How To Become A Successful Full-Time Photographer In 1 Year: The Ultimate Guide – Part 1

Just over 1 year ago I was working 50 hours per week in a cafe, dreaming of some day that I’d quit that job and work for myself.

I remember the day I made the commitment to stop dreaming about this idea and put it into action. I came home from the cafe and began the long process of trying to translate all my thoughts into a something that could be remotely called a photography business.

Of course, nothing I had originally planned turned out to schedule. And the journey has not been a smooth one.

become a photographer

Nonetheless, just over 1 year later, I often find myself pinching myself to remind me it’s all real because I’m spending my weeks taking and editing photos, answering calls from real clients, learning about photography and teaching lessons I’ve learned to others.

It’s not only a dream come true, but a job that I find intrinsically fulfilling and rewarding, there’s enough money coming in to pay the bills and the business is growing fast.

I think there were some key factors which really helped me along this journey. Had I not paid attention to them, I’d be behind where I am now, and if I paid attention to them sooner I’d be a lot further ahead.

It’s my aim here to share those factors with you in hope that the lessons I learned on my journey towards being a full-time professional photographer help you along on yours.


1. Motivations Are Everything.

Your motivations will determine whether the game is lost or won, long before you register a website or start writing down ideas about what your business will look like.

Your motivations provide the context for your actions. For example, if you’re hungry, you’ll go to the fridge – not the garage, right?

Your context, in turn, sets the boundaries inside which you’ll look for a solution to your problem. And that’s a huge thing to keep in mind, because most people buy into the myth that “working hard will yield results”.

And it’s true – hard work is necessary, but without the right context you won’t move your photography ambitions forward because the actions available to you will be limited in their power. Put another way, you simply won’t be able to see all options available to you.


2. Are You A “Getter”?

Let’s take a closer look at your motivations.

Broadly, people are either driven by a desire to get something or to contribute something. And that applies to everything – business, relationships and recreation.

In the context of your photography ambitions, ask yourself this – why are you thinking about quitting your day job and becoming a professional photographer?

  • Do you hate your boss?
  • Do you want to get rich?
  • Do you want to look cool with your latest D1X?
  • Do you think that “Rock Concert Photographer” is a much better job title than “Retail Accounts Executive?”
  • Do you think you’ll be more popular with the ladies? C’mooon, be honest!

Notice how all those motivations are centered around getting something – be it status, acceptance or freedom from being told what to do.


3. You ARE A Getter! (And That’s The Good News).

And there’s nothing wrong with experiencing motivations of the Getting variety – it’s a perfectly normal human phenomenon. Most people out there who are trying to become photographers are driven by the same thoughts.

But unfortunately it’s also true that most people who want to start a business will never succeed.

And for you it’s actually good news, because it means that if you become aware of, and take control of, your motivations, you’ll find yourself miles ahead of the pack.

If you remember anything, remember this: any time you’re driven by a desire to Get something, you are significantly limiting the scope of actions available to you and the depth of your interactions with people (which will limit your opportunities to do business with them).


4. How To Become A Contributor.

The best businessmen rarely talk about themselves. They spend so much time thinking about your problems that their only problem becomes .. all your problems.

Here’s what I mean. An ineffective (A Getter) salesman is likely to start his conversation with you like this: “I have something great, cheap camera gear for you!” and try to rattle off his pitch before your attention wanes.

A good one will just remark “Hey, I noticed your gear could be up for a replacement soon. I know somewhere you can get it for 20% less than in shops and get extra warranty for free – you want me to send you some details?”

And it’s not because the second guy memorised a better sales script. The second guy walks around, wondering about people’s problems and then tries to fix them. What he says to you just becomes a contextually relevant extension of his motivations.

become a photographer


5. Look For Problems.

Have you ever noticed that when you pay attention to your own problems, your life begins to suck more? But when you focus on problems of others – and especially when you fix them – you feel fulfilled, powerful, alive and connected?

I challenge you to start reshaping your life so it becomes about fixing some problems in the photography community.

And there are no shortage of them. Here are some that I spotted:

  • Why is it what it still costs $10,000 to hire a great wedding photographer – how can you bring the price down while maintaining the quality?
  • Why is it that big photo studios charge people $2,000 for a quick shoot and some big enlargements – could it be a rip-off?
  • Why does a commercial client, going through an agency, have to pay upwards of $20,000 for one photo – can we eliminate the middlemen?
  • Why is everyone obsessed about comparing megapixel counts on camera gear spec sheets – how about some real reviews?
  • Why are so many photographers out there charging people for work that is below average – how can we educate the consumers?
  • Why are so many photographers going out of business – how can we teach them to survive and prosper?


