How to become a professional photographer – a career guide

Photography is counted as a skilled profession that involves creativity and talent. There are professional courses in photography that enthusiasts can pursue. Professional photography courses opens doors to different avenues in the field. Take a look at the various skills that a photgrapher needs and where and how these can be mastered.

The whole concept of photography has changed in recent times. Photography is no longer limited to aiming and shooting. A photographer today needs to have an eye for precession and detailing, and a knack for creating and capturing, the right moments. Photography has become an art that requires special skills.

Here is rundown on all that you need to know about professional photography if you're thinking of it as a career.

Different genres of photography

There is a whole gamut of photography styles that can be taken up as a career. But, I am going to touch upon the most popular of these.

Advertising Photography

The job of an advertising photographer entails clicking images for advertisements. Photographers work with a range of subjects, from live models to objects. It can be a challenging job, especially if it involves capturing children or animals in the frame. Shootings can be at different locations, throwing more challenges.

At the end of the day, the photographer has to deliver what the client wants. It is the photographer's job to understand the demands, conceptualise it and capture it in an image. The images must be visually stimulating so as to work like magic at enticing customers into buying the product being advertised.

Concert & Event Photography

As the name suggests the job involves capturing images at live concerts and events. These are action pictures and the photographer has to be on his toes, to be able to click live action images. There are no rehearsals – the images must be clicked as the events unfold. The photographer has to be alert, sharp and quick.

It requires some amount of skill for the pictures to come out right because there is always too much play of bright lights, at such events. The photographer must adjust light settings and use proper filters, aperture settings and correct lens.

Wedding Photography

Elaborate Indian weddings have a host of functions and a lot happening at every event. The job of the photographer is to capture every mood. It is imperative that the person behind the camera understands the customs and the significance of what is occurring, so the whole wedding story can be told through images.

Baby Photography

This is a new trend that has caught on, of capturing newborns and toddlers in endearing frames. Working with tiny humans is not easy. They have no concept of what you are doing and often turn out to be the most demanding subjects to work with. This kind of photography requires immense patience and skill because remember the little subjects need to be kept happy and entertained. It is impossible to click a cranky, wailing child.

Every photography style throws different challenges, and it is not about aiming and shooting. There are many things to keep in check apart from of course the aperture and the lighting. Photographers can become specialised in a particular type of photography and make it a profession. Here is a look at some other interesting and challenging genres in the field of photography –

  • Food Photography
  • Travel Photography
  • Photo Journalism
  • Landscape Photography
  • Architecture & Real Estate Photography
  • Wildlife Photography
  • Pet Photography
  • Scientific Photography
  • Macro & Micro Photography
  • Medical Photography
  • Fashion Photography

Basic requirements of the job

The work environment of professional photographers is constantly changing, because every new project has them dealing with different clients and different expectations. However, there are a few demands of the job that remain steady –

  • Communication channels with the clients must be open, to discuss what they have in mind. It is important to be able to read their mind and provide suggestions for better delivery
  • Professional photographers must also scout for ideal locales to get the perfect shots
  • They will need sophisticated photography equipment and in order to get the best results, must know how to handle them correctly
  • Lessons on adjusting aperture, camera focus, shutter speeds, lighting etcetera are an important part of professional photography
  • A good photographer goes that extra mile to ensure that the end product is first-rate. For this, it sometimes becomes essential to liaison with other professionals, such as art directors and graphic designers
  • Proficiency in computer software is desirable, to be able to enhance the quality of images

The best photography courses

Photography is a skill that can be self-taught, but for anyone who wants to make it a profession, it is best that it's taught by experts. There are a number of training institutes across the country, where photography courses are conducted. Here is peek at a few of the best -

The Light and Life Academy (LLA)

Located in Ooty the Light & Life Academy is among the oldest and finest photography institutions in the country, with students from India and overseas attending. The school offers –

  • PG Diploma in Professional Photography
  • Professional Photojournalism
  • Workshops

Sri Aurobindo Centre for Arts & Communication (SACAC)

The famous institution in New Delhi conducts a year long, creative photography course. Admission to SACAC photography course is open to graduates in any discipline and applications can be submitted online.

