Commercial and editorial photographer Laura Tillinghast shares her wisdom and the steps it takes to become a pro shooter.

  1. Learn your trade. Your interest in photography has led you to want to shoot professionally. However, turning pro means that your love of the craft needs to be channeled into hard work and dedication. Become a sponge for information and read, watch and witness everything you can that is related to the type of photography you are interested in.You do not need to go to a formal school of photography if that is not your thing. Find a local photographer who shoots what you are into and ask to be their assistant. In the beginning, information will be worth more to you than money. So donating your time in exchange for experience and apprenticeship is invaluable. Helping a photographer already doing the job you want will help you to grow your photography skills, learn how to deal with clients and problem solve.
  2. Determine your market. The first step to acquiring clients is to know where to find them. If you are a wedding photographer for example, then you will want to look into bridal advertising rags, drop rep cards at local wedding businesses and start to build a mailing list.This will not work for everyone however. If your plan is to work as a freelancer for publications, you would do better to hit the pavement the old-fashioned way and get your portfolio reviewed by as many potential employers as possible.
  3. Develop your style. Shoot, shoot, and shoot some more.There is no magic formula for creating a recognizable style. The more you create images, the easier it will be for your style to emerge and help you to set your work apart.
  4. Brand your business. Put together aneasy to navigate website that will showcase your work and appeal to your client base. Rather than hiring a web designer, consider using a service like Zenfolio that allows you to create an elegant website yourself, without needing to do any coding. With a service like this you can use custom logos, custom URLs and set up all elements of the site to match your aesthetic as an artist.
  5. Promote yourself. Marketing, like many things in life, will yield results based on the effort you expend. With a web provider like Zenfolio many marketing tools are built into the interface. You can schedule and send email blasts, offer promotions to drive sales and create other incentives to help up-sell to your clients.
  6. Keep your clients close. This may seem obvious, but it is very important to cultivate relationships with your clients after their initial job has been completed. Even if you had only one session with a client, keep in touch with them as you do your marketing campaigns. You never know what types of business word of mouth will bring in.
  7. Promote yourself. This is not a typo. Never stop your promotional efforts. As you get busy, it will become harder to keep up with a marketing schedule. Keep in mind that even when you have a few regular clients you can rely on, it is in your best interest to always be driving new business through your door.
  8. Don’t give up. Let’s face it; this is not an easy profession to break into. It takes determination, thick skin and persistence. Get used to being turned down and told ‘no’ but don’t let it derail you. The right clients for you and your business will be the ones who say ‘yes’.

About Laura:

Born and raised on the west coast, I began making art at a young age. I explored many mediums until finally discovering photography when I was 17 years old. From that point on I knew I had found the tool I was looking for to bring my imagination to life.

What makes me stand out from others is my willingness to work as hard as it takes to make the best images possible. It’s easy to work this hard when you absolutely love what you do.


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