How to become a photographer without a degree

Becoming a photographer no longer requires formal training or an expensive photography degree. Digital cameras are more accessible and affordable than ever before. Anyone with passion and dedication can teach themselves the skills. They need to become a pro photographer.

This guide covers all you need to know. It covers what equipment to buy when starting. It also covers technical basics. It covers developing an artistic eye and building a photography portfolio. It covers finding clients and turning a passion into a sustainable photography career.

The State of Professional Photography

Recent stats on working photographers help show the context. They show the profession’s financial viability. They also show its outlook.

Photographer Demographics

  • About 63% of pro photographers are self-employed. They work as freelancers or own their own photo businesses. This is from an IPP survey. The rest work under contract for a studio or media company.
  • Photographers have a median age of about 41 years. This is based on data from ZipRecruiter and Payscale. So most established full-time photographers got their start in their 20s or 30s.

Annual Salary Statistics

  • Photographers in the U.S. report average annual salaries of $32,000 to $48,000. This is based on ZipRecruiter and PayScale data. Top earners make over $76,000 per year.
  • Event and wedding photographers earn median wages of around $50,000 per year. Portrait and commercial photographers’ median incomes are closer to $40,000 annually.
  • The top 10% of highest-earning photographers make $76,000-86,000 annually across specialties.

The Most In-Demand Photography Specialties

The types of photographers currently in highest demand for 2023 include:

  • Commercial and Advertising Photographers
  • Portrait Photographers
  • Event and Wedding Photographers
  • Real Estate Photographers

This data confirms that photography remains a viable way to earn income. It is for talented, driven people who lack expensive formal education.

Now let’s cover how to succeed as a degree-free pro photographer.

Getting Started: Basic Equipment and Concepts

The first steps to start your photography journey include getting the needed gear. You also need to learn basic photo ideas.

Choosing Your First Camera

You don’t need the most expensive gear when starting. As a beginner, consider an entry-level digital SLR (DSLR) or mirrorless camera. The top brands are Canon, Nikon, and Sony. Key features to look for include:

  • Interchangeable lenses
  • Manual mode to control exposure settings
  • HD video capacity
  • Wifi connectivity
  • Good low-light performance

A used or refurbished model can save money. Expect to invest $500-$1,000 on a starter camera.

Other Basic Photography Equipment

Along with a camera, other essentials include:

  • Lenses – A versatile zoom lens like an 18-55mm is a good start. Eventually, build a collection of primes and zooms.
  • Memory cards – Crucial for storing photos. A 16-32GB card is good for 700-1000 images.
  • Tripod – Essential for stabilizing the camera in low light and long exposures.
  • Flash – Built-in flashes have limitations, so invest in an external flash for added lighting flexibility.
  • Camera bag – Protect your gear with a padded camera bag or backpack.

Expect to spend $500-$1,000 on additional equipment at the start.

Learning Technical Camera Basics

When first using your camera, learn how its basic functions affect your photos:

  • Exposure – Combination of aperture, shutter speed, and ISO that determines image brightness.
  • Aperture – Size of lens opening that controls light intake and depth of field.
  • Shutter speed – Length of time the shutter remains open to capture an image. Controls motion blur.
  • ISO – Camera sensor sensitivity to available light. Higher ISO combats low light but increases grain.
  • White balance – Sets the color temperature to achieve accurate colors under different lighting.

Mastering these core camera settings gives you creative control.

Composition Rules

Visual composition influences how viewers engage with your photos. Master guidelines. They include the rule of thirds, leading lines, patterns, and textures. Also, symmetrical balance, framing subjects, and changing perspectives.

Understanding the technical, while exploring composition principles, provides a well-rounded photography foundation.

Developing Technical Expertise

You advance your skills by gaining expertise in areas. These include lighting, post-processing, and workflow.

Can you work as a photographer without a degree
Can you work as a photographer without a degree

Studio and External Lighting Techniques

Master off-camera flash and studio setups with modifiers. These include softboxes, umbrellas, flags, and gels. They let you control direction, intensity, color, contrast, and shadows. This allows ultimate creative control.

