What It Really Takes to Go From Hobby Photographer to Full-Time Professional

PIN - What it Really TakesBack before I launched my professional photography career, I would wonder what it really took to go professional.

I knew my skill and technique were improving, and I knew I was putting in the work to educate myself on business and photography…

…But when I looked around at already established, successful photographers, it was overwhelming to think about what they must have done to get there.

I wondered if that could ever be me. I thought that maybe they had some sort of advantage that made it easier for them to get there. Maybe it was a family business that they were lucky enough to have been born into.

I didn’t have a formal photography degree, or a lot of money to spend to start a business. Could I ever really make it happen?

Does this sound familiar at all?

After beginning Hobby to Pro, I’ve heard from a lot of our readers that they are experiencing the same fears and mental barriers that I did in the beginning.

I know it was helpful for me to study photographers who were already successful, and to try and understand their systems.

So today, I’d like to share some behind-the-scenes info about what I did to get here so that you can understand just how possible it is for you to do the same!

Then, Tuesday, March 3, I’ll be opening enrollment for our new flagship course, Passion to Profits – created to provide you with the step-by-step road-map to get you from hobby to pro photographer.

Stop comparing yourself to people in other stages of the process

It’s really easy to look at someone else’s success and wonder why they are lucky enough to be where they are now. Honestly, luck probably had little to do with it.

If you’re still in the hobby phase and you’re comparing yourself with a million dollar studio that has been around for 10+ years, you aren’t making a fair comparison!

Instead, compare what they did while THEY were still hobbyists in order to get, say, their first client.

We ALL had to start somewhere! Nobody is born with a steady stream of paying photography clients.

For example, my business makes six figures per year now, but when I started, my first clients were my own daughters.

Yep! The first photographs in my new portfolio were of my daughters.

I had decided that I wanted to be known for children’s portraiture (see the last article on finding your niche if you haven’t yet), and my daughters were the most obvious and easy to find models!

Then what? I knew that my daughters couldn’t be the only images in my portfolio.

I was nervous about showing my work to friends and family, but I decided the next lowest hanging fruit was to do some work for friends.

I started showing the portraits to my daughters’ friends parents, and they loved them. Soon, I had these local parents coming to my newly setup home basement studio for their first portraits.

I gave them the portraits at cost in exchange for allowing me to use the photos to build my portfolio. Just like that, I had earned my first dollars with my photography.

I wasn’t sure how I was going to go from making a small amount of money photographing friends to running a full-time studio

I realized that if friends were willing to pay for my work, there must be others in the community that would also be interested…

…I just couldn’t figure out how to scale to that level yet.

The solution came in the form of a simple action…

…asking local businesses for work!

As I mentioned in the last article, I decided to (terrifyingly, at first!) reach out to local preschools and day-cares to inquire about their need for a school photographer.

And to my own shock, one school said “yes!”

Just like that, I was in business, with real customers, for real money.

As I began to have some of these preschoolers parents call about booking a full session, I began slowly raising my prices and growing my portfolio.

Before I knew it, I was running my home studio full-time.

As I started to scale my business, I learned a few things:

  • The more specific I became about what my specialty was, the more new clients were interested in working with me.
  • Customers were looking for more than just photos. They wanted someone to take them through an experience – from helping their children relax and have fun in front of the camera, from getting their children all dressed up, to helping them choose the right final images to suit their walls.
  • Clients were willing to pay quite a bit more for a really involved and relaxed experience.

By now, people were starting to notice my work in the community. I no longer had to go out and book clients one-by-one – they were starting to call me!

That feeling is like no other – knowing that people have searched for the right photographer and ended up choosing you.

Now, at this point, you may have quite a few thoughts running through your head.

Thoughts that are trying to hold you back from reaching your goals yourself, like:

  • “I don’t know how I’m going to find enough time to start my own business!”
  • “I really don’t know if I’m ready. I should wait until I’m sure.”
  • “I’m not a business expert. I don’t know anything about running a business! There’s no way I could make it work.”
  • “I wouldn’t even know what to say if they called me.”

These thoughts are totally normal and expected.

But, for those who are willing to take action and let go of these thoughts, there is an amazing career and life waiting for you.

