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The Secrets to Becoming a Professional Photographer

By: Eric Bennett + Save to a List

Because professional camera equipment is so affordable these days, we find ourselves surrounded by thousands of people shooting amazing stuff. With so many other people playing the field, it can seem impossible to ever get noticed. The process of making your photography become a source of income can feel like an unlikely and intimidating task when comparing yourself to other photographers. So here is my word of advice: don’t. Use other people’s work as a source of inspiration to improve on certain areas, but don’t compare.

The Competition:
The truth is, 80% of these people who you feel are your “competition” aren’t in it for the long haul. I can’t tell you how many times I have been looking to buy some equipment on eBay and seen someone selling all of their camera gear because they got excited, bought the fancy stuff, and 6 months or a year later, are now selling it because it stopped satisfying them. Thrills never last. People are getting into photography for the wrong reasons every day. If they are doing it for the right reasons, they may just think of photography as a hobby and aren’t interested in doing it professionally. More importantly, no matter how much competition there is, there will never be another you. As long as you are being innovative and relying on your imagination, and shooting what you truly love, you are irreplaceable.

The Reason:
“Put first things first and we get second things thrown in: put second things first and we lose both first and second things.” (C.S. Lewis) If you are looking to become a professional photographer, make sure it’s for the right reasons. No one will respect you if they see that your photography is just a means to an end. If you are trying to become famous, make money, or travel the world by shooting photos, people will feel this in your work and they won’t appreciate it. Only those who truly love photography for the pure essence and not for the benefits will produce inspiring, beautiful, mind blowing work. The satisfaction should come from the product of our work, not the monetary value.

The Gear:
There is always some awesome new camera, lens, or tripod that you can blow your money on. I once heard someone say “amateurs worry about sharpness, professionals worry about sales, and photographers worry about lighting.” Don’t invest all your money on expensive, fancy gear hoping for it to make your work amazing. Make sure you outgrow your gear before investing in newer, more advanced equipment. What will make people love your photography won't be what you are shooting with, but merely what you are shooting. Content is key. You should be investing in your content way more than your gear. No matter how professional your gear is, if your execution and performance is weak, your work will scream amateur.

Get Noticed:
The only way to get recognized is by putting your stuff out there for people to see. Not everyone will like your work. There are some Natgeo photographers whose work I don’t like. Does this mean it’s not quality work? Of course not, it just doesn’t appeal to me. Don’t try to appeal to every field, find your niche and become an expert. Don’t be scared to put your stuff out for everyone to see; it will be seen by the right people at the right time. Be patient while waiting for this moment and just keep producing. Make sure you are shooting with all the free time you have. They say it takes 10,000 hours before you can become a professional.

In the end, do what makes you happy. We were all born with certain gifts that we can share with the world and use to inspire others. Find your purpose by doing what you really love and embracing it. Becoming a professional in any field comes down to a simple rule: do what you love and the rest will fall into place. Don’t try to control things that can’t be changed. Let things happen and accept opportunities as they come. They will come. The difference between success and failure is sticking with it or giving up. Only the truly passionate will have the patience, strength, and humility to keep pushing forward.

We want to acknowledge and thank the past, present, and future generations of all Native Nations and Indigenous Peoples whose ancestral lands we travel, explore, and play on. Always practice Leave No Trace ethics on your adventures and follow local regulations. Please explore responsibly!

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