What does it take to become a professional photographer? This question is especially relevant in the digital age, now that the means and method of photography have changed to the point where anyone with a few hundred dollars can buy a decent camera and start snapping away. What separates the amateur shutterbug from the work of professional photography? Getting paid to shoot, obviously, but there are other key factors that one must consider when attempting to make that leap.
Technique. The most important element for making the jump is an understanding of photography, both technically and artistically. Understanding focus, composition, lighting and exposure is a must, and will be second nature to any professional photographer. The only way to get to this point is to shoot. A lot. Take your camera with you everywhere, photograph anything and anyone that interests you (with permission of course), and review your photographs afterward, identifying what works and what doesn't. Meet with artistically minded friends or colleagues and have them critique your work. This will help you not only improve your technique, but also to take criticism. After all, an important quality of a professional photographer is thick skin.
Equipment. Understanding of photographic equipment is another important part of making the jump from enthusiast to professional photographer. While it is not necessary or recommended to start out with the most expensive camera you can find, it is important that you fully understand the camera you are using. Learn how to address any particular scenario with the gear you have at your disposal. Also, while digital technology is becoming the norm, it never hurts to go back and learn the ropes of film. Understanding exposure in the world of film photography will give you a deeper understanding of photography in general.
Experience. In addition to taking your own photos, working with a photographer can be an important step in becoming a professional yourself. Find photographers you like, look up their website, and inquire about internships or assistant positions. As a studio assistant, you will learn an incredible amount about lighting, design, makeup, and all the other elements that go into a successful studio shoot. Not only will the experience be priceless, the contacts you will have made can help lead you on your own path into the professional realm.
Like anything worth doing, professional photography is not easy, but for those willing to put in the time and experience, it can be a very rewarding choice.