PHLEARN MagazineHow to Be a Pro Like a Pro: Part 1

How to Be a Pro Like a Pro: Part 1

Developing a Professional Persona

With the advent of social media and digital photography (especially during the current mirrorless boom), it has become almost effortless to make money by taking pictures. But if you are going to dedicate yourself to making a living as a photographer, there’s a lot more to it than buying a kit and publishing a website.

Attracting and keeping clients is a full-time job unto itself. One wrong step on your social media page can haunt you for years, and for every search result you see for photography services in your area, there are pages and pages more right behind it. In part one of this series, we’ll talk about making yourself visible to potential clients online and approachable to them in person. Soon you’ll be marketing yourself to the right people, rubbing elbows with other pros, and doing your pro photography thing like the pro you are!

How to Attract Clients

First, why are we exploring only digital? Well, most of our potential customers do their research online. After all, we live in a digital and mobile-first world. While a traditional ad might be useful in creating awareness about your business, if your digital sphere is not optimized, then when that traditional ad prompts someone to search for you they will immediately be turned off. Imagine inviting someone into a dirty studio! Having an unoptimized digital presence is the online equivalent of a dirty studio.

So, when a potential client becomes interested in a service that your photography studio can fulfill, the likelihood is that they will begin their research online. Being where your potential client is with the answers that they are looking for is of the utmost importance! In order for us to be where our potential clients are, we need to know who they are, what their concerns are, and where they are in their journey to booking.

You’ve got your equipment and you’ve mastered every technique you’ve come across – you feel ready. But there’s one thing missing from that scenario: you can’t provide a product or a service without a client. To attract and keep quality clients, you need to knock their socks off with a great first impression. Luckily there are several things you can do to catch the eye of prospective customers, both in person and online.

Look the Part

Looks aren’t everything, but they are something. A first contact with a client sets the tone for your entire business relationship, so it’s important to get it right the first time whenever possible. The best way to do this is to present yourself as neutrally as possible (without misrepresenting your style) until you get a good feel for your client.

Once you’ve spent a little time getting to know them as a person, you can loosen up if you feel it’s appropriate, but if you start out too casual it is a lot harder to walk it back. It can take a little practice to find the right balance between friendly and businesslike, so keep a journal of your first contacts, follow-ups, and the results of those interactions to help you process what your clients find engaging versus off-putting.

Although it may not seem fair on a personal level, a large part of a good first impression is based on appearance. This doesn’t disqualify you from success if you can’t afford a different three piece suit or fancy dress for every day of the week, but good hygiene and self-awareness convey competence, and competence is what we all want when we hire a professional.

Remember that you are not selling yourself here, you are selling your services. You are allowing your photography room to speak. In short, just be the most approachable and put-together version of yourself.

That goes beyond what you are wearing and the things you say; your equipment and the way you transport it can speak volumes about the service you’re providing. Leave your home office a graveyard of lens caps and fast food wrappers if that’s how you roll, but try to keep your on-site kit as organized as possible. Not only will it give the visual that you have your stuff together, you won’t be digging around for the right lens while your subject waits. Perform regular maintenance on your bags and equipment, even if that just means a quick wipe down between shoots. If you’re going to personalize with stickers, patches, and so on, make sure your choices will not be offensive to your target clientele.


If there is one thing that is non-negotiable about client relations, it is good communication. Listen to their ideas and concerns before inserting your own take on a project to make sure they feel heard and understood. Convey with your body language that you are engaged and interested. Make it easy for them to find you if they lose your information by setting up a dedicated email address for your photography endeavors.

Responding to inquiries promptly and professionally is key to converting potential clients into steady work, so consider allowing push notifications from that account to whatever device you have with you most often. A potential client’s Google search for your area probably turned up pages of options, many of which they are contacting at the same time, so time is of the essence!

Make Sure You Look Good Online, Too

You can utilize SEO to make your name appear as high in their search results as possible, but if you don’t respond in a timely manner you may still lose out on important opportunities. Make sure that when they click on your name it sends them to a well-structured site with a portfolio of your best work and testimonials from happy clients.

Check the mobile version of your site before publishing, as this is the version most of your potential clients will probably see first. Spring for an easy-to-remember domain name (for example: www.phlearn.com rather than www.phlearn-photography.freedomainname.com) and correspond it as closely as possible with your email address. You can go with a free email service if you prefer, or you can add another layer of professionalism with a custom domain at the end of the address.

Your social media accounts should also reflect your personal style in a professional but approachable way. Most social media outlets will note for your followers how quickly you respond to messages, so try to be on top of submissions and inquiries. If you get rude or inappropriate comments, have them deleted (or reviewed, if you don’t have that option) and if you feel the need to respond, do so by private message. A reply to a public post will generally also be public, so let other potential clients see you rising above instead of spiraling down a rabbit hole.

Scout, Scout, Scout

Don’t let the first time you shoot at a location be your first time seeing that location! If your client suggests a spot, especially if it holds sentimental value for them, it’s essential for you to know what they’re talking about. Try to match up your scouting trips with the time of day you’ll be shooting whenever possible. This not only gives you an idea of the kind of light you can expect, but, for public spaces, it helps you gauge how crowded you can expect it to be. Familiarity with your location also helps you retain control of a shoot that might otherwise get out of your hands. Remember that you are supposed to be the expert, and it is hard be an expert when your client is making all of the decisions. By all means, take their ideas and preferences into consideration, but use your knowledge of composition and lighting to get the best out of a shoot no matter where it happens.