The Indian Institute of Digital Art and Animation

This Kolkata based institution offers a comprehensive 3-year B.Sc programme and a 2-year M.Sc programme in photography & cinematography. Only 40 candidates are taken in for each course. Admission is through an entrance test conducted by the institute. Prospectus can be sought from the campus.

Jawaharlal Nehru Architecture and Fine Arts University

Established in 1940, in Hyderabad, admission to the 3-year Bachelor and 2-year Masters of Fine Arts in photography commences in August.

Sir JJ School of Applied Art

The JJ School of Applied Arts is affiliated to Mumbai University. The institute conducts a 4-year course, where students can specialise in photography. Admission is open after 10+2.

A.J. Kidwai Mass Communication Research Centre

The New Delhi-based AJK MCRC is affiliated to Jamia Milia Islamia University. The centre conducts a one and a half year programme on still photography and has a class size of just 20 students. Admission is through an entrance examination, and applicants must be graduates with a minimum aggregate of 50% marks.

Asian Academy of Film and Television (AAFT)

AFFT has its campus in Noida Film City, has short 3-month course in photography. Minimum qualification requirement is 10+2.

How much does it cost to be a professional photographer

How much does it cost to become a professional photographer? Well, there is no single answer to this question. The cost must be bifurcated into three –

  • Cost of formal training from an institute – this will include registration fee, admission fee, tuition fee, boarding & lodging, study material, equipment and projects etcetera
  • Cost of sophisticated equipment – there is no limit on how much can be spent on procuring special equipment. There are new inventions and new gadgets every few months, and they are priced quite high
  • Getting started -
    the cost will depend on how big a venture it is going to be. Opting for a plush rented place, staff to man the place and advertising the business can make the running expenses high

To give a general idea, the minimum cost for a professional photography course and the cost of very basic photography equipment can be in the range of Rs.5,00,000 to Rs.10,00,000.

How to get established as a professional photographer

Assuming that you have completed a professional course in photography and have basic equipment for the purpose, this is what you can do –
  • Build a portfolio and circulate your work among reputed photography companies
  • Also, create an online portfolio and have Facebook and Instagram pages dedicated to your work
  • Network, network, network – nothing works better than having the right connections and grabbing opportunities
  • Work as a freelance photographer
  • Look for internships with ace photographers
  • Promote yourself, locally, through fliers
  • Don't hesitate to offer your services for a low fee. You can charge higher fees when you are established
  • Always follow the basics of being a good photographer as discussed above
  • Rent a place to set up office

How much does a professional photographer earn

There is no definite figure that can be arrived at, but a ballpark guess would be around Rs.50,000 to Rs.5,00,000 per month. A lot depends on the niche that a photographer has selected. Wedding photographers can make between Rs.1,00,000 and Rs.4,00,000 to cover a single event. Fashion photographers work on a client's budget, but a photographer with exceptional skills can command a high price. Wildlife photographers can make big money selling rare shots to publications.

In the Indian scenario, wedding photographers are the most in demand. There is no dearth of work and no fear of not finding work. However, if you want exclusivity you can forge ahead into something different, such as night photography or underwater photography. There is a whole world of opportunities waiting for you – go pick your path. And good luck.

Article by Juana
Juana is a freelance writer, with years of experience, creating content for varied online portals. She holds a degree in English Literature and has worked as a teacher and as a soft skill trainer. An avid reader, she writes on a variety of topics ranging from health, travel, education and personality development.

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Author: K Mohan12 May 2017 Member Level: Platinum   Points : 2

The guide shown by the author was very impressive to become a professional photographer. But what I feel that to become a professional photographer one must have the ability to capture the rare and important moments of character and that is very important. I usually found that a photographer asks the characters to smile at the camera while clicking. That is not the right way. When everyone is busy in talking with gestures and showing their emotions and happiness in a function, a real photographer is one who goes on clicking those rare images which would become a great collection later. I have seen one photographer who was lifting his camera above his head with both the hands and clicking randomly at the crowd in a function and thus when I reviewed the album I could see some wonderful moments of each character and that was so natural. Moreover a photographer must have the patience to listen to the demand of the person taking the image. Some want very nostalgic moments while taking wedding photos - for that he must have the vision to create a unique style of photography. Taking photos of moments with children takes lots of exertion to which a photographer must be prepared to wait for the right moment to click. Photography is nothing but clicking the right moment at the right time.

