How to become a professional photographer

This blog post is inspired by a You Tube video I watched recently. I had stumbled upon Steven Pressfield's  work on "Turning Pro" while listening to a podcast. I learned that he wrote a book about it and I was intrigued by this, so Google came to the rescue and led me to the video. 

I haven't read his book. Simply because for the last few years, actually since becoming a mum, I keep falling asleep as soon as I start reading a book. No kidding, it has nothing to do with the content, I just find it so relaxing, that I nod off every time. It's quite annoying actually, yet luckily I have discovered the joy of listening to Ted talks, audiobooks etc while driving or doing chores. This does not seem to make me fall asleep - thankfully! 

Ok back to the blog...

Steven Pressfield is a writer, not a photographer, yet his ideas are applicable to all creatives. Oh yes, I think all photographers  are "Creatives". 

There continues to be an argument about whether or not photography is art. Nowadays I think it certainly is art. At first I didn't quite believe that it is worthy of as much respect and admiration, as an oil painting or a beautiful sculpture. I thought, that spending a long time on creating a piece of art, would give it greater worth. When I created a shot at a shutter speed of 1/500 second and spent 20 minutes on post production editing, it seemed a little inferior to someone spending weeks on a painting.


I have changed my opinion on this. I now know, that a well executed shot can captivate people, make them feel a whole array of emotions and even inspire them. I now believe, that it is the onlooker's engagement in combination with the artist's passion, which gives the creation meaning and value, not the time spent to create it. 


This leads me back to subject of this blog - what makes someone a professional photographer? 

While studying my "Diploma in Professional Photography", I did not think I had it in me to ever be a "Pro". The title of the course actually put me off at first. Even when I wrote my last assignment - which is all about creating a business plan - I told my tutor, that this really was just a hypothetical piece as I had no intention of going "pro".  

The business plan I wrote back then definitely did not come true, but I was led down another path and I now proudly call myself a 'photographer' when people ask me what I do.  Ok, I have to admit, I do still tell people that I used to be a vet, if the conversation goes on for a while. Yet I have noticed that I do this less frequently now and my need to cling on to my previous profession is less pronounced. My self-respect seems well catered for by my new profession now . :) 

So what happened?

My first 'issue' with the term 'pro photographer' was, that I interpreted it to mean, that a pro's income is solely generated by photography. When I first started out, I was still working as a part time vet and I never thought I could make as much money as a photographer, as I was making as a vet. Hence I could never be a 'pro'. I was stuck in the belief that  work = money. 

Photography had something else in mind for me though and it kept on working on me. I fell in love with it. I spent more and more time going out to take photos, scheduling shoots, spending hours teaching myself how to edit in Lightroom and playing  with my images. A lot of the self directed studying took place while commuting to my real job and my nights were spent in front of the computer rather than the TV. 

Little did I know, that I was actually in the process of changing vocation. See, what was happening was, that while I thought I was enjoying and fine tuning a lovely hobby, photography was gently turning me into a "pro". Back then, my opinion of what it meant to be a professional, was based on many years in academia and having a very well defined career. Being a "creative" was just not a real 'job' to me. I was blocked by pre-conceptions.

Luckily Photography awakened my creative side and it wanted to be noticed! It had to fight hard to make me realise, that it is okay to change, to let go of a job that defined me for so many years and to embrace my new passion. Photography is powerful on many levels!

I learned that going 'pro' actually had nothing to do with money when your 'work' is to create a piece of art ( be it a painting, a book or a photograph).

When a creative goes 'pro' they need to treat their work like a job, even if they don't get paid for it. They need to spend hours and hours on it, schedule their day around it and let it play a major role in their life. It takes commitment and a willingness to fail and start again. It isn't a touchy feely or ill defined profession (which I thought it was). Actually it can be quite brutal, because you are much more vulnerable. You open yourself up to the unknown, when you let others see your art . To me it is much more scary compared to working in a clearly defined and scientific job for example. Hence I continued to hide behind the 'just a hobby' shield for quite some time. 

I guess the day when hubby said to me : "You are getting a bit obsessed with your photography", was the day when I turned 'pro' .....I just didn't know it yet. The realisation came a little later  when people were happy to pay me for it and I decided to stop working as a vet and to focus on building a photography business. It seems to be true, that if you are passionate about something and become devoted to it, the traditional reward i.e. money, seems to follow as well. A consequence rather than a priority. I like that. 


Steve Pressfield expresses the transformation from amateur to pro much more eloquently and hence I will leave you with a quote from his website STEVE PRESSFIELD

His words offered much needed clarity to me. I hope they help you too, if you are considering letting your creativity become you 'work'.



When we turn pro, we give up a life that we may have become extremely comfortable with. We give up a self that we have come to identify with and to call our own.



The passage from amateur to professional is often achieved via an interior odyssey whose trials are survived only at great cost, emotionally, psychologically and spiritually. We pass through a membrane when we turn pro. It’s messy and it’s scary. We tread in blood when we turn pro.



What we get when we turn pro is we find our power. We find our will and our voice and we find our self-respect. We become who we always were but had, until then, been afraid to embrace and live out."

Sandra Macheroux