Got a note the other day from an aspiring photographer. He wanted to know what it takes to become a pro. I thought–very pragmatically–that it’s really not complicated. HARD maybe, but complicated, no. And this applies to so many FILL-IN-THE-BLANK things you aspire to be:
1. Declare yourself as that thing. That’s what you ARE in life. You’re not a student, not a finance-guy-slash-part-time-photographer, not a part time anything. You’re a photographer, or entrepreneur, or chef, or fill-in-the-blank. Let it be known.
2. Be in business. Make it real. Get a business bank account, business license (city + county), business cards. Business. Otherwise it’s a hobby.
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3. Read every book you can find at the library or online about the thing you want to do. Understand the rules. Because if you fail at the business part, if you can’t SUSTAIN this business, you’re not a pro. You’re unemployed, or back to part-time this or that. And back to step 1 you go again…wanting to be a pro. NOW then, if read these books and they make sense, and they teach you how to run the books and land the gigs…you gotta then break some of the rules you read in these books. And YOU choose which are the right ones to break. You’ll be right 50% of the time, you just won’t know which 50% until after you’ve taken the leap. Action is the only thing that matters.
4. In order to be the noun, do the verb. Do that thing everyday and share your work, hustle, and promote it like mad. For clients and for yourself. Get creative as all hell. Find YOUR voice through creating more than you thought was possible. Aim to be different, not better than everybody else. Be brutal in judging your own work. Put forward only your best work around the the things you actually want to to do. Break all the rules here too. And again, you’ll be mistaken 50% of the time, but you gotta take your swings to hit anything at all. Don’t forget, the DOING is the only thing that matters here too. What you THINK is nice, but it counts for zilch, zero, nada. Action wins.
Now, if you got this far and you’re thinking – Chase, it is a bunch of fluff…. Well, of course. Here’s the truth: This isn’t really about how to become a pro. It’s about how to commit to something.
There are a zillion steps to becoming a pro. Days, weeks, years of work on the craft. But the #1 thing I see absent in people who SAY they want it….it a lack of commitment – a lack of those few last steps to get them over the line, get them off their asses, off the couch, off the internet where people hide behind fake names where they pretend they’ve DONE it, that they are a pro, or have even begun to commit… This is usually because of fear.
Fear that you won’t be able to support yourself and MAKE A LIVING – WHICH IS WHAT IT MEANS TO BE A PROFESSIONAL. The reality is that you probably either want to become a pro and still need to do the following things; or you don’t want it.
In the former case – that you DO want to become a pro and – then this episode is a ‘you can do this / get off your ass’ message to you. In the latter case – the case of not actually wanting it — then there’s no need to pretend. Maybe it’s just a hobby or an side-interest and that’s okay too.
But if you’re serious, start with one of the hardest things — and that’s point #1: Start by calling yourself a pro in front of your friends and your parents or whomever you come across. Then start. One foot in front of the other.
Skip step 2, and change the title to “How to become a photographer”… not “pro photographer”.
Only a blind idiot would try to become a full-time professional photographer today. Might as well work hard (with true passion!) to be the world’s best Pony Express rider, or a damn good typewriter salesman.
You missed the boat. It’s already sailed. Pro photography is dying.
It’s okay if you disagree with me, but you’d be wrong.
There is a sixth step which is not easy, and that is having or developing the talent to take photographs that people are willing to pay for. I really don’t care for the notion that it easy to accomplish these goals. While the five Chase mentions are certainly key elements, one still has to work very hard to implement all of them.