Author: DR.N.V. Srinivasa Rao13 May 2017 Member Level: Platinum   Points : 4

Ms.Juana has narrated the important aspects of photography needed for a person to become a photographer. Nowadays in Indian marriages shooting videos has become more prominent. But earlier days only photos. The marriage photos and videos are for the couple to keep with them and occasionally looking at them for remembrance. So photographer requires a special skill. The photographer should have the knack of capturing the best moments. So he should be always alert and attentive. Taking a photograph in a photo studio is an easy process but taking photos in functions require a lot of patience.Photography is a very good profession nowadays. But the earning depends on the skill and attitude of the photographer.
A nicely written article.

Author: Juana30 May 2017 Member Level: Platinum   Points : 1


What you feel and what I have said is the same thing – your comment makes it appear as though I am propagating a different view. Your comments are mostly a repetition of what is mentioned in the article, more like a synopsis.

Author: Juana24 Jan 2018 Member Level: Platinum   Points : 4

Srinivasa Rao,

In the few years, wedding photography has witnessed a dramatic change. Photographers do not just aim and shoot. They create a theme and shoot images to build a story, keeping with the theme. The same holds true for wedding videos. It is no longer just some guy shooting the events at a wedding. There is a whole team involved and they work around a theme.

Pre-wedding events are also part of the package. The most interesting feature is the pre-wedding shoot, where the couple is captured in different locales, with a purpose of creating a beautiful film on them.

Photography has become more than aim and click. Photographers now specialize in different fields. There are some who do only newborn babies or toddlers; creating beautiful images. It has become a lit more professional now. And with specialized courses available, photography has become a well-paid profession.

Author: Umesh28 Jan 2018 Member Level: Diamond   Points : 4

Very exhaustive and well narrated article on professional photogaphy and it's commercial value.

Photography is a very big field and there is lot of work for a professional photographer.

Photography as a hobby is also a great creative pass time and those who can afford it with precision cameras and other equipment know the satisfaction derived from this great hobby.

There are examples where the photography hobbyists became professionals just while pursuing their hobby and even got awards and accolades.

For those who look to it as a hobby cum profession the rewards are manifold.

Author: Natarajan31 Jan 2018 Member Level: Diamond   Points : 12

Photography has grown by leaps and bounds with many new aspects where one can carve a niche for himself/herself.

Advertising photography needs creativity and a little of lateral thinking to match the needs of the job. I'm glad that the author has mentioned about networking in Event or Wedding Photography. Apart from professional skills, one needs good contacts and networking skills to get the clients until one gets established. Now many professionals start using drones at Wedding and event photography as it's the 'in-thing' right now. A few months back, I read an article about the demand for honeymoon photography which surprised me.

Post Image processing is as important as capturing the moment. For one to be a professional photographer, one needs to invest in some professional image processing software (Adobe creative cloud). One can get the basic membership for around 7500-8500/year.

It is important for a professional photographer to have a website and a blog to have a web presence. Wildlife and Urban Photography are also good fields to explore.It is worthwhile entering competitions and a win in such events would be good to improve marketing. One should also be smart to have contact or links with celebrities, politicians, and sportsperson to have their images with them to display on their sites which attract attention.

Many experts recommend an array of DSLR cameras to choose from, but the world is slowly moving towards mirrorless cameras. It would be worthwhile doing some background research before investing heavily.

Lastly, one choosing to become a professional photographer needs to have an idea of the investment needed for equipment. For instance, in wildlife photography, a good Canon 5D camera and a 100-400 USM-II lens are considered the basis for a professional. It costs around 3 lakhs for the camera and 1.5lakhs for the lens. They need multiple lenses and camera bodies for being able to have good professional wildlife images.

Author: Juana19 Aug 2018 Member Level: Platinum   Points : 3


I agree with you, a hobbyist photographer can turn his passion into a profession, provided he has the right tools and skills. The latter can be self-taught through trial and error. There are also loads of ‘how to’ videos available on YouTube and other websites that allow you to hone your photography skills.

A friend’s son, an amateur photographer, participated in a photography contest organised by the UN for the Asia-Pacific region and went on to win a prize. That opened up a string of opportunities for him. That one win got him many photography assignments. And he earned good money on the side, while still in college. He now has a regular job, but continues to work as a part-time photographer and supplements his income.

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