Post-Production Image Editing

Post-processing amplifies creativity. Learn software like Lightroom and Photoshop for tasks like:

  • Color correction
  • Exposure and contrast adjustments
  • Cropping and retouching
  • Applying presets and filters
  • Local adjustments using masking
  • Merging exposures
  • Output sharpening

Develop efficient post-processing workflows to save time without sacrificing quality.

Manage Your Workflow

To work efficiently:

  • Organize projects into sorted folders for easy searchability
  • Back up files on an external hard drive and cloud service to prevent losing images
  • Use metadata like keywords and captions to identify photos
  • Standardize file naming conventions for consistency
  • Store camera profiles for consistent edits across devices

Streamlining workflows improves productivity.

Gaining Photography Experience

Once fundamentals are established, actively work on gaining well-rounded experience.

Explore Different Genres

Each genre requires unique skills and visual strategies. Gain expertise through practice in areas like:

  • Portraiture
  • Product photography
  • Food photography
  • Landscape photography
  • Pet photography
  • Events photography
  • Real estate photography
  • Wildfire photography

Expanding capabilities make you an adaptable photographer equipped for diverse clients and projects.

Build a Balanced Photography Portfolio

A photography portfolio showcases talent to attract clients. Include 15-20 diverse, professionally edited images highlighting technical skills and creative vision. Demonstrate proficiency in:

  • Lighting
  • Composition
  • Retouching abilities
  • Capturing personalities, expressions, and emotions
  • Conveying visual narratives and concepts
  • Delivering crisp focus and clarity

Update portfolios regularly to showcase evolving abilities.

Assist Established Photographers

Gaining real-world experience involves learning from experts. Reach out to respected local photographers. Offer photo assistant services in exchange for mentorship. Valuable opportunities include:

  • Studying how experienced photographers interact with clients and conduct shoots
  • Observing their equipment choices and lighting strategies
  • Learning advanced editing techniques firsthand in post-production
  • Receiving expert portfolio critiques and career advice

Hands-on training accelerates growth. In turn, provide assistants valuable mentoring once established.

Building Photography Business Savvy

Running a photography business requires just as much creative vision as business acumen.

Define Your Specialization and Style

Determine what you’re passionate about photographing and the style you embody. This allows for establishing a unique artistic identity and attracting ideal clients.

Ask defining questions like:

  • Which genres most excite me?
  • What unique perspectives do I offer creatively and technically?
  • How do I envision translating my personality and values into images?
  • What overarching visual style defines my work?
  • Who represents my ideal target clients?

Answering these focuses on your brand identity.

Market and Network Effectively

Attract clients through smart marketing:

  • Website – A clean, professional site showcasing abilities. Optimize images with SEO principles to drive Google visibility.
  • Search engine ads – Run Google/Facebook campaigns targeted locally and to client types suited to your specialties.
  • Social media – Share work regularly on platforms like Instagram and Facebook to build an audience.
  • Networking – Attend industry events, seminars, art shows, and career fairs to connect. Seek mentors and collaborators within your community.
  • Print materials – Business cards, promotional flyers, and branded studio apparel.

Pursuing diverse marketing exposure pays dividends.

Pricing Strategies

Set competitive rates while conveying quality and experience through pricing. Consider your specialty, business expenses, years of experience, and clients’ budgets.

Standard pricing factors include:

  • Hourly shoot rates
  • Per-image licensing fees
  • Day/multi-day shoot rates
  • Package deals like weddings
  • Print packages
  • Commercial licensing buyout fees

Aim for profitability while remaining fair and adjustable. Sometimes offer discounted rates in exchange for portfolio material and referrals.

Contracts and Organization

Run a streamlined operation:

  • Client communications – Be responsive and outline expectations, schedules, and deliverables clearly in contracts. Follow up promptly.
  • File releases – Have clients sign model or property releases to avoid legal issues when licensing images.
  • Accounting – Track expenses, tax obligations, and profits using accounting software or spreadsheets. Retain receipts and invoices.
  • Storage needs – Manage expanding equipment and files as operations scale.

