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When can you call yourself a professional photographer?

The other day,  I got an email from Jacklin, an aspiring photographer from New York. She asked, “How do you know when you’re ready to start charging for your photography work and become a professional?” We plan to have a private coaching session to discuss various topics, including this one. I think her question could help other beginner photographers too, so I’m writing an article about it.

First and foremost, it’s crucial to understand that there are no fixed rules or guidelines dictating when and how to shift from offering free photoshoots (or accepting payment solely for expenses like travel or food) to charging reasonable fees for your services.

Many photographers begin their journey by offering free photo sessions to build their portfolios and gain experience. But when is the right moment to start charging for your services and officially declare yourself a professional photographer?

wedding photography

Photography pricing: When can you call yourself a professional photographer?

The pivotal point for me happened in early 2009. Despite having experience in photography, I didn’t have any wedding photos in my portfolio. In September of that year, I found out that one of my friends was organizing a small wedding celebration for close friends and family. With her help, I contacted the bride and offered to be their wedding photographer for free. I explained that I didn’t have a wedding portfolio and wanted to build one. The bride was pleased with the idea, especially since they were on a tight budget due to having a kid soon.

However, a few days before the wedding, the bride informed me that they had decided to hire a professional photographer instead. Despite this change of plans, she still welcomed me to attend and take photos and informed the other photographer of my presence. Even though I didn’t have any wedding photos in my portfolio then and didn’t yet consider myself a “professional wedding photographer,” I was still eager to document their special day. As a result, I could not establish or defend my position as the primary photographer, and candidly, I didn’t have a strong desire to do so.

wedding photography service

The day after the wedding, I felt a sense of unease. Although I knew I had the potential to handle wedding photoshoots independently, I struggled with gathering the courage to declare myself a professional wedding photographer officially. However, clarity came three weeks later in an email I received from a bride. She expressed gratitude for my presence and photos and also added she preferred my photos over those taken by a “professional photographer.” This moment marked a significant turning point in my professional life, paving the way for new opportunities and setting fresh goals for advancing my career in wedding photography.

It’s important to realize one essential thing: when you start charging for your photography services, clients anticipate receiving high-quality work and exceptional service. This is what defines professional services.

wedding photographer how to price

If you’re confident in your skills and consistently deliver great results, it’s a sure indicator that your hobby is ready to become a career you’re genuinely passionate about. 

This transition enables you to follow your love for photography while offering valuable services to clients who value your talent and creative perspective.

Selling your photography services and art and receiving payment for your work is a standard and appropriate practice. This is how the business world operates. As I mentioned in my article, “Being a photographer means being able to sell beautifully,” the transaction between you and the client—where they purchase your photo services, and you provide those services—is an exchange of value.

*All pictures posted in this article were taken by ArsVie Photo Studio. You cannot copy or share these images without permission from ArsVie Photo Studio.

Stay inspired,

Elena Sullivan 

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