Shawn M. Tomlinson

How to Begin a Career in Photography

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The best thing about a career in photography is that you get to do what you enjoy and get paid for it. You get to use your talents and skills in a way most people only dream about. There's hard work, too, but the rewards outweigh them easily. Here are some ideas to get started.

Start taking photos. Lots of photos. This may seem obvious, but photography, like any career, demands a lot of experience. You can get this growing up with a snapshot camera, then move on to more professional equipment, or you can start with the best equipment. It really doesn't matter because it is your talent and ability that will make you a successful photographer, not the equipment you use. So, long before you start looking for a job as a photographer, take lots and lots of photos.

Study your own work. The first thing you need is called composition. This means how you frame or compose your photos. Look at your photos and decide which you like best and which you like least. What do you like about them? The way you compose your photos is your style and very important for your career.

Learn the tools of the trade. First, of course, is the camera. You need to make it extension of yourself. Learn how it works and how you can make it work to your benefit. Next, you need to learn to process your photos. If you're using film, this means using chemicals to develop the film and darkroom skills such as enlarging, dodging, burning and other techniques. If you're using digital media, this means uploading the images to the computer, then sizing, toning and perfecting each photo. Printing can be done by a professional processing lab, or, with a good printer, in your studio. Another tool of the trade is the business end: getting assignments, pricing your work, billing, etc.

Train for your photography career in high school if possible, in college, through continuing education classes or even accredited online schools. Hands-on experience is best, so aside from classes and training, continue to take photos yourself. Set up your own assignments: "Today: Go to the main street of the city and look for interesting scenes, people, buildings or events. Shoot at least 100 photos."

Go to a local photographer with your work and ask if he or she is in the market for an apprentice. While few professions still take on apprentices, photographers do. While it is true that some may not want to train future competitors, others will embrace talented newcomers and hire them. Apprentices often shoot secondary shots at weddings and other events, as well as maintain equipment and prepare everything for the photographer's next shoot. Successful photographers sometimes send apprentices to cover their own assignments if they book too many and they trust you.

Go to the local newspaper and ask about doing an internship. News photographers, especially on smaller newspapers, are rare, so editors may hire you. Or they may give you freelance assignments. While this doesn't pay very much, it will give you lots of experience in a wide variety of shoots that you can use to get a full-time newspaper job or simply to build a better and more diverse portfolio.

Open your own studio. This is the riskiest way to start a photography career, but it also has the biggest payoff. This entails opening a storefront or other physical location and setting up the business. You can market yourself in the yellow pages and online. You can even put up fliers around town to get interest. To run your own photo business, you will need to hustle jobs, especially at first, but your work will market you once you get started.

About the Author

Shawn M. Tomlinson has been a newspaper and magazine writer for more than 28 years. He has written for a variety of publications, from "MacWEEK" and "Macintosh-Aided Design" to "Boys' Life," "Antique Week" and numerous websites. He attended several colleges, majoring in English, writing and theater, and has taught college classes about writing.

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  • Shawn M. Tomlinson