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How to Become a Photographer Without a Degree



Aspiring to be a photographer but worried that your lack of formal training might hold you back? You don’t have to!


Because degrees and certifications certainly have value, they are not the be-all and end-all for forging a rewarding career. With grit and smart strategies, you can set up a thriving photography business without prestigious credentials.


Here is an exhaustive guide on how to become a photographer without a degree. Let's get started!


Master the Technical Foundations

Before unleashing your creative genius, grasp photography's technical backbone. Learning these basic concepts will enable you to capture stunning frames confidently.


What is Exposure and the Exposure Triangle



Mastering exposure gives you control over the lightness and darkness of your photos. Put simply - a properly exposed photo contains adequate detail in the darkest and brightest areas. 3 main interacting settings affect exposure:


Aperture - The width of the opening in the lens

Shutter Speed:  The duration the shutter stays open

ISO: How reactive the digital sensor is to light


Understand how adjusting one value of this exposure triangle impacts the other two. With practice, intuitively compensating these parameters for balanced exposures will become second nature.


Shooting Modes

Your camera offers multiple modes for varying situations. Start with the Program Auto Mode (P) which automatically handles shutter speed and aperture for properly exposed photos. Don’t just stop there, explore creative paths like:

  • Aperture Priority (A or Av): Manually choose the aperture while the camera selects a suitable shutter speed for light conditions

  • Shutter Priority (S or Tv): Manually set the shutter speed while the camera picks the corresponding aperture size

  • Manual (M): Total control by independently adjusting both aperture and shutter speed

  • Scene Modes: The camera optimizes settings for a selected scenario like landscape, sports, night shots, etc.


Metering

Metering refers to how your camera calculates the amount of light and determines ideal exposure parameters. Consult your camera’s manual to leverage built-in metering modes.


For instance, Matrix Metering divides images into zones and considers overall framing for balanced exposures. Spot Metering is considered just a small central portion.


Understanding metering nuances gives you more control over the look of final images.


Compositional Techniques

Well-composed photos grab attention and convey narratives effectively. As the famous saying goes - "It's not what you look at that matters, it's what you see”. Master compositional elements like:


Rule of Thirds: Mentally divide frames into thirds vertically and horizontally. Align key subjects along these lines or their intersections for pleasing balance and impact.

Leading Lines: Utilize natural lines like shore edges, fences, and roads that direct the viewer’s gaze toward the main subjects for powerful visual flow.

Framing: Use natural frames like arches, windows, and overhanging branches to showcase and isolate primary subjects.

Patterns: Explore eye-catching repetitive patterns in architecture, nature, and everyday scenes to create captivating textures.

Symmetry: Reflection and repeating patterns allure the eye towards centers of interest along the central axis.


As Ansel Adams wisely said - "A good photograph is knowing where to stand". Dedicate time to observing lighting, patterns, geometric shapes, and lines that make ordinary locations extraordinary.


Mastering Light

Photography is really about sculpting various light forms to infuse mood, dimension, and drama. Study how sunlight and artificial lights interact with themes and bounce off surroundings.


Hard Light: Undiffused direct light from a bright centralized source. Creates dark harsh shadows and high contrast as seen in midday sunlight.

Diffused Light: Soft scattered light passing through cloud cover or a translucent surface. Reduces shadows for smooth, even illumination. Golden Hourlight possesses this flattering quality.

Backlighting: The light source is behind the subject, silhouetting foreground elements.

Captures rim lighting outlines around subjects and backlight rays for atmospheric shots.


Also, brush up on 3-point and split lighting patterns commonly leveraged in portrait photography. Learning how to set up photography lights is crucial for creating stunning images with depth and dimension.


Find Your Niche



Photography encompasses various disciplines. While well-rounded skills augment creativity, zeroing in on specific genres aligning with inherent strengths catalyzes growth.


Portrait Photography

Overview: Focuses on people's expressions and emotional dimensions. Encompasses headshots, family photos, newborn sessions, and more.

Consider If: You enjoy interacting with people, have patience for posing, and love capturing emotive essence.

Key Skills: Directing people comfortably, flattering lighting, effective posing, post-processing skin smoothing.

Getting Started: Practice on friends for free headshots. Rent equipment if needed. Assist a family photographer to gain experience.


Pet Photography

Overview: Showcases beloved domestic animals like dogs, cats, and horses. Extends to wildlife photography of exotic untamed species.

Consider If: You are compassionate towards animals and can demonstrate patience in unpredictable situations.