Pro To-Do List:

  • Make sure your physical appearance, body language, equipment, and online presence convey a professional atmosphere without losing approachability.
  • Use good communication skills in person, over the phone, and online.
  • Don’t make your client do half of the work. Be familiar with locations and their pitfalls before the day of the shoot.

Photo by Seth Doyle on Unsplash

How to Meet Other Pros

Even if you are technically the only person working for your photography business, no man is an island. Don’t be the dark superhero who only works alone. You’ll accomplish more with the support and collective experience of your peers to draw on.


For an incredibly saturated industry, photography can foster surprisingly close-knit communities. It may seem counterintuitive to swap secrets with what is essentially your competition, but networking is an integral part of almost any career path.

For gigs that can’t be rescheduled (such as a wedding), you will find yourself up the proverbial creek in the event of a personal emergency unless you know another photographer (or know someone who knows someone) you can trust to take it over for you. You may lose out on the income you were expecting from that contract, but you can avoid poor feedback online and in your client’s social circles by providing them with alternative coverage. In fact, clients usually view this as an integrity move and appreciate not having to scrounge for a replacement themselves.

How can you make these contacts? Once you get started, it almost becomes hard not to! As with attracting clients, social media is probably the easiest place to start looking for a pro photographer community. Look for groups based near you that arrange meet-ups. This serves the dual purpose of introducing you to professionals in your field that you can actually meet face-to-face, and opening a door to resources in your area you may not have even thought to look for. Don’t limit yourself to your geographic location though. Look into conferences, conventions and workshops.

Even if you’re not open to travel—or it’s out of your budget!—don’t skip this step. Many of the larger conventions may have live coverage or will blog about what goes on there. You can use that to keep your ear to the ground for new tech and trends, which may not make it to your area for a while if you’re in a less populated part of the country.

Photography blogs and YouTube will be full of recaps and reviews in the days immediately after a big event, as well. A live photo workshop will allow you to get constructive criticism on your technique, but there are also plenty of e-workshops that you can sign up for, many of them free.

As with anything else, confirm that you are getting information from an established and trustworthy source before implementing new strategies. Anyone with a computer can make and sell a webinar, so it is very important to do your due diligence. You are looking for tested and true methods from successful pro photographers, not opinions and filler language from glorified hobbyists at or below your own level of proficiency!

Beware of the last-minute sales pitch. A free webinar is often geared around its last few minutes, where there will be an aggressive plug for a paid service or e-course at a discount that “just won’t wait.” That’s not to say you can’t find some great fresh content in the free portions of a reputable e-workshop, but don’t shell out a paycheck for a “discounted” class on the spot.

A trick you can use is to sign up for the same seminar at two different times. Whatever they’re trying to sell you the first time, research it to be sure it’s going to be worth your time and money. If you still feel good about it, attend the second session you signed up for, snag the discount, and go enjoy some useful content! Make sure you keep track of all of these expenses and that they come out of your business bank account. They can be written off as a business expense on your taxes!

Photo by rawpixel on Unsplash

Find a Mentor

If you do it right (and have a little luck), networking will give you the greatest gift of all: a mentor. There’s no replacement for good advice from someone who has been where you are and built on it. Their failures and successes are like gold, and the very best part is that even as you get better and learn more, so will they! It’s like earning interest on your own experience.

Sometimes a mentor will just fall from the sky when you’re in the right place at the right time, but don’t sweat it if it doesn’t happen organically for you. You could consider an internship if your other commitments allow, or call around to ask about assistant or second shooter opportunities. This will always require a bit of tact as you are basically asking someone to train their competition. Be able to offer reasons why taking you on is a good deal for them and have a well-thought out portfolio to show upon request.

Although it’s good etiquette to do some polite follow-up if you don’t hear back (after all, people are busy!), be careful not to pester. Remember that the photographers you are contacting have probably already been networking for years! You don’t want your name to develop a negative connotation before your foot is even in the door.

Pro To-Do List:

  • Look for social media groups that revolve around your niche. Keep an eye out for meet-ups in your area!
  • Research conventions and conferences that interest you. If you don’t attend in person, stay tuned into their online presence to stay abreast of their goings-on.
  • Look into live workshops and webinars from established photographers. Only purchase courses after confirming that they will actually be useful to you.
  • Always be on the lookout for a professional mentor and use good etiquette when communicating with other photographers. You never know who they know!

Photo by Diego PH on Unsplash

Go For It!

The best way to become a master photographer is to practice, practice, practice! If you want to build a quality client base though, you’ll need to get your face out from behind your camera and get it in front of your clients and fellow pro photographers. It can be intimidating to put yourself out there, especially if you’re a natural introvert with a passion for images, but the return you get from forming an approachable and professional presence is worth the effort. Learn from established photographers who are willing to share their experiences with you. You might just find a mentor along the way!

Most importantly, have confidence in yourself and your abilities. You can do this. Market yourself effectively, do your best work, and check out How to Be a Pro Like a Pro, Part 2 to learn about naming your photography business, putting the right information in your contracts, and getting paid by your clients!

Maggie King

Maggie King is a freelance writer, photo editor, and mother of three. She specializes in product photography retouching and creates regular content for several blogs and social media presences.

One Subscription. All of PHLEARN

Get Instant Access to Every Tutorial