The one thing that technically separates amateur photographers from professional photographers isn’t talent or experience, but whether or not they get paid to do it. Having said that, there is another obvious divide that exists between the professional photographers who are successful in their craft and those who still have a lot to learn.
Usually, there are a few things which photographers do regularly which help them become and stay successful; things you might not be doing. At least not yet.
1. They continually update their skills
Whether you’ve been a photographer for 2 years or 20, there will never be a point where you can say that you know everything there is to know about the art. There’s simply too much information out there. So even when successful pro photographers consider themselves experts, they are still learning, still improving, and most importantly, still shooting and figuring new things out. They attend local workshops and lectures, read anything they haven’t read yet, maintain their certifications and memberships, and keep their skills sharp.
2. They network
Because photography as a business doesn’t exist in a vacuum, one of the keys to having a successful career in the art means knowing not only how to meet people, but how to turn those connections into something mutually beneficial. Successful pro photographers understand that the human aspect of the business is an essential part of finding clients, keeping clients, and gaining the necessary exposure for their brand. Without other people interested in their work and willing to pay for their services, they don’t stand a chance of making it.
3. They learn the rules, and then they break them
Although there are no absolutes in photography, there are some fundamental guidelines which every photographer hears about within the first year or two of shooting: the rule of thirds, don’t shoot into the sun, fill the frame, and countless others. These maxims exist for a reason; because they help new photographers take better photos. Photographers learn these rules as they are beginning to develop their own photographic voice. Once they’ve molded that voice, they also gain the confidence to break the “rules” in style. It’s a threshold every photographer has to earn the right to cross, because applying the rules can make photos more interesting, but they can also make them less interesting. Successful pro photographers are familiar enough with the subtleties of composition to avoid making errors in judgment, and can bend or break the rules at whim to make the finished product more striking.
4. They mix up angles
5. They only show the “A” roll
When it comes to the photography business, less is almost always more. Unfortunately, human nature tends to work against professional photographers, because viewers will always judge them by the quality of their worst photo. Knowing this, they cull their photographs, edit voraciously, and only show the ones which they believe are the highest quality, the “A” Roll. They keep the “B” Roll to themselves.
This is true regardless of whether they are designing the portfolio for their website, or presenting a proof gallery to their clients. They only show their best.
Ultimately, successful professional photographers put a great deal of pride and energy into their art. They are constantly challenging themselves to do better, and to create something that will live on long after they are gone. Success in this often competitive and difficult business requires perseverance, a sense of never being satisfied, and a desire to create something that people will care about. The individuals who regularly practice the above habits, along with a few of their own, are the ones who have a greater chance of having a successful career doing the thing they love.