Tips For Starting Out In Photography As A Career

Great Horned Owl Photo by Scott Bourne

I am lucky that I started working as a professional photographer in the old days when there was less competition. I occasionally think about what it would be like today. In some ways, the Internet has made it easier than ever to share your work with a large audience, but it has also made it much harder to stand out since everyone with a camera wants to make some extra change from their hobby.

Here is the truth – it’s hard to make a living as a professional photographer. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the mean annual wage for photographers in the U.S. is $42,770. That, unfortunately, is less than the current national mean annual wage of $51,960 for all occupations.

According to BLS, the 10 best states for professional photographers in the USA are:

Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Minnesota, New Mexico, New York, California, Vermont, Washington, Vermont and Mississippi.

Iowa, South Dakota, Montana, Oklahoma, West Virginia, Louisiana, Tennessee, Idaho, Arizona and North Carolina are the 10 worst states for professional photographers.


Pelican Photo by Scott Bourne

Even though it is difficult, it is possible to still break into photography as a profession. Here are some tips – the first one is the most important.

1. Show the work – repeat 20 times a day and then repeat again – show the work! You can’t sell it if nobody knows it’s there. Use every, single opportunity you can find to show, display, share, you’re photography. Coffee shops, the hallways of your town’s municipal buildings, photo contests (of all kinds), and of course via social media and on the Web. I’ll cover this more below.

2. Depending on the kind of photography you practice, your four main social media platforms should be: Twitter – Facebook – Instagram – Flickr. Some of you may also want to use Pinterest.

It’s important to post daily and without exception. The key here is to persevere and to be patient. You prove to photo buyers that you are indeed a professional and serious about your occupation by regularly and dutifully posting your photos on as many social media platforms as you can.

There are lots of challenges here, chief among them are the fact that everyone else is also posting and the quality on some platforms is dubious.

That’s why I am directing more and more people to my Flickr account. They don’t employ the heavy compression algorithms that you see on Facebook or Instagram. SmugMug recently bought Flickr and did away with the Yahoo login. The service now has a chance to move to number one for social media and photographers. Time will tell, but I am betting on them.

3. Have your own blog or web-based portfolio to act as a reference to all of your professional efforts. I tie my social media stuff to my site and I follow that with my own blog/podcast – Every point of contact is one more chance that someone who wants to buy a print – or better yet – license an image, will see my photos and get in touch.

You can have a web site or blog for free. It takes some time to learn how to build this presence but it’s worth the investment in time – and for some – even in money. You can hire this out pretty easily. I’d suggest using Fiverr to find freelance help.

4. When posting online use keywords and fill out all META tags with the information on your subject. For instance, as a bird photographer I list the common and scientific name of my subjects in these fields to make sure my photos are easier to find.

5. Focus on image licensing rather than print sales. Print sales mean money in exchange for a physical print. Licensing means money in exchange for the right to use a photograph in a commercial setting. While I do both, the money I make in licensing dwarfs what I earn from print sales in terms of return on investment.

If you have no experience with print licensing you will want to look at this link. Here you will find software to help you price your photos for licensing purposes.

Use NPPA’s calculator to help determine your actual cost of doing business and that will be your starting point for pricing –

If you want to see how I go about selling prints, visit my site for some inspiration and ideas.

Kestrel Photo By Scott Bourne


This is a topic that deserves its own book. And I wrote one called “GoingPro” – it’s almost 10 years old and not as relevant as when I wrote it, but you can still get it on Amazon.

In the mean time, I hope you found these few tips helpful. It takes a lot of passion to choose photography as a profession. If you have the passion, it’s worth the try.

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