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Dear Jessica,

It’s understandable that you’re terrified, doubtful and insecure about where you are. You desire something you think you want so much, but what if … what if it doesn’t work? You’ll look like a fool, you know? So, your only other option is to play it safe. Don’t pursue the dream that’s keeping you up at night. Get a job you’ll love almost as much and tell yourself that things are better that way. Save yourself the money, the late nights, the risk. Dreams come and go. This one will die, too.

Or will it? What if it doesn’t? And, you cage it? All because you feared taking a risk and failing! Do you really want to get to your 50’s and realize you wasted the best years of your life because you were scared of failing? By then it will be too late to do all that is swirling around in your head right now.

You have to do it. At least try. Otherwise, you’ll only be left with the “what ifs.”

Mark Twain said it best … “Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things that you didn’t do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.”

Now go. You will never regret it. Yes, even if it fails.


This is the letter I mentally wrote to myself in 2007. I was dying to do photography full-time. I was in love. I had ideas of how wonderful things could be if only I could do something I loved so much. But, the fear of it all nearly handicapped me. When my husband finished school and finally started making a bit of money we decided it was now or never. Take the risk or find a good job to help us start tackling the mountain of debt medical school gave us.

It took me several weeks, but the words written above kept swirling around in my head. I knew that even if I failed I had to do it. But, EVERYONE’S a professional photographer!! Who needs another?!?! Hey you! Stop talking. It’s time to sail away from the safe harbor.

503Photography2 From Hobbyist to Professional: Step 1. Get Educated Business Tips Guest Bloggers Photography Tips

Three years later and I am officially working my dream job. Aaaannnnd, happy. Aaaaaand, making good money. Yep, they can all go hand in hand if done right.

This week I’m going to share the 6 steps I took to get from a hesitant wannabe to a successful and self-sustaining, full-time, professional photographer.

503Photography1 From Hobbyist to Professional: Step 1. Get Educated Business Tips Guest Bloggers Photography Tips

My desire is not to tell you this is exactly how you need to do things. My desire is only to share with you what I have learned and found to work for me. If any of you can learn anything from what I’ve done (right and wrong) I feel these next two weeks will be most successful.

Also, thanks to some of our friends, we’re giving away loads of fun stuff. Definitely want to check in for those contests! 🙂


Step 1: Get Educated

It’s really that easy. Education is without a doubt the only way you can learn your camera, the art of photography AND how to run a successful business. Without education you will waste a lot of time and most likely a lot of money.

Education can come in the form of getting a degree, but the great thing about photography is that it can also come in all kinds of other ways as well. Some of these include, but are not limited to, local and online classes, workshops (online and in-person), books, DVDs, one-on-one mentoring with a seasoned pro, teaching blogs such as this one, photography forums, and of course, taking and learning from every picture taken.

Something important to understand is that education does take money.  Personally, I spent a good chunk of money on getting educated. I had the luxury (and I call it a luxury because I know not everyone will have this opportunity) to spend an entire year being a full-time student. I took several online classes, read books, watched DVDs, attended live workshops, took other photographers to lunch, read blogs, studied art in books and magazines and took pictures of everyone that would let me.

By the time I officially launched I was still terrified, but I was confident in using my camera, in creating solid work and in running a business properly.

Choudry-42-copy From Hobbyist to Professional: Step 1. Get Educated Business Tips Guest Bloggers Photography Tips

When I decided to pursue photography as a profession I treated it as if I was returning to school to get a degree – I was just the one that deciphered which credits were necessary for graduation.

Too often people think that all you need is a nice camera, a blog and a logo, but this is not the case. Way too many people enter into their “dream job” and fail miserably. This can be avoided if you prepare. Know what you’re getting into and what is involved on all levels (photography as an art, running a business and what to expect when working with clients). You won’t have everything down when you officially launch, but your foundation will be solid and this is what is most important.

I know money often keeps people from getting the proper education in photography that they need, but I’ll tell you that for me it gave me the confidence I needed to charge for my pictures. I had invested in myself and in my business. I knew I was going to give my clients a product they could not get from their neighbor who just happened to own a high-end DSLR. Bottom line: I quickly made the money back.

503Photography4 From Hobbyist to Professional: Step 1. Get Educated Business Tips Guest Bloggers Photography Tips

Disclaimer: I do not advocate going into debt to start a business. If you have to save up to get educated or receive your education slowly over time then I would highly suggest that route way before I would suggest the stress that comes with being in debt. Clients will sense your desperation for money and most likely will not be drawn to it.

So, Step 1: Get Educated. It is the absolute foundation to a successful business. Without it you will be like shifting sand. Only time will result in a failed business or at best you will work like a dog making less than minimum wage. Yuck. I’d rather be a Barista at Starbucks. At least then I’d have my health insurance paid for!

