FAQ: The different stages of a photographer

Hey Xav, I consider myself an experienced enthusiast or semi-pro photographer and I’ve been stuck at this stage for a long period. I wanted to know your opinion on this and if you think there any stages or levels of photographers from beginner to pro and how I can make the move to pro?

Ok, so I’m guessing you want to move from semi-pro to full-time pro. I don’t have an exact, straight formula for you to become a full-time pro. It is just the result of the amount of time you invest in selling yourself, but…

Yes, I think you have a point worth writing about here and there are definitely certain stages or levels that we all go through as photographers.

Funny enough, when I was at a similar stage where you are now, I came across THIS article by Ken Rockwell about the levels of photography.  It gave me a lot to think about and it helped me work on my personal skills and goals. Since then, I’ve gone through the first few stages on my list which is based on my experience, not so much on Ken’s though.

Stage 1: Beginner

I’ll also start from the lowest level of expertise because that’s how we all start. So, the first stage can be anyone who just discovered photography and wants to learn more about the art and craft of making a picture.

A beginner gets past the horrible act of taking snapshots on a phone and starts questioning what is a good picture. A beginner has no knowledge or experience to make a photograph but it is thirsty for knowledge.

This stage is beautiful because we start discovering photographers, books, gear, software, magazines and everything that we can to start building our confidence in photography.

I suggest you always remember this beginner’s mind and thirst for knowledge throughout your career. It will keep your feet on the ground.

Stage 2: Enthusiast

The amateur, the lover of photography. At this stage you start getting decent quality photographs, you know how to use your gear and you start to enjoy the process of making a picture but maybe you’re not considering a career in photography yet.

At this stage, you can start joining photography clubs (NOT CAMERA CLUBS!) or Meetup groups to go on walks and meet like-minded enthusiasts. This is a great way of learning different styles and techniques and sharing experiences which at the same time, will make you a better photographer.

You can stay at this stage for as long as you like because the possibilities and rewards can be endless (Not commercially though) but think self-published books, exhibitions, chats, and lectures…

Stage 3: Semi-pro

This is probably the stage that you’re at. Someone said that you take nice pictures and you are considering to make a living as a photographer.

At this stage, you have to learn a different set of skills because you’re about to start running a business. There are no books, guides or manuals on how to get from this stage to the next one. There are tons of books and Youtube channels for entrepreneurs but they can be very misleading because what works for the author, might not work for anyone else.

The key here is to put yourself out there and be ready to make lots of mistakes. If you take the initial steep way up, you’ll start to see the rest of your journey, the key is not to give up.

At this stage, you learn the basics of running a business and you start the transition from enthusiast to semi-pro/pro.

My advice, don’t quit your job just yet until your photography business demands you to be committed full time. Work on your style and reputation and find your niche. Write your business plan and make it fit in a napkin, build your portfolio, focus on quality, not quantity, get a kick-ass website, get on socials and learn marketing.

Level 4:  Full-time Professional

At this stage, you are fully committed to your photography and your business.

You’ve worked towards getting a strong client base, you’ve gained a reputation for the quality of your work and inquiries will keep coming.

If commercial photography is not your thing, you can also make a living from blogging or having a youtube channel these days. You don’t need to be a good photographer, you just have to be great at communicating and telling stories and you must love photography.

Stage 3 and 4 are not for everyone so don’t feel you have to get into running a photography business as part of your journey. If you do photography just for fun, that’s really cool and I admire you for that!

Stage 5: Master

Getting to this stage is for everyone, but not everyone can get to this stage.

I think it takes a lifetime dedication to photography and your work gets recognized for your very unique style and vision. Look for example at Daido Moriyama who is not a commercial photographer but is very recognized.

Or more commercial photographers like Annie Leibovitz or Steve McCurry; they get hired for their reputation, creative vision and style. They don’t need to convince a client for a job.

I personally think there is much more than hard work and commitment to get to this stage; definitely, a lot of personal development and introspection to find yourself as a photographer.

If you ever reach this stage, please pass down your knowledge to others.

Stage 5.1: Expert

I want to add two kinds of people in this stage, the photography expert and the tech expert.

The photography expert is the nemesis of the master; people who spend more time talking, commenting and criticizing everyone else’s work but rarely show their own work or their projects are always in development.

They tend to be people who failed as photographers for whatever reason but they know all the theory that there is to be known so they use this knowledge to put everyone else down. You can find most of these people running agencies, giving portfolio reviews, doing overpriced workshops, teaching at college and universities or writing for magazines and blogs.

The tech expert is that annoying friend we all have who is gear obsessed and knows every little detail there is about photographic equipment. He or she tends to take really bad photos and straight away will say Photoshop will solve it.

Avoid people like this, they have fallen into a very deep dark hole and it’s very hard to come out of it.

Hope this answers your question. If you have any other questions, send them over and I’ll try to reply as much as I know as honestly as I can.

Until next time.

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