Becoming a Professional Photographer

Blair Howard, chief creative officer and instructor of digital photography at AIOPonline, answers to the question: Can You Really Become a Professional Photographer?


Well, the answer is two-fold:

First: Yes, you can, but it’s not easy to break into the field unless know some insider secrets, and how to shoot images that will sell.

Second: There is only one quick and easy way to become established in the industry, but it does require that you are able to string two or three basic sentences together. I’m talking about travel photography in general and the Photo Essay in particular.

In order for a photograph to sell, to be acceptable for publication, it has to incorporate three basic components: good composition, perfect exposure, and proper focus. There’s also a fourth component that will turn even a relatively mediocre image into a highly saleable one: people. Most of the images you see in the glossy magazines have people in them. People add human interest to a scene. So, let’s take a look at all this in a little more detail:

First, what do I mean by good composition? Well, regardless of what you might hear from the so-called experts and artists, good composition, as far as publication is concerned, means fairly strict adherence to the rules – the rule of thirds in particular (yes, I know, it’s not really a rule at all). Editors and advertisers want images that are visually pleasing. Visually pleasing means good balance and a direct path into the picture that leads the eye to subject, or dominant point of interest. This means using such basic compositional tools as framing, leading lines, curves, patterns interrupted, diagonals, and so on.

Perfect exposure means you must consistently achieve a good balance between highlight and shadow details: not always an easy thing to achieve, especially in a high contrast situation. Highlights should not be washed out and there should be at least some detail in the shadow areas.

For an image to be properly focused, at least for publication, it must acceptably sharp from foreground to infinity. That means using hyperfocal focusing to get as much of the image into focus as possible. Editors will not accept images (especially travel images) in which the foreground is fuzzy.

As to adding people: well, instead of waiting for people to leave your picture, how about waiting for them to walk into it? Now, you should also know that this is not a hard-and-fast rule. Plenty of images will sell without people in them. But just take a look through any of the major travel publications and you will see that most of the photographs in them include people. It stands to reason, then, that people sell pictures.

Ok, now that you know what makes a salable photograph, let’s take a quick look at the photo essay.

The photo essay is nothing more than a collection of related photographs tied together with short chunks of text – extended captions.

By “related” I mean related to each other as well as to the subject. A typical photo essay might contain as few as four great images or as many as a dozen, depending upon the subject. The text that ties them together might be as short as 50 or 60 words, or it might be as long as three or four hundred words.

A typical “travel” photo essay could be a bout a particular place or even a half-dozen places. For instance: “”Country Roads of Ireland,” “10 Best New Hideaways in Europe,” “London Bed & Breakfasts,” French Cajun Country,” “Outdoor Paris Restaurants,” “Six New Caribbean Inns,” “Touring Shakespeare Country,” Touring the English Cotswolds,” Museum Hopping in London.” All of those are photo essays that have appeared in some of the world’s leading travel magazines. The last three are mine.

Now, here’s the big secret: photo essays are the fast-track to a professional career because 1) editors love them, 2) they are quick and easy to produce, 3) they will sell and resell many times, and 4) just one good photo essay per month (just 5 or 6 day’s work) properly marketed, will provide you with an income of at least $20,000 per year, and that’s a conservative estimate. Two articles a month and….

But that’s not all. There are some real perks to becoming a professional travel photojournalist (yes, that’s what it’s called). These include free travel, free accommodations when traveling, free meals, and free access to the world’s most exotic locations and attractions. Now, when I say perks, these have to be earned. The title and the perks DO NOT come for free. Only when you become a credible, published photographer will you be entitled to them.

The more essays you publish, the more your credibility will increase. The more credibility you have, the more you will publish and the more perks you will earn. There’s a story about me going around. It says that “Blair hasn’t paid for a hotel stay in Florida for more than 10 years.” Well, that’s not entirely true. What it should say is that “Blair hasn’t paid for a hotel stay anywhere in world for more than 10 years.”

As I write this I have contracts in hand for 4 new books – two are new editions of old books, and two are brand new books. Those four contracts will take me back to the Bahamas and Bermuda many times over the next 12 to 18 months. My outlay will be only pennies on the dollar compared to the actual costs of those visits. And what could be better than to be able to travel, whenever I like, to the exotic, tropical paradises that I love most of all.

Here’s the kicker: I have all of this because of the photo essay. I learned how to produce them, and then sell and resell them, more than 20 years ago and I’ve never stopped producing them since the light went on way back in 19….

Now, as you will have noticed, all of the above depends upon some fairly in-depth knowledge of 1) basic photographic techniques and skills, 2) the ability to string a couple of sentences together, 3) marketing (the ability to sell and resell the essays), 4) the publishing industry in general, and 5) how to make a detailed plan and then work it diligently.

This is knowledge you may or may not already have. If you have it, great, all you need to do now is implement it and start out on your new career. If you don’t already have it, you can learn it. In fact, I would venture to say that you could be on your way to a new career in as little as three months, and you could be earning extra cash along the way.

So, how can you learn to create stunning photo essays that will sell and resell? Just hike on over to either of the websites you’ll find listed below. Not only will you find the answer to that question, but you’ll find more articles and tips too. Enjoy.

About the author
Blair Howard is a professional photojournalist and chief creative officer and instructor of digital photography at


Selling Photos Online

6 Responses to “Becoming a Professional Photographer”

  1. Gerard says:

    I’m looking for collaborators all around the world to upload pictures in a world photo gallery.

    If you’re interested or you want to have a look at the current pictures this is the direction:

    Thank you

  2. Fantastic article, it has given me the boost to start creating some photo esays!

    Mike Langford

  3. Nice information. Great insight about venturing into the photographic world. Thanks for sharing!

  4. yur mom says:

    these pictures are weirddd,,

    expecailly the one with the sunburnn

    yur funyyy


  5. Otto Haring says:

    Good start. Basic tips we tend to neglect from time to time….!

  6. Emeryk says:

    greetings, your internet site is really special. I appreciate your do the job

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