6. Contributor Is A Fixer, Not A Critic.

The temptation here may be to start a blog and begin to share opinions and criticisms. You’ve seen those blogs – bitchy, whiny and trying to be funny through abundance of sarcasm.

I’m not talking about that here. That’s the easy path. You won’t grow through it and it won’t feed your soul, either. Your life is too valuable to spend it blogging about real or imagined grievances.


7. Stand For Something.

Chivas Regal doesn’t sell you whiskey, it sells you sophistication. Harley-Davidson doesn’t sell you a motorcycle, but toughness. When you buy a TAG Heuer watch, you don’t buy a timepiece, but a hint at your ambition and success. A L’Oreal CEO once famously quipped that they don’t sell makeup, but hope.

Most successful businesses don’t sell commodities (i.e., objects or services). They sell a stand for something.

Sometimes those stands are artificially crafted (I argue that’s the case with make-up, for example), but the businesses which are amazing, inspiring, and world-changing (and are the kind of business that I’ll assert you probably want to have) are an organic extension of the original motivations of the person who started the business (is Apple too much of a cliche to cite as an example?)


8. Follow Jobs And Branson.

Read the Steve Jobs biography by Walter Isaacson. And then any of the business books by Richard Branson.

You’ll learn what it means to have a real stand for something. Apple’s stand wasn’t dreamed up by some advertising executive. Sure, it was implemented by them, but it was borne out of Jobs’ stand to fix problems he saw in the world of personal computing.

Similarly, Branson still succeeds to this day by taking on industries where consumers are getting short-changed by lazy businesses.

Make your photography business an organic extension of your stand for a cause you care about.

And don’t try to fake it – or you’ll just become another cheesy salesman with an elevator pitch. Your stand has to be something you deeply care about. And if you don’t care about anything, then don’t start your business today. And don’t beat yourself up over it – there’s wisdom in recognising that it’s not yet the right time for you.

And if that’s the conclusion you do come to, then great – go work for someone else, make more mistakes, learn from them, travel, shag, read, meditate – wait for a deep knowingness within you that you clearly care about something and then use it to create something remarkable.


9. Use This Real-Life Example.

My family photography practice has a stand for something that I deeply care about – closer families.

It’s not something I just pulled out of my butt. Both Irene and I have divorced parents and we both know first hand the damage, the confusion, the missed love and opportunities that kids experience when families fall apart.

Family photography for us is not just about taking snaps, but an opportunity to give families a chance to celebrate each other. We are deeply inspired by the love of families that we meet and form very tight connections with our clients.

It shapes the copy on our website, how we interact with clients, what kind of clients we get and the kind of impression we leave on them.

Importantly, of course, I think it comes through in our photography style as well – as we become more experienced, we focus more and more on bringing out the unique elements of each family and capturing those in a funky, fun, artistic way.


10. Avoid Other Getters.

Internet is full of communities of people who are hoping to get rich quickly and retire. They’re not short of advice (or info-products to sell). I’m talking about all those “online marketers”, so called entrepreneurs and “businessmen”.

They sometimes have sound business knowledge, but I suggest you stay away from them altogether because whatever good business knowledge you get will be offset by the Getting mindset you’ll also absorb by hanging around them.

As a test – if they’re not fixing a problem out there, they’re a Getter. And if they’re selling you on a dream of passive income, they’re a Getter.

(I couldn’t think of anything worse than a passive income. It means I’d have no other way of making myself happy than by spending cash).

My aim here is not to show you how to make money for doing nothing – I don’t know anything about that.

But what I can show you is how to build a photography business which helps you experience happiness and fulfilment through opportunities to create something amazing, through pushing your own boundaries and through making a difference in your field – all while getting paid to do it).

This article is part of a 3-part series about becoming a full-time professional photographer. Read Part 2 here.

Also check out the next series, Becoming a Professional Photographer in 2014, here.

