How to Become a Professional Photographer

How to Become a Professional Photographer

Succeeding as a professional photographer is about far more than having a natural aptitude for taking good photographs; there are numerous other skills and resources you’ll need to consider and plan for too.   

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From essential equipment to dealing with HMRC/Revenue, and everything in between, we’ve compiled a list of things you’ll want to think about if you’re serious about turning your part-time hobby into a full-time profession.

So, let’s focus on developing your new career!

Qualifications / Courses

Photography is one of the few careers where formal qualifications are not a requirement.  However, studying for a formal qualification will not only hone your skills, it can also help you to stand out in a competitive market. 

Qualifications include:

  • Higher National Diploma
  • Foundation Degree
  • BA  
  • MA

These qualifications are available in a range of subjects including film and photography, commercial photography, visual arts and arts and design.  Alternatively, you could opt for an online course, such as those run by the Open University, or contact your local college to see what they can offer. 

photographer taking picture of a couple


While it’s perfectly possible to become a professional photographer without formal qualifications, the same is not true when it comes to experience.  Whether you have formal qualifications or not, experience is essential to your success as it enables you to grow and improve your skills.

Ways to gain experience:

  • Practise on your friends/family
  • Enter competitions 
  • Offer your services for free at a family wedding or other event 
  • Take food pictures in a local restaurant
  • Shadow a professional photographer


Technical skills 

You will need to have a good understanding of aperture, exposure and shutter speed, knowledge of how your camera works and a basic understanding of photo-editing software.  

Creative skills

Creative photography involves intentionally adding extra elements to enhance your original photograph and make it unique.  This can be achieved by taking the photo from an unusual perspective, editing it afterwards to achieve a certain mood or focus, and just about anything else you can think of.  Taking photographs that stand out is an art form which requires thinking outside the box and seeing what others do not.

People skills

Good people skills are an essential prerequisite to becoming a professional photographer. Being an expert behind the camera is not enough; you’ll need to be friendly, patient and flexible to put your subjects at ease and gain their cooperation. 

And don’t forget that you will also need these skills for networking, promoting your business and interacting interact with potential clients. 


Quality photographic equipment doesn’t come cheap, but you don’t need to buy everything at the outset.  In fact, this could well turn out to be a costly mistake as you may end up purchasing expensive items you rarely use.  Initially, you should need only basic equipment; it’s better to buy extra items as and when you find you have a regular use for them.  To keep costs down, you might want to consider renting some items until you’re sure they justify the financial outlay.

Basic equipment when starting out:

  • Camera
  • Camera bag
  • Tripod
  • Lenses
  • Lighting
  • Batteries
  • Memory cards
  • Editing software
  • Computer / laptop
photographer gear

Write a business plan

Your business plan should provide an overview of your business and how you will meet the needs of your intended clients.  Having a written plan will enable you to move forward and achieve your goals more easily.  Your plan should include:

  • A description of your services 
  • Your target clients – your niche
  • The competition 
  • Marketing strategies – e.g., wedding fairs
  • Costings – e.g., equipment, studio hire, insurance
  • Strengths and weaknesses
  • Timed goals – write down tasks with completion dates.

Find a niche

Becoming a professional photographer doesn’t mean that you are, or should be, an expert in every different style of photography.  Instead, you should select a niche that you enjoy and build on it.  

The best way to find your niche is to try out different types of photography.  Experimenting with different genres will help you to figure out what it is you love doing the most.  Once you know what you’re passionate about, you can focus on honing your skills within that niche.

Potential niches:

  • Fashion photography
  • Weddings / event photography
  • Family photography
  • Stock images
  • Portrait photography
  • Landscape photography
  • Photojournalism
  • Nature / wildlife photography
  • Food
computer screen with pictures

Marketing your new venture

Creating an online portfolio

Every professional photographer needs a portfolio to showcase their skills and attract new clients.  When setting up your portfolio, it’s important to choose pictures that will appeal to your potential clients.  If, for example, your niche is wedding photography, stick to photos that demonstrate your skill in that area.   

Select your very best photographs and vary your images.  Try to see your portfolio from the perspective of your clients; they need to see your work, but too many pictures can leave them feeling overwhelmed.

Selecting a portfolio building website:

If you’re just starting out and have a limited budget, price is probably your most important consideration.  However, you should also ask yourself how user-friendly a website is, both from your own perspective and that of your clients.  

  • What to include:

Your best photographs

An About Me page with a small photograph to engage visitors

A price list 

Contact details and links to your social media profiles

Your logo and brand identity.

Aside from your website, you will also need a presence on one or more social media platforms.  Instagram is an especially useful platform for photographers as its visual format means your photos take centre stage.  A Facebook business page is also worth considering as it looks professional while offering additional ways for you to reach out to customers.

Join a professional body

These organisations offer members various benefits such as competitions, qualifications, mentoring, a listing in their online directories and annual conventions.  

Professional bodies:

  • Royal Photographic Society (RPS) 
  • Association of Photographers (AOP)
  • British Institute of Professional Photography (BIPP) 
  • National Photographic Society (NPS) 
  • The Society of Wedding and Portrait Photographers (SWPP)

Each society has different requirements for joining and most charge an annual fee.  However, belonging to a respected professional body is well worth the outlay as it reassures potential customers and is also a great way of networking.

Learn about contracts

Providing a written contract is an essential part of becoming a professional photographer.  

A contract prepares the way for a professional business transaction and leaves much less scope for mistakes and misunderstandings as your client knows exactly what they are getting and what it will cost them.  Free contracts are widely available online and are a very useful tool if you’re just starting out, although they may need tweaking to suit your business model. 

Register your photography business 

In all the excitement of starting a new venture, it’s imperative that you don’t forget to notify HMRC, or Revenue, that you are starting a new business.  

In the UK, you’ll need to register as a sole trader if you earn (or expect to earn) more than £1000 from self-employment during the tax year.  Legally, you are required to register by 5th October following the end of the tax year in which you became self-employed.  Being a sole trader involves paying tax through self-assessment and requires you to keep a record of your income and expenditure and submit a self-assessment tax return each year.  This applies whether you are liable to pay tax on your profits or not.

In Ireland, you must register as self-employed if your net income is above €5000, and you will be required to submit an annual tax return called a Form 11. 


You will of course want to take a more in-depth look at many of the topics we’ve covered as they are intended as a starting point only.  Nevertheless, we hope you’ve found this article useful and wish you every success as you journey towards becoming a professional photographer.   

Please note that while the advice regarding HMRC / Revenue is given in good faith, it is your responsibility to ensure you are compliant with the regulations as they apply in your country. 

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