Secrets to becoming a successful Paid Photographer


This is probably one of the most sought after topics, is there a secret to becoming a photographer who is going to be paid for his work.

These days, I don't use terms like professional photographer. To me, the pro suffix does not help you in the work space. As a budding photographer hoping to make money, there is no other way to establish yourself unless you granted all your clients sexual favors.

Of course there are.... but you have to learn the tricks of the trade, but before we go into that, let's understand one thing. Digital photography has levelled the playing field. You are now competing with both wannabes and amateur photographers who shoot in their spare time. What makes you stand out these days is not how you capture a photo but rather on how you maintain a business relationship with future and existing clients. So if you talk sweet, are charming, or hugely entertaining to have around for company, that is a BIG plus. Being kind also helps but being generous is not.

#1 Barter Trade than give a Free Service

Many times, people will ask you to shoot for peanuts, or for free. Your charming disposition will allow you to twist that into a paid assignment if you are willing to barter. So instead of having to give your services away for free, think of ways to get back something.

Receiving vouchers for free meals at restaurants, free car wash services, or a year's worth of baby diapers isn't as bad as it sounds. These vouchers can then be used creatively to market your services to others. Take the diapers, present it as a gift for the first couple to sign up for a paid wedding photographer session. Some might take it in jest but others will see the practical use for them.

#2 Ante up on your Photoshop Skills

Photoshop is a much abused word. Affinity Photo is the next killer app that cost next to nothing compared to the huge fees you have to pay but regardless of what app you use. Make sure you learn how to use them. By showing off the digital artist in you, clients will be so damn impressed that they would give you more work.

No one hires a photographer because he's a photographer. Digital imaging has changed the way things are being done and clients are not stupid. To pay you for something that they feel any one with Photoshop can do more cheaply is silly.

The case in point was at one stage, I realize that people were not thinking out of the box. There was a advertising agency who wanted to shoot a 4WD splashing its way through a jungle scene. In my mind, I knew this can already be done using photoshop and a green screen of a car with model actors. The composite technique used in SFX can be applied here and suddenly, everything is possible. You don't even need a real car in a studio to shoot.

Which is the fake picture and which is the shopped picture?

Photoshop can be use to change colors, add effects and event blend in logos and pictures if required and your skills to do this is what sets you apart from the rest of the photographers. No digital photographer can ever claim to be just another photographer in this day and age and if you do, you're out of your league. A good desktop computer is also crucial for Photoshop work and if you don't have money to buy one, then you've lucked out. Any average photographer with great photoshop skills will make a killing in the market. 

So what's there to stop you from making a Ferrari poster with a wedding couple in front of it? Composite a toy Ferrari in the background. It all boils down to your digital skills. Still image photography is never about going on location to shoot. It's about knowing how to shoot a composite photo cheaply.

#3 Use Social Media for Promotion

When you have time, and I am sure photographers these days don't have a torrent of clients booking them up, use social media to keep people informed of what you have been up photography.

Instagram, Pinterest or G+ is a good place to start as you post regularly from your smartphone. The reason for this is simple. A post a day will tell clients you are actively engaging an audience, it shows dedication and passion, just like a regular blog post. You earn respect even though you are posting these photos while you play poker shark at a local game just to make ends meet. Self promotion, however narcissistic, is the way forward. Never assume that your talents speak louder than words.

Even setting up a website for an event is not going to take you much time as the templates are all there for you to use to get one up quickly. That said, why can't you offer that as a service as well? Both and offer limited free hosting and you only need one scrollable an and responsive page to start the site. No brainer to learn too. For that you can charge and yes, tell them your social savvy.

Whatever you do, please do not use Facebook. It's a money pit you fall into that gives you very little in return.

#4 Engage your Clients

So you are now on social media, but do your clients know that? Blogging is not for everyone. Many photographers can't write and I don't expect you to but having a photo feed on Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest or G+ is something your can tell your clients about. Look them up and add them to your network. It helps to build a following, however small at first, will be worth your day and time. Feature the work you had with them in the stream, and promote that with a hashtag or twitter follow.

Blogging on subjects that are not of interest to clients is a complete waste of time. Remember clients do not want to read your blog on camera performance or to hear how hard it is to do digital manipulation on images. They want to see your work flow from day to day. They want to see a portfolio of work and that doesn't have to mean actual photos you took but rather what you can do with them.

Don't try to educate them to on how much you are worth. These days, clients pay you if they like you...a lot, or next to nothing if they think you're a one off photographer. It is always a mistake to tell clients you're worth more than what they think you are worth. That is like telling them they are stupid in the face. If they want you to take on an assignment for far too low a renumeration, then tell them you can only perform to such a level and compromise or barter for the rest of the fees. Your personal charisma will have to do most of the leg work as running a photographic service is like running any other business, you need business acumen and talent. It's far less to do with your abilities as a photographer but more as a business person. 

#5 Leverage on Awards

Shooting pictures and submit them for competition with the intention to compete and win. When you win an award, that's what makes you stand out from the rest of the crowd. Milk that award for everything that it is worth including putting it on your website, calling card and stickers.

I wish I won one of these....

Awards are technically meaningless if you do not exploit it to your benefit. Clients prefer to have an award winning photographer at their kids birthday party than to have a nobody with a camera at that same party. Remember, your competitor can beat you in terms of price but for that award you carry, you can beat him at their game.

This is the only way to protect your turf from other wannabes who can undermine your worth. So remember to steal, beg, and buy over an award if possible. It will save you from a heap of problems. 


The digital age has depreciated the value of photography to the point that it's not your time but their time that matters. If you can't accept the brief, then you should refuse. You can also accept the brief but fulfil them creatively through digital manipulation.

Models can be digitally manipulated from royalty free stock photos to suit a scene of your client's choice. What they pay for is not the actual model hire and photo shoot. Wedding photography can be faked the same way by shooting the couple with a blue screen and dumping a location background. Composite photography techniques are all the rage in SFX movies so why not do that at home?

Digital is the way out of the mess you will get into by promising too much. Commercial Photography isn't about your photography skills these days but on your ability to fulfill a brief in the best possible way within a budget.

When the client has a much lower budget, then it is time to be candid with them without offending them.

Many professional photographers would like to be hired as photographers than digital artist. I am afraid that is not possible in this day and age. Those two go hand in hand as one. If you can do it, then better skip being a pro.