What Skills Do You Need As A Photographer

This post is Day 15 of 30 Ways In 30 Days To Redesign Your Life With Photography. This series seeks to provide you with practical steps to get you from wherever you are today, to exactly where you want to be – this year! If your goal has always been to take your photography to a whole new level, hang on and start enjoying a new lifestyle you’ve always dreamed of.

I went back and read through many of your responses again, and read through them with a different idea in mind. As I read through each story, I started picking out pieces that would tell me what skills today’s photographer needs to survive. Is it the same as in the past? Or has it completely changed?

And as expected, I found a full array of support for many different types of skills.

I found questions and comments about final output – “Do I provide high or low res images?”

I found questions and comments about social and business – “I have a Facebook and Twitter account, but I don’t get any reactions from there.”

And I found questions and comments about the general condition of photography today – “When I started photography aged 19 it was film and standard print proofing with traditional albums. We now have digital and more impatient clients despite more ‘work’ for the photographer.”

And everything in between.

So what do you truly need to be a successful photographer?

What Do They Teach In School?

While I do realize that a majority of photographers in the business world today do not have a degree in photography, I wondered what an average college requires to fulfill the requirements. My niece graduated last year from a university and minored in photography, so I have some idea based on her skills. They still had her using film and developing prints in the darkroom, so I knew that was still in the course schedule at some locations.

So I went out to a local college website, and pulled their requirements.

They have all the basic requirements – science, composition, public speaking, and math. Then they combine a variety of art classes with a photography emphasis. To get a degree, you would need:

  • World Art Studies
  • Color Theory and Practice
  • History of Photography
  • Art Theory and Criticism
  • Photography I through IV
  • Constructing The Digital Image

Two things jumped out at me as I read through this.

1. There were no computer courses as requirements.

2. There were no business courses as requirements.

The average photographer today will:

1. Use various computer programs to manipulate their photography.

2. Run their own business and need a plethora of business related skills to run it successfully.

So how can you get a full-fledged degree in something that doesn’t provide you with all of the skills you truly need to survive?

No Degree For Me

Okay, so you don’t have a degree, and you just want to follow your passion and start your business. Where do you go from here?

We would fall in that category. Andrew and I went to college for business, and I have a Masters in Financial Management. Not a lot of photography skills here. Yet we followed our passion, and dove into this business for two reasons. We loved photography. And we loved business.

When I think back over our photography careers, I feel the two things that helped us succeed were:

1. Our quest for knowledge.

2. Our desire to succeed.

We didn’t want to be average; we wanted to stand out from the crowd. So we kept changing things until we found the perfect match for our clients and us.

We went to every photography seminar we could find, and created friendships with the best in the business.

When someone did something completely out of the box, we found out how to take that idea and use it ourselves. No copycat strategies – we wanted to create the path ourselves, and use the “WOW” factor in everything we did. And it worked.

To mirror that same strategy today, I would:

  • Take every class I could to become better behind the camera.
  • Take every class I could to become better behind the computer.
  • Take every class I could to become better at business.

And then practice. A surgeon becomes better at what he does by operating every day. A salesperson becomes better at what she does by selling every day. And a photographer becomes better at what he does by creating images every day.

That doesn’t mean every photographer will do it the same way. And that’s where the art form truly lies.

If you love portraiture, shoot a portrait every day. It can be a casual portrait of someone walking down the street. Or it can be a paid portrait experience from a local family. Either way, it’s the experience that will get you to where you are going.

If you want to run your own business, do something to help your business every day. Take a class on using Facebook to promote your business. Sign up for a small business forum. Or just head to your local library and check out a book. There are more business books in existence today than you could ever ready in your life.

If you still love film, how can you change things up and make it into a truly unique art form? How can you showcase your work so it doesn’t look like everyone else’s?

And even if you want to shoot with your iPhone, how can you take that to an entirely different level? It’s not always about how you shoot. Its how you present that makes it an art form.

There is no magic button you can push to become the best. There is no magic spell that will give you everything you want.

But you can do one thing every day, and ultimately you can’t help but find success.

It really is true:

“Being happy is something you have to learn. I often surprise myself by saying “Wow, this is it. I guess I’m happy. I got a home I love. A career that I love. I’m even feeling more and more at peace with myself.” If there’s something else to happiness, let me know. I’m ambitious for that, too.” ~ Harrison Ford

7 thoughts on “What Skills Do You Need As A Photographer”

  1. It doesn’t really matter how good you get behind the camera, or computer, or matter how good you are at business. Until you figure out how to come up with a great concept BEFORE you shoot, you will always be mediocre. This is not necessarily a bad thing; many thousands of photographers make good money doing average or above average work and are happy with theirs lives.

  2. Another topic should be, “What they DON”T teach you in photography school!”

    As a sports photographer who has been having good success in the Cincinnati Photographers market, I get asked quite a bit by the guys at the local camera store where I do business, “How do you keep getting so many cool jobs?”

    There are better photographers than me. There are better Photoshop specialists than me and there are also those who have more expensive gear, fancy studios, slick websites and even those that belong to “professional membership, dues paying clubs”

    It seems to me that the one thing that many aspiring young photographers lack is self promoting skills, people skills, self image and confidence and the ability to create a brand.

    Most of the photographers (Not all of course) in Cincinnati, that I meet, are either social wall flowers, arrogant and lacking people skills and have no real world business sales experience.

    When young or struggleing photographers ask me for advice, I reccommend books such as , “How to Win Friends and Influence People”, “Think and Grow Rich”, any Geoffery Gitomer book and a series of other sales experts.

    At the end of the day, no matter how good you are with PS5 or HDR techniques, it all comes down to marketing and branding.

    Vincent Rush, Cincinnati Sports Photography, Monroe Ohio.

  3. I enjoyed this article. This is fast becoming my favorite photography advice go to site. I added an Entrepreneurship minor to my art degree because I realized that it could only help me in my future photography endeavors. I really like what you said about doing something to help your business everyday and the ideas you gave. Thank you.

    Konstantin, Concept is an idea that gets pounded into you if you take photography classes from a university. It is not an easy skill to learn, especially if you don’t have the tools to develop the concept. I agree it is important, in fact I think concept is the difference between eye candy and inspiring.

    Thank you Vincent. Having just completed my photography degree, I can relate to the fears and insecurities of entering the professional photography market. My Senior seminar class tried to teach me the things you mentioned but experience is often the better teacher so thank you for sharing your experience and wisdom. I’ll definitely look at the books you recommended.

  4. I’ve just started reading this site (thanks to a Facebook share from a photographer I met recently) and these articles are focused exactly on what I’ve been needing. I was a freelance photographer in high school and college, doing portraiture, glamor, model portfolios, etc, and was pretty successful at it. But I never intended it to be my “career”, and after getting married I put the thought of being a photographer on the back burner. That was almost 30 years ago, but now I’ve rediscovered my love for the photography that I used to do — only to find that the world of photography has changed so drastically (both in business and in technical aspects).

    I’m looking forward to learning a great deal from these articles and your website.


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