Taking the plunge

So you’re super keen on photography, you’ve splashed out on a sexy camera and you’re desperate to start a new life as a professional.  How on earth do you start?

Location portrait

You have a lot of competition..

Firstly you need to be aware of the facts..  It is hard to make a good living in the photographic industry.  The numbers below were taken from Stop43 , a campaign which tries to protect photographic property..

  • The value of royalties paid for photographs has reduced by 80% between 2005 and 2010;
  • Within the last 10 years 52% of “photographic businesses” – including photographers and photo studios – have disappeared;
  • Since 2001, there has been a 16% decrease in the numbers of staff photographers, and 30% of freelance photographers have quit;
  • Up to 90% of images published in the press do not mention the name of the author, but instead are marked “DR”;

Don’t let this scare you off though, if you get properly trained to do your job then you’re one of the ones who are going to stay the course.  So…

Train and Commit

So firstly no matter how good you think you are, I can telly you now, you need to train.  A camera is a great tool, easy if you’re happy with a candid snap, but how do you get that dreamy blurry background and how do you take images INTO the light, and how is it best to position a subject based on a. lighting, b. background, c. lens, d. I could go on…basically, your Auto setting is the entry level and in my opinion should only be used when you don’t really care about the outcome.  You NEED to know how your camera works so that you will be able to cope in all sorts of light conditions, use different lenses for the best results, know how to use on camera flash and when to use it, what settings need to be thought about beforehand and what can be adjusted in Photoshop afterwards.  That’s not even touching on Studio lighting etc.

YES IT’s Complicated!!  It’s a bit like saying you can drive a formula 1 car if you know where the steering wheel, accelerator and break are… you may be able to move the car along if you’re very lucky, but that’s not driving, that’s not safe, that’s not smooth…I’m sure there are better analogies but basically, you will be amazed, and I’m still amazed, at how much you can do with a camera.


Now training….in this internet savy world there are some brilliant and I mean BRILLIANT training seminars online.  Free if you view as they happen and not very expensive even if you buy them to view afterwards.  I’m thinking particularly of Creative Live which I’ve used on a number of occasions.  You can pick and choose what aspect of photography you need to improve on and do it in your own time.  You should also consider joining a professional body such as SWPP (Society for Wedding and Portrait Photographers) which has a really fantastic conference/seminar extravaganza/trade show every January in London.

The other way is the good old fashioned type, lessons with a teacher.  I really think this is a necessary part of your training, firstly you need to have a teacher tell you where you’re going wrong, or, of course, where you’re going right.  Secondly you need to test the limits of your knowledge and grow your comfort zone by doing projects, test shoots, arty set ups etc.  If you don’t get stretched, you won’t know what you’re capable of.  I’m afraid my knowledge of where you can do training in the UK is limited as I did mine in Cape Town, but there are plenty of artistic institutions that will cater for the photographer.  I do still do ongoing training with whatever skills I need help with, now though I’m doing compare and contrast exercises with other pros that I feel I could learn something from.  With something as artistic as Photography and as complex as running your own business, I don’t think you ever stop learning.

But When?

Now this, of course, is very dependant on whether you’re still clinging onto your past life/job or if you’ve made the leap of faith and said “fuck it I’m quiting!”…  I opted for the latter and actually I think that is the best option.  This gives you the space and freedom to concentrate fully on your new career, and forces you to be focussed…after all you’ve got no money coming in…you’ve got to pull your finger out and get it sussed.  This is the ‘Commit’ part and is extremely important if you’re going to make it work.  I was seriously committed to ‘not going back to an office’ even though I now spend a large proportion of my time in my home office…but you see, it’s on my terms, in my time, with my own livelihood on the line and I love it.  I know that the amount of work I put in directly relates to the amount of money and satisfaction (hugely important for me) I get at the end and I can’t tell you how much I love getting emails from clients raving about their images…you don’t get that feel good factor in an office job, especially when you’re on a fixed wage.

So Peeps, take that plunge, get some serious training and get practising…you’re going to need it.

Next time, what’s the minimum you need for a set up…lets talk equipment ..


Susan Porter-Thomas LSWPP London Family Photographer

Susan Porter-Thomas

Taking the plunge

In the Beginning

How to become a professional Photographer..

If I’m right then there are literally thousands of people out there who, after the birth of their first child, found that actually working in an office was not ideal.  It restricts your ability to be free, to do things when you want to do them, to look after your child when they are sick, to avoid the rush hour..etc..etc.  I’m also sure that there are a lot of women, and men, who realise that once they have children, there are more important things to life than sitting in front of a screen and being told what to do by managers that really you wouldn’t spend the time of day with let alone do their bidding.

And so here I am, 10 years after making the break from the office, having built up a successful family photography business in London, England.  Looking back on my life and thinking

“Thank god I did it!!”.

I know you’re at that point now, “There must be something else I can do?!!”.  You may be terrified to not have that monthly income, you may not have a clue about how to make the break, you may not have a passion in which to build a business yet but I’m here to tell you,


If I can do it, so can you.  And now we have online learning, google, youtube, you have no excuse…

I plan to share with you my experience of setting up a new business in photography and the continuing process of keeping it going.  So tune in here to get hints and tips on:

  1. Setting up
  2. Getting customers
  3. Getting paying customers!
  4. Pricing
  5. Marketing
  6. SEO
  7. Branding
  8. Outsourcing
  9. Airbrushing
  10. Blogging

So Why Photography?

So lets start from the very beginning…a very good place to start..

I think like most people, I never really knew what to do with my life.  I was good academically and got good grades, enjoyed school and university life, but never knew what career path I should follow.  My strongest subject was maths, but the thought of a career with numbers appalled me.. I did Geology at university but that seemed to lead either to research or teaching, neither of which I fancied.  And so I was persuaded to join a Graduate programme in British Airways, a good company with perks that may prove interesting.  And so I found myself in an office job, 9-5 near Heathrow, with a bunch of other graduates of varying backgrounds who, like me, didn’t really know where they were headed in their careers.

I stuck it out for 8 years and made the most of what BA had to offer.  The travel, moving around different departments learning all about online selling and technology, marketing and distribution.  And then of course, I married and had my first child..  You can see where this is going…  I went to part time working and basically got given all the shit jobs that no one else wanted… bored and irritated by this treatment I couldn’t be bothered any more, my manager didn’t get why I wasn’t putting 110% into my work of putting together a backup plan for if we were not going to accept Amex card anymore (yawn).

Time for action!!

Luckily my husband (a successful professional singer), was bored of his day job at ENO (English national opera) and so we made the decision to up sticks and have an adventure living in South Africa for a year.  Just south of Cape Town, we built a house and did sundowners for one gorgeous year… but most importantly I had decided to follow a life long passion for photography and do a couple of courses whilst there to see if it led to anything.

I’m sure a lot of people get a thrill out of photography, I’m not unique, but I did always have a camera in my hands….yes I was the annoying sod in the pub at Uni with the camera, and on field trips and getting ready for a ball….  And when you have your first child, you have a perfect model for your passion.  It was when other people would look at me and say “Wow you’re pretty good…”  I wondered if I might be able to do this as a living.  Would people actually part with their money for me to do what I love doing?

And so with my trusty Olympus OM2 manual camera in hand I did some great training at the Cape Town School of Photography, both in photography and in Photoshop.  I had nothing to loose, I’d already kissed goodbye to my Office Job and all the perks that went with it.  So this is where it all started, and now I intend on telling my story from the advantage of hindsight.  I can talk for hours about my business and so I intend to bore you silly with the details…

See you next time

Susan Porter-Thomas LSWPP London Photographer

In the Beginning