
      • Implement good practices of advertising, marketing, and small business practices.
      • Accomplish several bookings and photography jobs. Evaluate your decision to turn pro.

Second Year

  • Get a sales tax number from the state. You must collect and turn in sales tax quarterly.
  • Get a city business license valid for your primary work area.
  • Create a written inventory of your equipment and all business related assets.
  • Buy liability insurance to protect your equipment and your personal liabilities.
  • Determine your preferred status as either Sole Proprietor or Corporation.
  • Begin to submit quarterly Federal Income Tax (Learn Office in the Home tax methods)
  • Register your company name with the State Trade Commission.
  • Make a budget based on conservative receipts and adjust it each year based on your tax return results.
  • Create a strategic plan for each year including a budget, marketing plan, methodology, and schedule.

Ongoing Principles

  • Be disciplined in your work schedule, quality control, and work ethic.
  • Take good care of your customers in terms of quality, integrity, and service.
  • Study light, people, photographs, other photographers methods—both good and bad.
  • Learn from others but learn to develop your own personal style. Learn to trust your own style and visual interpretations. (Exception: Bad or weak photography should not be considered as a personal style.)
  • When dealing with customers, their money, and their perceptions, remember to choose your battles carefully. Look at the big picture concerning your income, not the "nickels and dimes." Don’t get cheap!
  • Take good care of yourself physically and emotionally. Prioritize the things that are most important in life.
  • Learn to love people. Believe that there is no such thing as an non-photogenic person.
  • Generally, if you can make a person or organization look good, they will pay you well.
  • Remember: you earn your money from people. Stay focused on the person and not your just your product.

November 2012