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35 Comments on "How To Become A Successful Full-Time Photographer In 1 Year: The Ultimate Guide – Part 1"

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Ben Kelly

It would be a dream to go full time. I’ll spend the next year improving my skills and maybe I’ll aim for 2014


Excellent text. Intriguing to see a fellow businessman (AND photographer) describing my own exact thoughts on the issue. In fact, my personal motivation to get into professional photography was a) how ridiculously overpriced it is, b) how the clients are treated not as individual humans, with their unique personalities, thoughts, and emotions (and all these reflect on a photo), but as production line units. I had had it with walking past photoshops having the exact same wedding photo, the exact same portrait shot. Exchange the faces and nothing changes, ever. Keep up inspiring!


So glad you found it useful!

Isn’t it amazing that when you begin to look for opportunities to make a difference, you begin to see that there are more than you could ever possibly occupy yourself with in your lifetime?

If you liked this intro, you’ll love part 2, where I explore that idea in much more detail. Thank you for reading.


Gary Williams

Outstanding article! Straightforward and to the point. Enjoyed it and looking forward to part deux!

Abdul Basith

Thanks Steven. Not many people would want to share their stories on the internet. Be it a success story, or an unsuccessful one.

Appreciate it !

– Basith

thanks for the post, it’s very interesting and i’m eager to read the rest. photography is a hobby of mine right now, i’ve only been into it for a few years. i really like it, but i’m also being realistic. it would be great if i could make money out of it, but i know competition is fierce these days and also admit i’m still only a beginner, that’s why i don’t expect to be making any money out of it any soon (or at all in my whole life). i hope the posts which are following will allow me… Read more »


Here’s something to consider, which might allow you to see through the difficulty of it all.

You’re right – photography is fiercely competitive, but what job (that’s interesting/worth doing) isn’t?

I assert that photography is nowhere nearly as competitive as becoming an athlete, a great doctor or an academic who has worthwhile idea. Those folks spend 10-15 years training/studying and doing their version of an on-the-job work experience before they really get an opportunity to shine

Compared to them, our goals are a lot more achievable. Just follow the points in the articles and take action 🙂


Otto Rascon

Thank you for sharing your insight into becoming a FT photographer. I especially connected with #7 because walking aimlessly taking pictures will get you nowhere. But standing for something gives you focus and vision, and that took me a while to understand. Thank you again for sharing. Much love from Chicago.

Julian John

This is terrific and has given me lots to think about, its not just about getting your head in the right place its about getting your heart there to. There are lots of technically gifted photographers who work in a formulaic way but the photographers who stand out a mile have an emotional connection to their subject whether its landscape or portraiture. Thanks for your brilliant blogs. Just about to start on second part. kind regards


Kelly Urban

Great post! I am planing on reading more of them. Oh, and fabulous photos!

Wallace Hutchinson

Your story is very inspirational. Standing up for something is very important. I have been shooting for six years and is in the process of making it a full time business. (Cant wait to read the rest of the story).

Bruce Borer
Loved all three articles, a great read. As an aspiring photographer who hopes one day to take a picture I can be really proud of, I found your articles inspiring. Oddly what really captured my attention the most though really had nothing to do with photography, it was this whole “getter” and “contributor” philosophies. I am really curious as to where you came up with that, was it something you came up with based on experience or was it something from a publication? I found that to be thought provoking and made me wonder to myself which of the two… Read more »
Matt Paint
What a breath of fresh air! An article from your heart and not one trying to sell me something! I am a newbie, very amateurish, photographer on a very steep learning curve. My inspiration for getting involved in photography stemmed from my frustrations in being unable to capture those really important, as well as those mundane, family moments on a ‘point and shoot’ camera. Countless friends and family members have ‘average’ photos in their homes and I knew that I could give them better pictures for them to enjoy and remember ‘that moment’. After lots of attempts I have realised… Read more »

Very nice its realy post by you at your website. thanks for sharing this valuable information, this is a great information for those people who want to join the photography business, i am also a photographer in perth australia and click some amazing photos you can see on my site.


Thank you for making this i am 13 and hoping to get better in photography. I have been looking for someone to correct my photos but i just can seem to find anybody.

P.S why are all the A’s in bold?

Chuck L
Some very good stuff here. But I have to disagree a bit on one of your points: “Why is everyone obsessed about comparing megapixel counts on camera gear spec sheets – how about some real reviews?” On the second point about reviews, I agree. Good, solid, real-world camera reviews are rare. But megapixel counts are very important in many types of photography, despite what some critics and reviewers say. While it’s true that you can get away with lower MP images most of the time, the more megs you have available in the full image, the better the result if… Read more »
Steven McConnell

Fair point. Of course, if you need the megapixels, then you know who you are.

