The following post on commercial magazine photography is by Atlanta based photographer Zach Matthews. Learn more about him at the end of this post.
Every amateur photographer who’s ever flipped through a magazine has shared the same fleeting thought: I could do this. I am this good. And who’s to say that’s wrong? With the advent of digital image-making, cameras have become not just tools to record and describe, but tools that teach. The mean of photographic quality has skyrocketed in recent years, as a casual perusal of Flickr or a photography hobbyists’ board will immediately illustrate. What, then, is holding amateur photographers back? Why aren’t they selling images to magazines and commercial clients? Why aren’t you?
The difference between a working professional and a dedicated amateur is fairly minimal these days, and it has a lot more to do with business decision-making than talent or equipment. A number of important differences jump immediately to mind, however. The way I see it, there are two types of professionals: full time, and everyone else (and by that, I mean you, too). The full-time professional starves his way to the top. Typically a full-time pro goes to photography school, where he learns darkroom techniques, film chemistry, light physics, and the hard, cold reality of living paycheck to paycheck for decades. Most full-time pro photographers share one thing in common: they’re broke. But not all. A sizable population of working professionals make a living at photography, and they do it with the same business acumen necessary to operate as any entrepreneur. They set up a shop, build a client list, hire employees, and above all, they shoot their tails off.
Full-time pros of my acquaintance in the outdoor photography world spend as much as 40 weeks a year in the field. In my business, that’s in far-flung locations, involving international travel, injections, passports, broken gear, and hard deadlines. It isn’t an easy job, and it’s a long climb to the top, but eventually these pros tend to top out and make a respectable living.
There’s only one problem: chances are, this isn’t you. Full-time professional photographers won’t be reading this article; they know the route to success, they are logging their hours as we speak, and they’re aware of the rules of the game. But here’s the question: would you really want to be a full-time pro? What if you could have all the benefits, including international travel (for money), access to the best locations (for money) and the respect and praise of your peers, sometimes even for money, all while keeping your day job? It’s not a bad option, is it? [click to continue…]