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Dreaming of Turning Pro? Read This

by Dan Bailey on December 3, 2010 · 17 comments

So you’ve been shooting for a few years. You’re on your second or third camera body by now, and you’ve acquired a handful of lenses, as well as a flash or two. Or three.

You’ve watched your skills and techniques improve to the point where you think that your work is equally as good as, or better than much of the work that you see published out in the world.

You lay awake at night wondering whether it would be a smart move to try and go pro, and what that would look like if you did.

As much energy as you might spend thinking about whether you want to try and take your photography to the next level, it pales in comparison to what this actually requires. Creating a successful photography business is a long term process that will continuously require a great deal of creativity, mental energy, and incredible perseverance.

Like any self employed venture, building a career as a freelance photographer requires a huge amount of risk, sacrifice, an open sense of adventure, a rock solid belief in yourself and, more than anything, the dedication to stick with it, even when it seems that you’re stumbling along and not getting ahead.

It also requires a no-nonsense evaluation of your own talent and technical abilities, a powerful creative drive and the ability to work with complete uncertainty about when and where your next paycheck will come from. On top of that, you have to be willing to put yourself out there in the world with enough confidence to say “I can do that,” and have the skills to back it up.

Being a self employed creative type means that the business is you. There is no clocking out and forgetting about it until the next day or week, and you never stop thinking of new ways to improve your skills, find new clients and make your business better.

And if you like overtime, then you’re in luck, because when you’re self employed, there’s plenty of it. As much as you want, in fact. And you’ll gladly work those long hours, because you love what you do, and because all the other photographers out there will work as hard or harder than you to create top notch imagery and get it in front of the same clients that you’re trying to reach.

You must love your craft and business enough to be willing to stay up late editing, marketing, captioning, keywording and processing images, or working on your website or portfolio. You don’t always have to work all day and night at it, but you must want to.

And if you have a family, you’d better have their support, because IT WILL CONSUME YOU, and them too. At the same time, you must be smart enough to realize that the entire world doesn’t revolve around your photography business (I know, this is quite hard for people like us to understand!)

These are just some of the things you need to think about if you’re considering going pro. Did I scare you off? Good, then a photography career may be in your future.


Dan Bailey is a professional adventure, outdoor and travel photographer based in Anchorage, Alaska. He just published his first eBook, How to Become a Pro Photographer. Follow his own blog at and see his daily updates at

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{ 3 comments… read them below or add one }

James Baxter December 9, 2010 at 3:36 am

Having been self-employed for nearly 40 years, I can say that you'd better take this advise quite seriously. Great Article!

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