Jessica, our guest writer for this series on going from Hobbyist to Professional Photographer, is the photographer behind 503 photography and the owner and creator of 503 |online| workshops for adults and now, KIDS AND TEENS!

p.s. Sign your chid up for one of our kid/teen workshops and use code MCP503 for $50 off. Offer ends May 23rd.

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No Comments

  1. Monica Brown on May 10, 2010 at 9:24 am

    I am looking forward to this series of posts. Thank you!

  2. Joe Orlando on May 10, 2010 at 9:42 am

    I feel a little more empowered today from your article. I’ve always enjoyed photography but had never considered it as a career. After being unemployed for 6 months I decided I needed to broaden my resume and take on a new challenge. I chose photography. I started reading books and blogs on the subject and that really solidified my desire. The irony of your article is that today will be my first photography course at the local community college. To any amatures just getting your feet wet, I strongly recommend the book “Digital Photography for Dummies” The book is highly informative, a very easy read, and they keep it interesting so that it isnt like reading an owners manual.

  3. Sarah on May 10, 2010 at 10:03 am

    Great article- thank you so much for this series. I am so excited to keep reading. Thanks for being such a great support system for photographers everywhere!

  4. Kate Hildreth on May 10, 2010 at 10:20 am

    Fantastic article. Thank you sooo much! I needed this gentle reminder today. I can’t wait to follow along with the rest of the series. Thanks again!

  5. Kelli on May 10, 2010 at 10:27 am

    I couldn’t agree more about education! I am just starting the transition and I read everything I can get my hands on. I have also signed up for some portfolio building workshops and have been shadowing photographers who I admire. You can never get enough experience or ask enough questions. Most photographers are willing to share tips and tricks especially if you aren’t in their market! Thanks so much for the excellent advice!

  6. Lisa on May 10, 2010 at 11:00 am

    Me too…great post, so looking forward to all the rest as well!

  7. donna good on May 10, 2010 at 11:20 am

    thanks again for sharing your wealth of knowledge. it helps so much!

  8. Stephanie on May 10, 2010 at 11:22 am

    i have been studying and studying. (at different intensities over many years)i am happy to see this as the first in the series. i am having a hard time feeling confident that reading books and workshop is sufficient but I know it is. thanks for making me feel better.

  9. Miranda Glaeser on May 10, 2010 at 11:54 am

    I am really excited for this week’s posts! I am seriously in need of some inspiration and direction. It’s so wonderful for you to be supplying so much info, thank you!!!

  10. Judy on May 10, 2010 at 12:16 pm

    I really enjoyed this post except for this: “Do you really want to get to your 50’s and realize you wasted the best years of your life because you were scared of failing?” I am 50 and pet photography is going to be my second career! I’ve taken an early retirement from my first career as a secretary and now I have the time plus a small pension and health insurance to concentrate on a subject I fully enjoy! I hope the up coming years will be the best years of my life.

  11. Nancy on May 10, 2010 at 12:53 pm

    I have done all of the above but am constantly learning more – thanks for being one of my great resources.nancy

  12. wayoutnumbered on May 10, 2010 at 1:02 pm

    Loved that Mark Twain quote…really made me think! Great insights here….looking forward to more~

  13. sara k on May 10, 2010 at 1:56 pm

    I loved this article! i actually learnt photography for 2 yrs and have a great camera, lens and studio, but i am sooo lacking the confidence to just get out there and CHARGE for my pics. i do workshops in schools with kids, as well as portrait sessions, but i have butterflies in my stomach each time i have to show my work and actually state a price. It’s really good to see that there are amazing photographers out there that also had those kinda feelings in the beginning! thanx for this great blog-i love every bit of it!

  14. Greta S. on May 10, 2010 at 2:07 pm

    I am constantly doubting my abilities while currently in the educating process myself, before taking the leap into the business! I am preparing so much and know that #1 is to be properly educated so I know what I am doing!!Thanks for the upift!P.S. I posted the Mark Twain quote on my FB! Loved it!

  15. jane on May 10, 2010 at 2:53 pm

    Has anybody told you lately that YOU are an amazing young lady! And so much of what you have written is Right On the Money! To begin a journey…it is a series of small steps in the direction you need to go.Ya done good kid!!!

  16. Karen Savinon on May 10, 2010 at 3:03 pm

    this is so true!! I’m a belier that education will take you where you can’t imagine, attending workshops & conventions, and being friend with other photographers is the best way to learn from each other =)

  17. Trude on May 10, 2010 at 5:53 pm

    Thanks for taking the time to share these tips! Looking forward to the rest! 🙂

  18. Erin J. on May 10, 2010 at 8:36 pm

    This series could not have come at a better time! I JUST received my business license to start my business (like Friday). However, the business side still intimidates me so I am looking forward to the next 2 weeks!