Key Skills: Animal care awareness, pet psychology, positive reinforcement-based direction, fast response, and anticipation of spontaneous events.

Getting Started: Create portraits for shelter animals to build an initial portfolio. Consider pet photography workshops by experts before independent practice.


Still Life Photography

Overview: Involves taking creative photos of inanimate objects like food, antiques, collectibles, textiles, and jewelry.

Consider If: If you have keen observational skills, appreciate the little details, and revel in playing with composition.

Key Skills: Masterful lighting abilities, experimenting with angles, textures, and color for dramatic effect. Still-life photos rely heavily on lighting and arrangement skills versus other technical settings.

Getting Started: Start photographing personal items, props, and arrangements at home before offering services.


Underwater Photography

Overview: Encompasses underwater life along coral reefs and shipwrecks plus above-water shots from unique perspectives.

Consider If: Adventure, marine life, and extreme sports photography appeal to your adrenaline-junkie spirit.

Key Skills: Comfort with specialized waterproof equipment, strong swimming skills, underwater lighting techniques, and safety protocol awareness.

Getting Started: Enroll in PADI’s underwater photography course to acquire the requisite knowledge. Consider internships with underwater professionals.


This covers just a snippet of photography varieties like food, wedding, real estate, macro, newborn, and architectural domains - each with distinct frameworks. Let your inherent penchants guide niche selection then thoroughly equip your skills accordingly.


Build an Impressive Photography Portfolio

Your portfolio shows off the best images from your photographic journey. It displays your versatility and unique visual style. While social media offers useful visibility, portfolios are vital for showing clients your work and expertise. For tips on creating a strong portfolio, read the step-by-step guide to building a Photography Portfolio


Ways to Present Your Portfolio


Physical Portfolio Books

Classy photo albums you can bring to client meetings to personally showcase work samples. This conveys professionalism.


Digital PDF Portfolios 

Digital portfolios let you easily share images across devices. Include a PDF portfolio link in your email signature for convenient sharing.


Online Photography Websites 

A central website to display photo galleries showcasing your services, skills, pricing packages, testimonials, etc. User-friendly contact forms make it easy for clients to reach you.


Mobile Apps 

Mobile apps like Format.com or FolioHD.me provide on-the-go portfolios so clients can view your work anywhere.


While free website builders are tempting, investing in a customized template from a reputable vendor ensures credible branding.


Strategic Image Selection

Let your photos tell compelling stories that draw clients in. Avoid overloading your portfolio. Carefully pick around 15 images per category that best display your unique style and technical skills.


For photo series, only choose 3-5 shots that focus on key storylines. Categorize galleries by offerings like portraiture, products, real estate, etc for easy browsing based on client interests. Showcase both the range across genres to highlight versatility as well as depth and consistency within each genre.


If just starting out with limited shoots, showcase 5-10 strong images that demonstrate capabilities. Pad lighter portfolios with pro bono session photos or conceptual projects. We all have mediocre shots - cull anything that diminishes your brand, only displaying your best hero images.


Creating Photographic Stories

What makes viewers engaged with an image? Intriguing backstories and emotional elements. Frame impactful shots with behind-the-scenes details of challenges you overcame to capture difficult images. Or share loving anecdotes about restoring treasured heirlooms before a nostalgic still-life shoot.


Explain technical details like using early golden light to enhance saturation in landscape photos. This provides insight into your artistic visions. Ultimately, clients connect more with the experiences images encapsulate rather than just technical execution.


Gain Invaluable Hands-On Experience

Transform concepts into muscle memory by continuously honing skills beyond tutorials. Tackle challenges of varying complexity with these time-tested routes.


Be Your Own Subject

We often overlook familiar people and everyday objects as worthy photo subjects. Rekindle curiosity in routine surroundings by photographing familiar spaces like your home, neighborhood, or daily commutes through fresh perspectives.


Find beauty in mundane details often ignored. Abstract angles, textures, and slivers of light transform lackluster objects into intriguing compositions.


Offer Friends and Family Discounted Shoots

Nothing builds confidence faster than first-hand experience. Gain trust by photographing personal connections over strangers. Offer discount deals on portrait sessions for friends just starting families or budding entrepreneurs wanting headshots. Your social network won't scrutinize perfection but provide authentic feedback for progress.


Volunteer for Local Events or Non-Profits

Every community hosts interactive events benefiting from visual media coverage - marathons, school plays, fundraising galas, adoption drives, etc. Contact organizers of upcoming functions with photography volunteer proposals accentuating their marketing needs. Gives you access to dynamic environments for adding event images to your portfolio.