My point was that, in my view, most people who engage in megapixel reviews have bigger challenges they need to focus on, before exceeding resolution of their sensor becomes a real problem.

And when I say “real”, I mean one which trips them up commercially.


Sean Gregor

Thank you so much for this article. It is so rare that you find true hope on the internet.

I am just beginning of my journey as a full time photographer. I identify with everything you wrote in this post and standing for something is now at the top of my to do list.

I cannot begin to express to you how much this article was exactly what I needed.


Steven McConnell

Hey, your work is excellent!

Thanks for checking in – I’m glad the article made a difference to you.


thanh thien le

i love to photograph more than anything in this world. I want to follow my dreams so bad but I just don’t know how.. can you please help me..

Mikias sisay

Thank you so much. i love photograph and i want to be a professional photographer i try to get some online course .please help me.


I too am a passionate photographer and would like to make a living at it rather than working for “The Man” However I am looking at it from a different viewpoint. I just want to do what makes me happy – even if I made no money as long as there was pride and recognition for you work that to me is payment enough. I would do some jobs for free just to be praised and loved for the artistry of it all. If I photographed a wedding for example and then they were proud of my work – they… Read more »
Rebecca Ellis
My love for photography came about when I bought my first camera in 2011, since taking the ropes in the photographic industry I’ve realised there’s much more than just standing behind a camera, you automatically gain an opportunity to be creative and crazy. I’m sixteen now and just invested in a Nikon Coolpix L810, definitely not top of the range but does a bang on job for such a cheap camera. Have to say it’s intriguing reading something from another photographers perspective. I haven’t found my particular style yet which is why I do a range of shoots, from photojournalism… Read more »
Carlene Webb

Feeling inspired 🙂
Such a fantastic piece, the best I’ve read for ages.
Great to see its Australian too.
Keep it up.

Steven McConnell

Thanks mate, really glad it resonated with you.


Maurice Ross

I would like to say thank you so very much for your pointed words. It is an inspiration. It puts a different perspective on life as a photographer. My love of photography came from my uncle when I was young. There have been a couple discouraging times, but the fight in me lives on, and after reading this it burns even hotter. I am starting a blog, and I am very excited about it.

Thank you very much again for your words,
Maurice Ross

I stopped reading when you called these problems: “Why is it what it still costs $10,000 to hire a great wedding photographer – how can you bring the price down while maintaining the quality? Why is it that big photo studios charge people $2,000 for a quick shoot and some big enlargements – could it be a rip-off? Why does a commercial client, going through an agency, have to pay upwards of $20,000 for one photo – can we eliminate the middlemen?” FYI: Plus, this guy’s list does not include travel elsewhere for a “destination wedding” event, nor a… Read more »
Steven McConnell (aka Trust Fund Baby).

Nice rant. You done yet?

Airfares used to be expensive, too. And some airline executive at some point also exclaimed “Do you know how much an airplane costs??”

You’re thinking as an artist, not a businessman – that’s why you’re experiencing that frustration. Now go build a business model which is more efficient.



i love your comments my dear.

David G


Frank Villafañe


Great article(s). Very apropos. One thing…I love the photos with the bridge in the background. That looks like the sister bridge to our very own Bayonne Bridge here in Bayonne, NJ. And no wonder…both were inspired by the Hells Gate Bridge built by Gustav Lindenthal.

Drop a line when you can…would love to chat.

Frank V.

Daniel Prates
Hey, Steven. How are you? Well I have always loved taking pictures. A couple months ago it started to find more and more space in my mind, though. Some people have asked why don’t I go professional and advised me to go deeper cause I have some talent for it. I don’t think I’ll be a full time photographer soon, but I do have thought about it. Your article just comes at the right time. It’s honest, clear and informative as they all should be. I’ now thinking about the stuff you wrote and I’m sure they’ll be of great… Read more »
Arleen Salinas

Thank you so much for those wise words. You write beautifully, and that photography is inspiring. I am a 20 year old looking forward to starting a photography business, so your words helped me a lot.


thanks for share your idea, be a full time photographer is my dream. as long as this I work as freelance teacher. but i realized that my passion is in photography, so i decided this year i will be a profesional photographer

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I have thought for a long time of becoming a photography! This helped me a lot with my thinking! Thank you!

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