Tight organization and administration breed success.

Achieving Long-Term Photography Career Success

With perseverance and planning, you can turn photography into a full-time, sustainable job.

Build Up Savings

Initially supplement photography income from other sources to cushion unpredictability in project-based work. Try:

  • Maintaining flexible part-time jobs
  • Seeking commercial photography assistant roles
  • Using personal savings for essentials until establishing steady clients

Work towards eventually relying on just photography. Aim for 6-12 months’ worth of savings to ease transitions between major projects. Fiscally prepare for slower periods.

Continually Learn and Grow

Complacency hinders success. Continually expand capabilities to remain competitive and creatively energized.

  • Take workshops focusing on new skills or genres
  • Read photography blogs and listen to podcasts
  • Study photography masters using artistic techniques you admire
  • Travel to ignite inspiration through new environments and cultures
  • Join a community like a photography club to exchange ideas

Voraciously learn new methods while mastering existing skills. Growth always continues for artistic professionals.

Forge Strong Professional Relationships

Foster sincere, lasting connections. They lead to referrals and repeat business, not just quick sales.

  • Make outstanding first impressions with reliability, preparedness, and professionalism.
  • Seek genuine feedback from clients on strengths and growth areas.
  • Express gratitude and follow up on interest in future projects.
  • Share exciting news and celebratory moments to strengthen bonds.

Meaningful relationships enrich work and propel careers.

FAQs: Answering Common Photography Career Questions

Still have questions? These answers address photographers’ most frequent inquiries:

What equipment is essential when first starting in photography?

You need a few key items to start. These include a DSLR or mirrorless camera. You need one or two versatile lenses, like a 50mm prime and 18-55mm zoom lens. Also, a tripod for stability, an external flash for light control, memory cards for storage, and a camera bag to protect gear. Expect an initial $1,500-$2,500 investment.

Is a photography degree required to become a professional photographer?

No. Degrees provide useful training for some. However, many successful photographers are self-taught or apprenticed under a pro. Success depends on technical skills, business know-how, a creative eye, and perseverance. These things matter more than formal credentials.

How long does it take to learn photography?

Core technical skills can take 6-12 months to pick up through active practice. But photography is a continually evolving, lifelong undertaking. Master photographers continually refine techniques and artistic vision over decades. Be patient in the learning process while proactively seeking growth.

What type of photography pays the most?

Financially lucrative specialties include wedding, commercial, and corporate photography. However, passion and personal style drive career fulfillment. They are more important than chasing high fees. Determine what subjects inspire you most aesthetically and focus on excellence there.

How much do professional photographers charge?

Full-time photography income varies widely. It ranges from $30,000 to over $100,000 yearly. It depends on experience, specialty, business skills, and location. When first going pro, they start at around $25/hour or $100-150 per 45-60 minute photo shoot. Then, they raise rates over their careers.

Should I get insurance as a photographer?

Yes. General liability insurance protects from expensive damages. These include damage to, and theft of, camera gear. Also ensure life, health, and disability coverage for income stability. Homeowners’ or renters’ insurance can cover home studio equipment. Evaluate annual policy costs against risk levels.


Dedication to learning and experience can help. So can smart business cultivation. These things can help passionate artists. They lack a photography degree. They can turn photography into an enriching, sustainable career.

Stay inspired in your vision. Do this when facing early rejections or instability. Do it until channels materialize. These channels will support sustainable long-term enterprises. Keep learning, creating, and believing. The photography community eagerly welcomes motivated talent. They are willing to improve their abilities independently. They chase dreams with cameras in hand. Let your still and moving images tell powerful stories. They have broken free from past industry barriers.

Hi everyone, I'm Shahzad Arsi, the friendly founder of Circular Guru. I started this website to share in-depth information on “How to Become Someone Without a College Degree,” your number one resource for exploring alternative career paths. Our motto is to change the mentality “No degree = No opportunity”.

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