How did you get started as a full-time photographer? (with a little personal background)

dwarven

EOS 80D
Dec 12, 2019
117
141
I know there must be many full time pros here, and I was just wondering how you got started. I shot film for several years as a side hobby during high school and college with my trusty old AE-1 Program until I accidentally left it out in the rain one day. I had made up my mind to fix it, or replace it with a new camera, but life happened and I slowly fell out of photography.

Fast forward a few years and I decided to pick up a Nikon D7500 kit from Costco in a spur of the moment decision almost a year ago. I'm glad I did, because I've hardly put my camera down since. I traded it in for an EOS R after trying it out at Best Buy, despite the salesman's best attempts to get me to buy an a7 III.

Going from film to DSLR to mirrorless in such a short period has given me a wild perspective on the progression of camera technology. I thought I'd be a DSLR holdout until the end of time, but mirrorless has won me over completely, and I don't expect to ever drop the hobby again.

My current job is decent, but making money with photography would be amazing. It seems like the market is shrinking as non-photographers see their phones as "good enough". Do any seasoned veterans have any advice? My primary interest is wildlife photography, especially birds, but I know that's probably even harder to make money in than other fields. Should I go the typical wedding/event route?

Thank you!
 

old-pr-pix

EOS 7D MK II
Dec 26, 2011
410
54
Going the route of full-time photographer takes real commitment! I was always conflicted by two opposing philosophies: "Do a job you love and you will never be forced to work a day in your life" vs. "The best way to ruin a perfectly wonderful hobby is to turn it into work". For years I supported myself thru photography but then I decided I could make more money other ways. Still, I always looked for opportunities to incorporate photography in my daily job such as shooting product and presentation material myself or enlisting other pros. Now retired, I have the luxury to pick and choose event assignments which I usually do "pro bono" for local non-profits.

Over the years the business of photography has changed dramatically. Technology has removed many of the technical aspects that were barriers to entry for some. Digital capture and electronic publication have simultaneously expanded the demand for images while allowing anyone with a smartphone to become a "photographer." Many long-term pros I knew watched their revenue decline on several fronts. Stock sales dropped from real dollars to mere cents. Newspapers dropped freelancers and began expecting their 'reporters' to shoot photos and video. Wedding pros who lived off print sales realized that clients only wanted a disc they could print themselves at Costco. Anxious new-comers to the business forced day rates to drop as they often undercut established pros. Some friends turned to offering seminars and workshops - a stop-gap move that simply trained more future competition.

Not to throw a wet blanket on your ambitions, just to alert you to the realities that lie ahead. There will always be a chance for new talent to emerge. Just be sure you create a realistic business plan for yourself. Many go the wedding route initially because it is something they can do on weekends while retaining a full-time job. A good friend of mine did that for years building up to doing roughly 75 weddings a year. Of course he had almost no personal time following that schedule.
 
  • Like
Reactions: dwarven

dwarven

EOS 80D
Dec 12, 2019
117
141
Going the route of full-time photographer takes real commitment! I was always conflicted by two opposing philosophies: "Do a job you love and you will never be forced to work a day in your life" vs. "The best way to ruin a perfectly wonderful hobby is to turn it into work". For years I supported myself thru photography but then I decided I could make more money other ways. Still, I always looked for opportunities to incorporate photography in my daily job such as shooting product and presentation material myself or enlisting other pros. Now retired, I have the luxury to pick and choose event assignments which I usually do "pro bono" for local non-profits.

Over the years the business of photography has changed dramatically. Technology has removed many of the technical aspects that were barriers to entry for some. Digital capture and electronic publication have simultaneously expanded the demand for images while allowing anyone with a smartphone to become a "photographer." Many long-term pros I knew watched their revenue decline on several fronts. Stock sales dropped from real dollars to mere cents. Newspapers dropped freelancers and began expecting their 'reporters' to shoot photos and video. Wedding pros who lived off print sales realized that clients only wanted a disc they could print themselves at Costco. Anxious new-comers to the business forced day rates to drop as they often undercut established pros. Some friends turned to offering seminars and workshops - a stop-gap move that simply trained more future competition.

Not to throw a wet blanket on your ambitions, just to alert you to the realities that lie ahead. There will always be a chance for new talent to emerge. Just be sure you create a realistic business plan for yourself. Many go the wedding route initially because it is something they can do on weekends while retaining a full-time job. A good friend of mine did that for years building up to doing roughly 75 weddings a year. Of course he had almost no personal time following that schedule.
That was very insightful, thank you.
 

privatebydesign

Would you take advice from a cartoons stuffed toy?
Jan 29, 2011
8,606
2,181
120
I've thought about this for a few days and there is a lot to say, but to boil it down I'd say how much do you need to earn and how good are you at self promotion?

Bird photography is an extreme niche and unless you have a lot of outstanding images already and have a personality and self promotional skills I think it would be very tough to make a living doing it. If you push to specialize in a field you are not enthusiastic in then it has nothing to do with how good a photographer you are it is all down to how good a businessman you are.

Best advice is take a business course to plan and formulate all the 'other' stuff involved in being self employed. It seems most people making a living from 'nature photography' are mixing their income streams with YouTube channels, merchandise, post processing preset packs, tours, workshops, lessons, calendars, a few print sales, and boosting their profiles on various social media platforms.
 

Sporgon

5% of gear used 95% of the time
Bird photography is an extreme niche and unless you have a lot of outstanding images already and have a personality and self promotional skills I think it would be very tough to make a living doing it
Private’s still sugar coating it !
I think the vast majority of images today that actually bring in a worthwhile income are those involving people, one way or another, and then everything Private’s said about charisma and self promotion are bang on the mark.
 
  • Like
Reactions: dwarven and Dantana