5 Skills Every Professional Photographer Must Learn

As photographers, we often get bogged down in what equipment to buy, what lens to choose, what has better specs, and so on. To everyone’s satisfaction or disappointment, these things will only make a marginal difference in most cases. As a photographer, you need to have more skills than equipment. I’m here to tell you the five the most importants.

The skills you need to have as a photographer might seem like the old list of being able to expose, compose, and remove people from a landscape photo in Photoshop. While there’s no denying these are all worthwhile things you need to do as a photographer, they’re very basic, and to really gain a competitive edge and stand out you need to have more transferable skills that aren’t of industry-specific. This list captures the skills you need to hone repeatedly in order to master photography.

Learn and unlearn quickly

I don’t believe in art education. I think, however, that everyone who can get a bachelor’s and a master’s should get one, not because the knowledge is particularly useful, especially for creative people, but because being in higher education is a crucial time to your life where you learn to learn. The ability to take something, think about it, and use it is something that people greatly underestimate. Grab something as simple as a new camera: the sooner you learn it, the more you’ll get out of it. The “old guard” who were shooting film until the digital age because they didn’t want to learn the new technology went bankrupt. The same goes for unlearning. Just because you’ve done something one way for 40 years doesn’t mean it will stay that way. One of the great things about having an artistic career is that there are new things coming out every day. Being able to keep an open mind and unlearn the old ways will definitely help you become a much better photographer.

Productivity

In an industry where following trends is a method of staying afloat, productivity is key. You need, really need, to meet deadlines on time. No one will expect you to make it perfect. Done is better than perfect in this case.

It is important to be able to sit down and quickly pass a selection or write a contract quickly to send. On shoot day, you also need to work efficiently and to a high standard, as most people don’t want to sit around all day waiting for you to set up a softbox. It comes with practice and lots of it. Take test shots, try to limit the number of photos you take, and create an environment optimized for efficiency. This will definitely go a long way in helping land more jobs.

Tools that have helped me effectively in the past are timelines, schedules, to-do lists, and goal-setting documents. Long story short, every commercial I do has a timeline, every day has a schedule and to-do list, and every month, as well as the year, has a somewhat vague list of goals. It helps me to see the “what” in order to do the “how” well.

Marketing

It’s impossible for you to be a successful business owner if you can’t market your product to customers. Have you ever wondered why the guy next door takes worse pictures but is reserved for everything? Well, they’re probably pretty good at marketing. Don’t think these are just flyers and billboards, a lot of marketing comes from being a people person or having someone do it on your behalf. Photography jobs for private clients will rarely come from a Facebook ad or sponsored Instagram post. This is because most people already know a photographer who works for them. The only way to land more jobs is to make sure your name is reliable and known. By far the best way to get to this point is to have friends recommend you over and over again. For sales jobs, it’s much simpler, but the focus is also on building long-lasting customer relationships. However, it’s much easier to land business clients (provided you’re good at it) because you have to email lots of people over and over again.

Commerce and Accounting

To talk about business, you must possess the ability to run a business. It starts with knowing how to register it, how to issue invoices, how to file taxes and do other paperwork.

When it comes to accounting, hire a good accountant and let him do the actual accounting for the business. At the same time, be aware of everything. You need to analyze your expenses and see what went where. Call it personal accounting. For example, you need to know how much your assets will depreciate in the future in order to make a more informed purchase. Want that new lens? Determine how much it will cost you and what the return on investment will be. Customers are not satisfied with your work? See if you need new equipment or better training.

Style

Style is something that can be considered a skill for me, as it involves a long process of learning, developing, and ultimately training and honing until automation. I believe that no one is born with a good or a bad style; their style and aesthetics are shaped by countless everyday experiences. Perhaps one of the best ways to learn the style is to expose yourself to as much art as possible. Not just photography, but sculpture, painting, theater and more. If you are a fashion photographer, like me, you have to immerse yourself in the genre: fashion. Instead of looking at fashion photography, look at fashion design. This way, you will both be looking at fashion pictures, since each book contains pictures, while studying your gender.

Final Thoughts

These skills are some of the most important that have helped me progress faster in my career as a photographer. From something basic like sending an invoice to something more complex like analyzing the sights and aesthetics of different cities around the world, these skills are irreplaceable.

About Julius Southworth

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