Find Inexpensive Models on Social Media

Aspiring models benefit from building portfolios so offer trade deals. Help each other gain experience with Concept Share sites like Model Mayhem connecting local talent. Alternatively search hashtags like #aspiringmodel, #amodel, or #photographymodel on Insta/Facebook. Be transparent about skill levels during collaborations.


Assist Established Photographers

Learn tricks of the trade by interning or assisting photographers whose works inspires you. Reach out politely expressing passion for their specialty and interest in shadowing projects to gain hands-on insights they cultivated over the years. Handle equipment, lighting, and post-production in exchange for mentoring. Some established artists relish passing the baton to budding talent. Be professional if the opportunity arises.


Enter Photography Contests

And here comes the best way to gain invaluable hands-on photography experience: Enter Photography Contest!


There are unlimited benefits. You must participate in contests to win cash prizes, gain visibility for your work, and receive expert feedback.


Competing allows you to experiment with new techniques and provides real-world experience that strengthens your skills. Use it as a launching pad to propel your artistic talents onto bigger platforms. 


Setting Up Your Own Photography Business

Ready to monetize your passion after a few time honing fundamentals? Let’s condense the steps for establishing a lean launchpad for your solo photography venture. With realistic time investments spread over months, reap rewards within a year!


Structuring Your Business

Freelancing as a sole proprietorship offers administrative ease for new entrants. Register your business name then open a separate bank account with bookkeeping software to track finances. Migrate to an LLC over time for liability protection as operations grow.


Pricing Your Photography Services

Pin down rates by analyzing costs, hours invested per session, local competitor rates, targeted profit margins, and current portfolio quality demanding premium prices or nominal fees. Avoid underselling yourself. Explore a la carte or package deals. Revise rates as you garner positive reviews and deliver bigger productions.


Creating Client Contracts

Protect creative rights and payment terms with contracts covering equipment usage, shoot details, client expectations, number of final edited images, licensing rights, model releases, deposits, change/cancellation policies, usage rights, and more. Define scope limitations to manage workload.


Getting the Word Out

Leverage social media and professional networking platforms like LinkedIn to engage potential clients. Allow past clients to publically share images for referrals. Claim and optimize online directory listings.


Have a media kit ready with a brand summary, product brochure, popular images, and offerings list. Content marketing describing photographic style also attracts new leads. Learning how to get photography clients is crucial for building a sustainable business.


Managing Workflow and Deliverables

Invest in templates, guides, and checklists to streamline client coordination from initial inquiry through delivering final edited, color-corrected, and retouched images on promised deadlines. Ensure seamless progress tracking and communication.


Building an initial client base organically through referrals, word-of-mouth, and reasonable advertising may progress slowly but firmly cements brand authority with solid portfolios and great experiences.


Continue Learning About Photography


Complacency stagnates creativity. Even expert artists constantly hone crafts through these ongoing learning pathways:

  • Read Photography Blogs & Magazines: For staying updated with ever-evolving gear, trends, and techniques

  • Listen to Photography Podcasts: Dive into creator journeys while commuting

  • Watch YouTube tutorials & Take Online Courses: For visual demonstrations of tricky techniques

  • Attend Workshops, Seminars, and Webinars - Interact with mentors discussing industry insights

  • Join Facebook Groups or Subreddits - Crowdsource solutions to photographic hurdles

  • Maintain Notes & Bookmark Helpful Resources - Consolidate learnings for quick reference

  • Experiment with New Equipment/Software – Retain beginner’s innovative edge

  • Travel to Inspiring Locales - Infuse fresh perspectives


As Ansel Adams fittingly stated: "You don't make a photograph just with a camera, you bring to the act of photography all the pictures you have seen, the books you have read, the music you have heard, the people you have loved”. Stay perpetually awe-struck!


Final Words of Encouragement

This concludes our extensive walkthrough of pursuing photography without traditional educational prerequisites. I hope the actionable ideas slay limiting beliefs around formal training requirements. You CAN establish expertise as long as passion persists. 


While the photography industry is highly competitive, there are endless uncharted routes and underserved niches for burgeoning artists to thrive in using the guideposts above.


And remember success doesn’t happen overnight. Be patient with progress unraveling organically once fundamentals become second nature through sheer mileage. Some days will test resilience despite strategic efforts.


Stay inspired! The world needs your unique visual voice.


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