7 Desirable Skills Every Professional Photographer Needs

By Anna Ortiz on March 30, 2020

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A career in photography may seem like a far-off dream. People typically think that creative careers are out of reach but that’s not always an accurate depiction. Images are more in demand as businesses turn to digital methods of delivery. Professional photographs are highly prized for web design, sales, marketing, and for personal uses such as social events and family portraits. There are many ways to earn a living as a professional photographer.

Today’s phones have the capacity to take great pictures and Instagram is full of images by novice users. But that doesn’t negate the need for professional photographers with the experience and skills to develop excellent images. The field, however, is relatively competitive. Because so many people would enjoy this type of creative career, it’s important that you hone the skills necessary to succeed.

There are several types of careers for photographers. You might specialize in artistic photography, product images, or portrait photography, just to name a few possible career paths. For each of these fields, there are business and technical skills you should learn and master. In this list, we’ll cover some qualities you may need, no matter which type of photography you’d like to do.

1. Technical Skill with Equipment

It should go without saying but before you can hope to build a career, first you must master the skills necessary for the trade. Professional photographers need to understand their equipment and how to use it effectively. Some photographers learn on the job, such as those who work at portrait studios. Many take classes during high school and college or take private classes to master the camera and different types of equipment. Remember that this is a life-long process. As new equipment comes to market, good photographers will take the initiative to learn how to use updated devices and applications.

2. Image Software and Applications

Photography is not only about taking the photo. Most images are enhanced or edited using sophisticated editing software. There are a number of applications and programs that professional photographers use in order to filter and edit images to finalize for print. Many photographers regularly update their knowledge on new software in order to stay up to date in using the latest techniques.

3. Independent Research on Market

There are different industries and areas where photographers can build a business or career. It’s up to the individual to decide which type of photography they would like to specialize in. This can be confusing and you don’t want to settle for something you won’t enjoy. It’s important to be honest with yourself about the subjects you’d like to work with and the type of work you’d like to do. It’s also important that you realistically understand the mode of business and possible income available. For instance, studio photography often pays a relatively low wage. However, many professionals who enjoy working with people will still love this career path and there is room for increased income if you open your own studio or enhance your client base with specialty photography options. The important thing to note is that photography isn’t necessarily a linear career. You need to independently decide on your path and undertake the research to successfully enter your field.

4. Autonomy and Creativity

While there are standard techniques you need to learn in photography, there are also many ways you can use your own creativity to enhance images and outcomes. Photographers use many skills to create the images their audience craves. This may simply come from having a good eye at capturing the right frame and lighting. In other cases, it may be about using special techniques, equipment, and applications to put a unique spin on an image. This is where the artistic side of photography comes into play and it’s as important as the technical skills.

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5. Business Acumen

While photography is a creative discipline, making a living with your art is a business. Photographers who are successful take the time to also learn the business side of their industry and are often quite adept at this area of their field. For example, if you work as a freelance photographer, it’s important to treat your work as a business. This means understanding contracts and handling the administrative needs of your business. It may also include marketing, billing, and other essential business functions. Photographers who work for an employer will also find that their career has more growth potential when they take the initiative to learn the business side of their industry.

6. Copyright and Legal Knowledge

In order to protect your work and offer your photography for sale, it’s integral that you understand copyright laws as they pertain to your images. The amount of copyright protection your images enjoy once they’re sold depends on the agreement you make with the client or buyer. This is important for you to understand in order to protect your legal rights but it’s also important for the client who is paying for certain protections when using your images. If you’re selling your own images independently, it’s essential that you understand what rights you’re selling and how to protect those images.

7. Networking and Marketing

In any business, networking is a key skill in order to advance. If you’re running an independent studio, you may need to combine both networking and marketing initiatives. Networking allows you to meet other professionals in your industry and in parallel industries. This can help you branch out to new business endeavors and offers a fulfilling way to meet other professionals on a personal level. Marketing is obviously useful in order to attract more business but it can also be a personal venture, such as connections you might make on social media and through personal appearances.

Each field of photography has distinct needs. Someone who works as a photographer for a large chain store may not leverage some of the skills noted here. On the other hand, someone opening their own studio may need to master all of these skills and far more. Photography is not a linear career path. It’s often a career that changes with the times and new applications. It’s also one that can spur your creativity and keep you engaged, which can be quite enjoyable for many professionals.