What it takes to go pro: Step Zero.

I am not a professional photographer. I am a professional, with photography as a hobby. I always told myself if I got good enough, I would go into photography professionally once my bills were all paid. I have a couple of indirect co-workers, co-workers who do something other than what I do or work for a different business unit, who have set up their own business on the nights and weekends. I also know a couple of my wife’s friends who either work for a photography studio or own their own business.

I have turned money down before. I owe it to real professional photographers to not imitate their work for a discount. I use post-processing for therapy, I couldn’t imagine being under the gun to not only shoot perfectly, but post-process quickly, and build to the customer’s specification. Don’t get me wrong, I treat every opportunity like a job interview. For example, I am shooting a charity event this week and I plan on bringing my best stuff, I plan on going early to calculate white balance, and I will have a full frame and APS-C body and a decent range of lenses with me. Normally I try to bring only one body and one lens, it makes me better when I have to adjust to what I bring.


A shot from the Charlotte Race for the Cure, I followed Meg (center), a Breast Cancer Survivor around and took whatever pictures she wanted.

I’ve thought about what I would need to start my own photography business. I would need to get a license in North Carolina. Yes, North Carolina requires a license. I would likely need to incorporate to protect my assets, likely a limited liability corporation. But most importantly, I would need to build a practical portfolio.

Nathan would make it to my portfolio. A great shot of someone else’s kid.

What would I put in the portfolio? It depends on what I would want to shoot and sell, I guess and I would need to build the portfolio around a business plan. I like to shoot children, and people. I could start there. Maybe show a shot or two I used for a Holiday Card, or show a charity event I shot. I’d eventually like to do senior photographs or weddings, but right now, if I were to do this on nights and weekends I’d like to shoot families, children, and events. This would be a business plan for someone who doesn’t depend on the money. If I were unemployed, or I did this for a living, I would need to be more aggressive. I have an idea or two I have shared with a limited few people, but I would need a better plan than shooting families, children, and events.

I would probably do what the customer asked, but also be a little suggestive as well. Maybe they like selective coloring?


Are you sure they don’t want selective coloring?

There are about 3 layers of professional services I perceive for shooting families and children. Three guys (or gals, but for this point I’ll use guy). 

There is the guy who does the school pictures, which would be a consistent income stream in terms of actually receiving income, however the income would be bits and pieces of cost-recovery here and there with very little profit. When I was in school, the same guy who did the yearbook pictures did the sports individual and team pictures and also did all of the schools; elementary, middle, and high schools. This guy depends on kids following directions and has more patience than I could ever imagine. Then you have the guy in the mall or in a department store. This guy has a space in the mall, has a couple of fabricated backgrounds; including a blueish-gray (or grayish-blue?) and a plain white, maybe a couple of props like giant building blocks, a couple of satin sheets, and an intricate flash setup. Another guy with an extremely large amount of patience. The guy at the school may be the same guy as the guy at the mall, but in my perception these are different people. I also couple the guy on the cruise ship who walks around in the restaurants with the guy at the school, and the guy on the cruise ship who stays near the stairs or by the life preserver with the guy at the mall. I really can’t be either of the first two guys. The third person I perceive is the guy who hands out business cards, but operates word-of-mouth mostly. This guy does maybe 2-3 specialized appointments a day, shooting on location or at a predetermined location. I’d shoot because it would be something to do, a service to provide which I enjoy, just like the third specialized guy. But there is a key difference. That guy would be professional as a necessary obligation to perform his trade, and pay his bills. I’d go through the process of obtaining a license and incorporating to cover my ass. Sure, all three need to CYA as they say, but that would be one of two reasons why I would go through the process. The other is I owe it to all three guys to not perform under an amateur pretense, undercutting prices or operating under the table.

I didn’t use “the guy” for this shot, while on a Cruise Ship.

Back to my point. I’d need to build a portfolio first. In thinking about this, going through the virtual exercise, I looked through 2 years worth of shots and I actually shot what I could pass for events more than I first thought. And I may have 4-5 I may be able to use in a portfolio. 

Would X-Games and NASCAR Superstar Travis Pastrana make the portfolio? You bet!

I need a lot more practice. Another thing I would need to learn to accept would be the difference between “perfect” and “acceptable” or “usable”. I shot my family’s holiday card last weekend and out of 500 shots I found one I could deem “acceptable” with all three kids, and none with all three I would call perfect. I had a good 250-300 shots of one of the three kids at any given time I would say were “acceptable” or better. I also have a tendency to shoot the same shot. Wide open lens, shallow depth of field. People like detail.


Sure, my daughter’s hair is a little messy. All three are looking and mostly smiling. Acceptable.

I need more subjects. I have a thousand shots of each of my kids and a couple hundred of my wife. I have some subjects, but I am not sure if I would classify them as willing all the time, and I wasn’t always out to get something to add to a portfolio. Sometimes I just wanted something to put on Facebook.

Ryan wasn’t necessarily a willing subject for this shot, though he really liked it when I sent it to him.


He was much more willing to be the subject of this shot six months later…

Overall, I could eventually turn this all into a weekend, cost-recovery business. I have the style I like to shoot, and I know people willing to pay a sitting fee. But for right now, I deal in theoretic thoughts. And I am nowhere near what I consider step one…


3 comments on “What it takes to go pro: Step Zero.

  1. […] posted a while back about what it takes to go pro. I guess I took one of the steps in obtaining a North Carolina Privilege License, which I received […]

  2. […] other news, a few weeks ago I posted about my perceived process of turning pro, of turning my hobby into a side-business. I found something out regarding one of the photos I […]

  3. […] my previous post What it takes to go pro: Step Zero I, I discussed how I had a perception of three types of family photographers. The guy at the […]

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