Be a Professional Photographer in 6 Easy Steps

English: A photo portrait of photographer Anse...

English: A photo portrait of photographer Ansel Adams, which first appeared in the 1950 Yosemite Field School yearbook. Deutsch: Portrait des Fotografen Ansel Adams, erstmals 1950 im Jahrbuch der Yosemite Field School erschienen. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Emails.  I get emails and Facebook messages.  Recently I got a FB message from a friend that asked how he could do what I do.

I was ready to give him one of my patented answers, but I figure that if he’s gonna honor me by asking a legitimate question, then I need to step up and give him a legitimate answer.

So here it is.  6 Things to Become a Professional Photographer.  Of course, there’s much more information about each of these steps online, this list is just meant to give you a place to start looking.


What is your passion?  More precisely, what are you passionate about photographing?  Landscapes? Portraits? Wildlife? Street photography? Travel?  Just where does your passion lie?

Be careful how you answer this, because what you think may be your passion now, might not be your passion when you are actually committed to doing it full time.

I always had a passion to work at McDonald’s.  The idea of having an endless supply of Big Macs, fries and a coke was my dream.  Then one day I realized that if aI could have all the burgers I wanted, I’d soon tire of them.

When you’re just starting out on this road don’t worry about shooting your passion.  Just start shooting and your passion will present itself.  It may be the passion that you thought you had, or, you may be surprised and find out that your passion has something else in mind for you.  Be flexible and ready to follow your passion — don’t try to force your passion into a box in which it doesn’t fit.


So, you’ve identified what will be, at least at the start, your passion.  Now, what sacrifice are you willing to make in order to achieve your goal.?  You’ll have to give up something to get something.  For me, my sacrifice has been long hard and continuous.  I’ve given up holidays with friends and family, I’ve passed on having a secure and stable roof over my head many times.  I’ve gone without food.  I’ve sweated in the desert and frozen in Alaska.  Ask yourself now, “What am I willing to give up to achieve my dream.”  The amount of sacrifice you are willing to make will determine how far you can go in photography.

The payoff, for me, has been worth the sacrifice.  But sometimes it seems like Karma is at work here in that you have to make the sacrifice first in order to get the payoff later; this is not a job for people who must have instant gratification.

Shoot, Shoot, Shoot

There’s an old, old joke about the man that was carrying a violin through Manhattan.  He stopped someone to ask for directions.  “How do you get to Carnegie Hall,” he asked.  “Practice, my son, practice.”

It’s the same with photography.  Constant practice.  Taking the camera everywhere with you.  Did you get that?  Take the camera everywhere with you.  Remember, there’s only three rules to becoming a better photographer:

1.  Take the camera everywhere with you.

2.  Take the camera everywhere with you.

3.  Take the camera everywhere with you.

Think you understand now?

By keeping the camera at your side wherever you go, you’re not only getting used to having it around and ready to take a shot when something catches your eye, but you’re also best preparing yourself to avoid that situation, that once-in-a-lifetime moment where you would otherwise say, “I wish I had the camera with me”.

Another benefit of always having your camera with you is the subconscious training of your eye regarding what makes make a good photograph and what would make a great photograph.

Media Outlets

Start wading through magazines and websites of organizations and businesses that use the type photography you want to do. Get acquainted with their style.  As you look at each image, ask yourself, “What is it about this photograph that made the photo editor choose it?”

Start collecting submission guidelines and keep them on file somewhere that is easily accessible to you.  Obviously, if you’ll be shooting wildlife, you don’t need to know the submission guidelines for CNN.  If you’re shooting photojournalism type stuff, you don’t need to know the submission guidelines for “Kayaking”.

Weed Out the Shots

In the days of film, there was a joke, “What’s the difference between a professional photographer and an amateur?”  Answer: The professional has a larger trash can.

It was true then and it’s even more true now.  The professional will carefully cull his images and throw out the bad ones and most of the good ones, keeping only the great ones.  The amateur will keep everything and, worse, show them all!

Another way of saying it, the professional will shoot 100 images and keep maybe five.  The amateur will shoot 100 and keep all 100.  Out of focus, weird filter effects, crazy angles — the amateur will hang on to each of them.

Once you’ve weeded out your shots and thrown out the bad ones and the good ones and have a stock of 30 − 40 really great ones, then you’re ready to start sending queries to the publishers whose submission guidelines you’ve been collecting.


Unless you’re on staff with someone as photographer, the best skill to acquire, besides photography is marketing.  You may be another Ansel Adams, but if you don’t have the ability to market your work, then no one but you, your family and your computers hard drive will see what you’ve shot.  And if no one else sees it, then you won’t be able to pick up a few coins.

I often get asked by people what photography school I would recommend.  My immediate response is always “none”.  I try to discourage people from investing (aka wasting) tends of thousands of dollars learning what they could learn with practice.

First, the teachers will only teach you how to take pictures the way they take pictures.  At first glance that doesn’t seem like a bad thing.  But a better idea is to learn the way YOU take pictures.

Secondly, no photography school in the world teaches marketing as part of the curriculum.

Again, without the ability to get those images seen, you won’t make any money.

Featured ExpatBased in Argentina, Jerry writes about social justice issues throughout the world and his work has been picked up by major media outlets globally.

This blog you are reading is featured on the internationally known blog forum,

Have a story tip or idea?  I’m always on the lookout for unique people, places and things.  Everyone has a story to tell.  Not everyone can tell their story.  When you have a unique story and you’re ready to share it with the world, please keep me in mind.  You can see some of the media outlets my work has been featured in by clicking here.  Ready to have your story told?  Contact today!

Jerry Nelson is an American freelance photojournalist.  When not traveling, he can be found on the streets of Buenos Aires as Lead Photographer for BuenosTours, the largest private tour company in South America.  Connect with Jerry on MosaicHub, Facebook or LinkedIn today.  Have a story that needs to reach national media?  Email him today.

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Ready to do business?  See samples of my work in my portfolio, proudly sponsored by Marc & Dean at  If you’re a journalist, photographer or blogger, be sure to check out their services!


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