From the first time I picked up a camera when I was 12 years old, photography has been a big part of my life. Over the years it evolved and I turned professional. The point at which this occurred is tough to define so it's hard to say when I moved beyond the hobby. When I get asked by enthusiastic photographers what they need to do to become a professional, I give them a quick synopsis of the steps I took. They certainly are not the be all, end all, but they should help point you in the right direction. Found below are some of the steps I've taken. Mimic them, modify them, or dismiss them and choose your own path. Whatever course you choose, stay determined and focused.
Accept the Reality: Acquiring a few good shots does not make you a professional. It certainly feels good to have others acknowledge these images but don't turn in your two weeks notice because you have some in your library. By all means use it as your main motivation to press on. Continue to get out in the field to acquire more great shots on a consistent basis. When the pressure is on because you have to turn out good work rather than acquiring a few good ones while on vacation, it's a different story. When the mortgage, utilities, and car insurance are dependent upon your photographic income, the stress level is raised, the pressure to create is heightened, and your family has to rely on you. I knew I could safely move beyond the hobby when the income from my photography allowed me to do this. Keep in mind that I was holding down my day job while growing my photography business and working hard at both.
Submit, Submit, Submit: Unless you test the waters and put your reputation and skill level on the line, you'll never learn where you stand. If you're a nature photographer, send out your work to calendar companies, if you like making portraits, put together flyers and brochures and distribute them to your target audience. Church groups are great as are high schools if you want to get into photographing seniors. Enter contests with the photos you feel represent your best work. If you don't win, ask the jurors why your images weren't chosen. If you can't accept the answer or the rejection, you may not be ready to move beyond the hobby. Visit local galleries with your portfolio to see if the curators want to hang your photos. You'll also need to advertise and this doesn't come cheap. If you want to make money, you need to spend some.
Associate yourself with other photographers. This may sound counter productive as they are competition, but in actuality, if you join the right organizations, you'll find it's a huge benefit. Local camera clubs are filled with enthusiastic photographers who, for the most part, are readily willing to share what they know. Additionally, the dues are cheap, the diversity of knowledge is vast, and you'll learn a lot. There are other international organizations that are good, but lack the weekly or monthly gatherings of a camera club. Look into the Photographic Society of America (PSA), The North American Nature Photographers Association (NANPA), or American Society of Media Photographers (ASMP).
My Evolution in Synopsis: I took photos when I was young / I became the family photographer / I bought my first 35mm camera / I took a college course in B&W and became hooked / I joined a camera club / I was trained by a wedding photographer / I photographed many weddings for him, another studio, and myself / I branched out into nature photography / I submitted my images to calendar and greeting card companies and learned to accept rejection and occasional acceptances / The acceptances motivated me / I branched out to photographing more nature subjects / I spent as many hours working on establishing my photography business as I did on my day job / I spent many nights sleeping just a few hours / I finally made a commitment to move beyond the hobby / it worked as I'm now living my dream - you can too!
Visit www.russburdenphotography.com for information about his nature photography tours.