Save years of research, trial and error and get your business off the ground!

When I first started out, I invested in local college courses, expensive seminars and conferences, and spent hours upon hours reading and researching in order to figure out how to launch my business.

At the time, there was no one resource that laid out all of the steps in order and instructed exactly what to do in order to get my business going right away.

But I want you to have that shortcut that I only dreamed about. I’ve put together everything I’ve learned in my close to 20 years as a photographer and made a process that’s as easy possibly to follow.

I want you to have your dream job…

…I want you to be able to wake up each morning and look forward to jumping out of bed so that you can get to work on your passion.

Maybe for you, the dream is to own a full time studio. Or maybe you just want to make extra money with your camera on the weekends. Both are possible!

I want for you to be able to support your family by doing what you love, and to have enough time and money to spend on your other hobbies, interests and life goals.

If you want to go through this process for yourself and get your own business off the ground, I’m going to be opening our new course on Tuesday that will take you through doing just that.

You CAN be the next photography business owner. You CAN be successful, even if you have no prior business knowledge or think that your market is already too saturated.

Click here to learn more!

Your Turn!

In the comments below, I’d love to hear from you – what is the #1 question you have about starting a photography business?

  • April Dexter

    The business plan is very over whelming. I am to the point where I want to jump into my passion full time but need a visual plan to see and one to get a microloan for start up. Any advise would be great

  • Britni Johnson

    I have read and researched as well!!! One thing that I have read over and over is to find your niche when it comes to what type of photography. I have done engagement, bridal, wedding, maternity, and children. I love it all!!! I would love to do some newborn work as well!! So, my question is do you have to have a niche?

  • Hi Britni, great question! Yes, I 100% advise choosing a niche. However, this doesn’t mean that you don’t have to do other areas that you love! Check out our last post, it goes into detail on this: http://hobbytoprophoto.com/the-biggest-reason-why-most-new-photography-businesses-fail/

  • yvonne

    I have already taken the steps to start the practice to pro portfolio building process with friends. (That was a mouthful). Though i have had some disappointing comments, i have also received some great support and love for my work.
    I had already been in love with photography as a whole but only shooting for -4yrs. now. In this time I’ve known I’m wanting my own red-room (not sure if that’s possible anymore with tech. these days). I only ever want to continue to love doing any pic with fun and never just serious.
    I have been procrastinating the start of building my website.
    I am afraid of not knowing how to set prices.
    I am not sure how to know if i want to shoot adults, kids, families, etc.
    I am about to purchase my first non-phone camera and i am nervous but excited to learn that process.
    I don’t know if i need equipment or if i can just shoot and edit as i know from apps and use props as i want.

  • Thank you for sharing, Yvonne. The course we’re releasing tomorrow will answer every one of these questions and more! If you’d like somewhere to get started, definitely check out our service pricing series – that will guide you through setting prices. Here’s the link to Part 1 of that – hope that helps!

  • Hi April, I fully understand the overwhelm. It is a lot to tackle! We don’t currently have any articles on micro loans, but if you check out the other articles from this series those may be able to help you get focused and find a place to start.

  • Ron

    I appreciate your webinar, very helpful indeed!! I’m doing the work to
    re-launch my business, more focused. A website for Business/commercial,
    and one for weddings. Eventually though, my true passion is
    Beauty/Fashion photography that i want to be into more, but the other 2
    categories pay the bills. But for me its a confidence factor, just
    believing its all possible. I’m still doing part time jobs to supplement
    my income, but Im extremely unhappy, I want to run fast and hard after
    this dream… Its hard to stick to just one specialty though, I’m hoping
    having dedicated website/businesses it will not be confusing to
    specific clients. What is your opinion on this approach? thanks…

  • Vickie Earls

    I think the biggest thing that is stopping me from launching my business right now is the legal contracts and licenses and tax ID.

    I don’t have a fancy camera either, it’s just a small Nikon Coolpix and I know I will have people questioning what kind of pro photos can come from that. Like I said before, it’s not the cost of the camera, it’s what you can do with it that makes the difference. I fight whether I should wait til I get money saved for a new camera or just jump!