Tips on How to become an Ace Pro Photographer!

Michael Freeman @ work. Copyright Benard Quek.

People often ask what it takes to go professional as a photographer. Is there some skill or technique required for something which you need to have to be a Pro? The low down on the matter is there is a little bit of both but you'd be surprised how little technical skill goes into it. 

When I was engaged as a DSLR consultant to Sony Asia Pacific, I knew very little about digital technology. I had of course been shooting with a Nikon 5700, 5 megapixel camera at that point of time but I didn't really care about what made it tick. What I could do was to take a good picture and that was what counted. Everything else was picked up over the years and my understanding of the technology that went into it grew by leaps and bounds. 

Having had the chance to work with so many professionals, you will become jaded. They seem to have all the luck in the world in getting paid for what they love doing. But the fact of the matter is that they have to sell themselves more than that lemonade stand on a hot summer's day. They pay more attention to creating opportunities for themselves than just sitting in the office waiting for people to call them up for a gig. That's what sets them apart from others. 

So if you want to set up a business being a photographer for hire. Here are some talents you must ante up on. 

#1 Run like an Entrepreneur

Its about the business stoopid! Never for one buy into the hogwash that you have to be this or that but business acumen is a very important part of the equation. You cannot succeed in a business without being business minded. Professional Photography is not about the art but your ability to run a business, taking into account things like cost control, marketing, and business sustainability. The business process is 90 percent of being Pro. The remaining 10 percent is really about the photography.

#2 Learn to be a People Person

In a service type industry, you need to be a people person to gain their trust. It makes no sense if you are hated even by your dog and are argumentative on photo briefs. It's a bit like politicians, who need to win people over for the vote. The things you say, your demeanor, actions and slick presentation will earn you enough likes to enjoy a long term business relationship. Remember that there is always a cheaper photographer out there who can steal your business so it does not matter how much is your running cost versus charges but how you lock your customer into your service portfolio. 

#3 Be a capable photographer

Watch the words I use, be capable....not excellent, that's because it doesn't take a lot to know what angle is best or how to frame a subject. Everything these days is automatic, from ISO setting and White Balance. If you fuck up and have a spiffy full frame camera, you can correct those mistakes on Adobe Lightroom and even claw back up to 2 stops of lost dynamic range using RAW files. To be capable is knowing where to place your subjects in a frame and how best to enhance that subject in a scene. Some photographers even use Photoshop to blend in a blurred background when their own cameras are incapable of performing that sort of 'bokeh'. For me that's what counts as creative as you make use of what you have and achieve a similar effect without spending a bomb on a kidney busting Leica lens. 

Digital Photography is Ultimately a Simple Process

Here is another thing the Pros don't tell you. In the digital age, all you need to do is press the shutter button. This means you have more time to concentrate and focus your mind on how to compose a picture and do it well. Everything is taken care of when you set your camera on auto. It can even calculate backlight issue and use an enhanced exposure just for that one scene. If you don't like what you get on the LCD screen, you can always take a step back and take another one to correct the first shot you made. Your mistakes are easily correctable. 

Creativity is just another means to express yourself and that can be staged for better effect. Don't like it? Take a moment to change it. Everything you want to do better in the next frame can be achieved. In any business, your success depends on you as an entrepreneur, that same rule applies to a photography business. How you lead, communicate and engage your clients determines your success. 

Why Digital is Easy

Digital photographers these days don't even need to shoot on location as they can shoot different objects & backgrounds separately and combine them into a finished picture using Photoshop. So all you need to do is compose the best possible picture to get it right and that's a hell of a lot easier than say in the analogue age. 

In film photography. There are so many things to worry about. 

White Balance was a huge concern when you get it wrong. In capture, the film has to be corrected by using a lens filter. ISO/ASA is fixed too. You do not go postal and select any ISO you want as the film ASA speed is fixed. You can push the film but a few stops by shooting it at a higher or lower ASA but not all films can handle it that way. Some will show more grain while others hold up to the development process better. Then you have the film stocks that don't handle dynamic range as well you might like. This is something you have to learn about and the idiosyncrasies of each film type has to be remembered. 

Today, anyone with an iPhone can shoot a good picture. In daylight, it looks fabulous to the point people can't tell the difference if it was shot on a full frame camera. That's why Apple can flaunt its iPhone camera capabilities to billboard size.

But this is not to say you should go pro with an iPhone in tow but that's not to say you should always start with a full frame camera. 

Studio gear is cheap. Studio lighting is even cheaper now than ever. I use to lament the cost of having studio strobes but these days, you can kit yourself out for less than US$1K. That's how cheap it has gotten over the years. 

You don't need a full frame DSLR to shoot something like this

Cheap strobes that are not color accurate can still be corrected in post production in Adobe Lightroom. It really does not matter! 

No money for strobes? No problem. Borrow those Tungsten lights for outdoor use and you're on your way to shooting studio work. 

There are many niches in Photography, but you have to learn to become a jack of all trades before you can call yourself capable. In the old days, there were master photographers who shot on those huge Linhof and Sinar cameras. Today, a master photographer is routinely used and abused term to mean you just shoot photos for a living. 

So don't get caught up with the jargon and be a good photographer. Ante up on those business skills and you can count yourself to be among those who shoot pictures for a living. 

A bad day for photography as it was cloudy, learn to enhance and edit your image to save the day!