  19. Tonya on May 10, 2010 at 8:37 pm

    Can’t wait to read the read of the series! Thanks for sharing your insight and experience with us, Jessica.

  20. rhonda on May 10, 2010 at 10:36 pm

    thanks for sharing your story with us!!!

  21. julie on May 10, 2010 at 11:36 pm

    Thank you. Couldn’t agree more, with one exception. 50 is NOT too late. I decided to follow my dream 5 years ago, at age 50.

  22. Yvette on May 11, 2010 at 1:08 am

    Thanks! I’m working on getting educated as we speak…great to know I’m on the right track!

  23. Rene on May 11, 2010 at 7:23 am

    Thank you for allowing me to benefit from your experiences AND expertise!

  24. Amanda Johnson on May 11, 2010 at 8:42 am

    This is a great post! I’m in this situation where I work FT and do photography PT. I really want to quit my job and so I can put all my attention on my business, but I’m scared to death of not having that stable income coming in. Give me a few more posts like this to read and I may get enough balls to do it!

  25. Andree on May 11, 2010 at 10:33 am

    Wow! I am already an RSS feed subscriber to the MCP site and blog (from which I often find such useful information), but this post and the timing really hit home. Funnily enough, I just came across the very same Mark Twain quote the other day. I believe things happen for a reason.Anyhow, to answer the question “What aspect of your photography training do you feel is lacking?”, I would have to say technical work with the camera. I see what I want, but I am having some frustration putting it all together seamlessly. I do believe I have talent, and I really want to take it to the next level. I think I could bring some nice things to people : – )To help spread the word, I’ve posted to my blog links to the site and its workshops, and of course about this great 2 weeks. Will add to Facebook too : – )Cheers and thanks for the boost!Andree

  26. Andree on May 11, 2010 at 10:36 am

    Sorry, technical error and I can’t seem to edit — so, kindly look at my “fortuitous finds’ page on my blog.http://www.onlindenway.com/For_Fun/index.php?id=5019496792522578118

  27. Bean Bag Chairs on May 11, 2010 at 4:15 pm

    You have a lovely blog, and a beautiful sense of style. The more I mess around with photography (I’m a total amateur), the more I love to stumble across sites like these. Congrats on your dream job!

  28. Brandi on May 12, 2010 at 11:54 am

    Thanks so much for the articles. They are right on the money, pun intended!You mentioned some ways to get educated. Do you have any specific dvd’s, books, or online classes you attended that we could look into? There are so many out there and I’ve found it’s hard to weed out the good ones.I know that MCP offers online classes and they look great! I’m looking for more business start-up, posing, etc info. I’ve bought many books on amazon and really have read just a bit of them and decided they weren’t worth the money.What do you recommend? Thanks!

  29. chris on May 12, 2010 at 3:45 pm

    There is a lot of truth to this. I am now 45, so I am pushing toward my 50s and I am looking back and seeing a lot of the things I wished I would have done, but didn’t because I took the safe route (I was brought up that way…don’t take changes/risks…always take the safe and sure route). Of course, education and those sorts of things like the online classes being offered these days weren’t around then. But if they were, I wonder if things would be a bit different. I am trying to make up for some lost time and am all over the various courses and opportunities that can now come into our homes. This article is excellent and makes some wonderful points. Pay attention and grab those opportunities!

  30. Lori Lynn on May 14, 2010 at 11:51 am

    I too am 45 and I am still a hesitant hobbyist. I purchased my first DSLR a year ago and have been immersing myself in learning about photography ever since. I am guilty of over-editing my pictures in CS4 and now I can look back on them and see the amazing changes in just one year. Less is definitely more. I am hoping that by the time I turn 50, that I too, can turn this into a full-time paying gig. For now, I will have to continue my well-paying day job as a Civil Engineer, but I am so eager to work for myself, move to a better place and find a way to earn from my creativity. I think I am going to have to sign up for some of your workshops! I am doing free portrait shoots for friends and family (to develop my skills) and I am really enjoying it. So far, they seem to be extremely pleased with the product.Now to go read the other two parts in this series! Thanks for sharing.

  31. Debbie Perrin on May 22, 2010 at 9:38 am

    One aspect of my photography training that I need help with is exposure! AND finding that sweet spot for my favorite lenses! A little help from a long time pro would be so beneficial!

  32. Jessica on February 22, 2011 at 10:20 pm

    I am currently an online student at the Art Institute of Pittsburgh with a major in Photography. No lie…I was just debating on whether or not to take a break and try to pursue this now, even if just part time. Thank you for posting this series of blogs…it is exactly what I was needing to read! Thank you 🙂

  33. Robert on December 11, 2011 at 4:28 am

    Great advice on how to stay motivated in this industry. Looking forward to reading more.

  34. Christina on April 24, 2012 at 10:21 am

    Great article, this is exactly where I am right now and starting to build my portfolio and taking as many classes I can.

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