Last year I began posting a series of essays on things I learned about photography that I did not learn in a textbook. Hence the name:

Photography After the Textbook

To date, I’ve written seven or so of these essays and will be reposting them here, on — rewritten for clarity where needed. I will write new ones as well, when the muse strikes me.

Here is the fourth essay I wrote, titled:

Sad girl with camera

You Want to Turn Pro – Don’t

You take great pictures! You’ve been posting them on Facebook and Instagram, all your friends and relatives are telling you that you’re a great photographer and on top of that, one or two of your Facebook friends have said, “You should do this for a living!”


At least not yet. I can guarantee that you’re not ready. You simply don’t have enough clicks under your belt.

Today’s cameras are a wonder of technology – A person can pick up a modern DSLR or mirrorless camera and with very little training, take a great picture. The advanced technology in a modern camera can fool you into believing that you’re better than you are.

Because I teach photography, I’m in a unique situation where I often work with seasoned pros yet also teach those just starting out, with many of them, having aspirations of turning professional.

On average, once a week, I talk face to face with an amateur photographer – someone who thinks they’re ready to turn pro. I look at their portfolio, ask them a few questions, and with the vast majority of them, tell them they’re not ready.

Additionally, at least once a month, I get an email from a “Pro” asking me to help them fix the images from a photoshoot they did that went awry. On the whole, they made fundamental mistakes. Mistakes an experienced pro, or even an advanced amateur, wouldn’t make.

Before you turn pro, make sure you can do, and where applicable, have answers for, the following:

  1. Set your camera to aperture priority mode with an aperture of F8.0 and an ISO of 100. Take yourself and your camera into the closet and close the door. Don’t cheat – make sure there isn’t a light on and that you’re in total darkness. Change the ISO on your camera from 100 to 800. Switch the aperture from F8.0 to F2.8 then to F11. Finally, switch to manual mode with a shutter speed of 1/125th sec, an aperture of F5.6 and an ISO of 400 and add some exposure compensation – 2 stops. I’m sure you understand where I’m going with this. You have to know your camera — so well, that you can change the settings in the dark. As silly as this sounds and as stupid as this make you feel, practice doing this until it becomes second nature. I see too many photographers that don’t know how to use their camera or if they do know their camera cannot change settings efficiently. When you can adjust settings, in the dark, in all of the ways a pro has to adjust his camera, you’re ready for the next phase — that is, go in the closet with your camera and flash then practice all the different flash settings you’ll need to know and need to change quickly during a shoot.
  2. Turn off auto-focus for however long it takes you to take at least one thousand perfectly, manually, focused images. Make sure you practice manually focusing under different lighting conditions, especially in low light. Also, practice on moving subjects. Autofocus often fails in low light and at times can be spotty when tracking a moving target. A pro often ditches autofocus during those conditions and manually focuses. Make sure you can do it.
  3. How are your post-processing skills? You will often have a situation that will require extensive photoshop (or equivalent) work. Your post-processing skills must be on a professional level before you become a professional photographer.
  4. How are your people skills? Do you have problems making small talk? Do you walk into a room and feel that everyone in that room automatically likes you or do you get the vibe that they already hate you? Here’s a hint – if you walk into a room smiling, most people will like you without even knowing you. If you walk in looking sad, nervous or aggravated, you probably won’t get too much happiness, and enthusiasm tossed your way. Exude confidence short of being cocky, always be smiling and always speak positively about everything. Believe it or not, this will not only help your rapport with current clients, but it also gives them the impetus to work with you again and to recommend you to others. Nobody wants to recommend, to a friend, a photographer who is unhappy, nervous or mean. So, be happy, confident and kind. It will further your career.
  5. What do you know about business, taxes, and marketing? Today, marketing is relatively easy because of social media but don’t let that delude you into thinking you don’t need to have a thoughtfully planned marketing approach for your business. Look at what works for other photographers and incorporate their approach into your marketing. I cannot stress how important it is to keep good business records and be abreast of tax laws and most of all, pay your taxes! Lack of business knowledge or ethics, late or no payment of taxes and poor marketing each in themselves will sink your business. Get a good accountant and if needed, have someone help you with social media marketing and above all, do what’s right for your client. Quite frankly I’m tired of reading about photographers who ripped off their clients by taking deposits but not showing up for the shoot or didn’t deliver images when promised or produced work that wasn’t, for lack of a better term, professional. You’re not only a professional photographer, you’re a professional businessperson as well. You cannot be one without the other – at least not successfully.

Once you have all that covered, you’re probably ready to be a professional photographer, but I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention a few more things.

  1. Know that the profession is flooded with people aspiring for the same things as you. Competition is fierce – more than I’ve ever seen in my 40 years clicking the shutter.
  2. You will make mistakes. All of us do, so accept that fact from the get-go with the mindset that you’re going to minimize mistakes by being overwhelmingly prepared, and if and when an issue occurs, you will do everything it takes to correct it.
  3. Make sure you’re having fun. Unfortunately, I’ve seen talented amateurs turn pro but lose their passion because of the demands of the profession. Many of them end up giving up photography altogether, and to me, that’s sad. Your pictures have the ability to bring beauty and joy into our world. That is a gift. Never give that up.