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Getting Started as a Photographer

Turning your interest in photography into a career can give you a flexible schedule, doing work that you love. Investigate your options and understand the marketplace before getting started.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, about three in ten photographers worked part time in 2016 and the work hours were often flexible, which might be a great option for you.

Being a photographer typically requires a high school diploma or equivalent, and you can gain skills through practice, on-the-job training, seminars and classes, many of which you can find online. You can also earn an associate degree or bachelor’s degree in fine arts with an emphasis on photography.

Photographers typically accrue a high artistic score on the Strong Interest Explorer self-assessment and prefer adaptable and accommodating schedules and structures, needing freedom to express themselves. Work and hobbies are often intermingled.

Getting started as a photographer

Equipment is the first thing you should consider when starting out as a photographer, whether for pleasure or employment. Standard pieces of equipment include:

  • Digital single-lens reflex, or DSLR, camera
  • Photo editing software
  • Pose books and props to build your portfolio

A great photographer should be able to think creatively, sell or influence others, have good computer skills and focus on building skills through the following activities.

  • Practice. Take advantage of opportunities to take pictures and learn the types of photos you love to take. You may excel at travel, nature, people, children, weddings or another type. Create a portfolio with your best work and narrow your focus.
  • Read books, magazine articles and websites to learn about settings, tricks and tips. Learn to understand your camera, settings, lenses and editing tools.
  • Use social media to get ideas on improving your photography. Find and bookmark social media sites and explore photographers and their techniques on Pinterest.
  • Join meet-up groups or photography clubs and learn by working with others.

Finding employment as a photographer

Companies that employ photographers typically have a specific type of photographic need for their business. Others may hire freelance photographers. Examples of company staff positions might include an auction company that needs photos of products for their website, portrait studios or staff newspaper or magazine photographers. To gain employment with an organization, research their photography needs and build a portfolio, displaying your skills to match their specific needs.

If you are searching for employment as a photographer, the Military Spouse Employment Partnership Job Search is a great place to start. Visit the MSEP Job Search to find open positions with a number of MSEP companies and organizations committed to hiring military spouses, which may include the following: 

Starting a photography business

If starting your own photography business is something that interests you, there are a number of things you should consider before getting started. 

Finding clients. Your biggest challenge when starting your own business will be finding clients. Utilize your current connections to find people in your area that could use your business. 

  • Friends and family. Offer to conduct free photo sessions with your friends and family to build your skills. This is a good way to gain exposure and build a positive reputation using your biggest supporters. Eventually, you will be able to showcase your work and begin charging for it.
  • Military spouse community. As a military spouse starting your own business, you have access to a built-in community to market your services. At your current location, use your military community network as a starting point, and when you relocate, use the same community connections to market your services at your new location.
  • Network. Networking is critical, so learn to communicate with others in the business — art directors, producers, etc. Focus on finding clients you want to work with instead of waiting for clients to come to you. Competitive pricing is important, and you may need to do a photo shoot at no cost if it helps build your portfolio.

Be realistic. It takes time to build a client base. Determine what success looks like to you. Is it the number of shoots you schedule, the amount of money you make your first or second year or the number of clients you obtain? To avoid disappointment, be realistic about the money you can earn before you build your business.

Embrace the flexibility. Having your own photography business may make sense because it gives you the flexibility to do the following:

  • Determine the hours you work
  • Accept the type of work you want
  • Create a referral network
  • Grow your business at a pace that fits your mobile military life

Use your available resources to help you start and build your photography business. The Small Business Administration and SCORE offer information, resources and mentorships to people interested in small business ownership. Use the Research Occupations tool on MySECO to find additional information on photography careers by using the keyword 'photographers.' You can also speak with a SECO career coach by calling Military OneSource at 800-342-9647 or use the Live Chat feature on MySECO to discuss your questions or concerns.

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