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Thread: Becoming a Professional Photographer

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    Administrator ricktas's Avatar
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    Becoming a Professional Photographer

    Becoming a Professional Photographer

    So, you have bought a camera, a few friends have said you take good photos and you now want to take the step to becoming a professional photographer. This thread is a guide on some of the things to consider. This is not a definitive thread, but it covers a lot of aspects for those starting out.

    Are you ready?

    Professional photography is hard, you are working for others, with differing expectations, you need to be able to meet and exceed those expectations. Be honest with yourself, is your photography good enough, really?

    Are you prepared?

    Have you done any small business courses? Professional photography is mostly about marketing, promotion, client liaison, business partnerships (printers, suppliers), tax reporting, book-keeping, people management, and then there is the photography. It is highly recommended that anyone starting out in business of any sort, have some sort of training in how to run a business.

    Time, do you have the time to run a business?

    Running a business takes time. It is not just about taking a heap of photos on a Saturday for a wedding; you then have hours of post-processing, album preparations, client bookings and appointments, contracts, and more. Do you really have the time to dedicate to your business to make it successful? Are you flexible? What if a client wants to meet you at 10.00pm, are you able to do that? No use saying "I can't cause the children will be in bed". If you cannot meet a client to discuss a proposal, they are going to wonder if you can put in the 2 hours, 5 hours or more, to do the job, without having to run home to 'put the kids to bed'. Photography as a profession is about 80% business and 20% photography, and you need to be adaptable, flexible and professional at all times.

    Do you have the equipment?

    Professional photography is not about taking your DSLR and kit lens out and getting the shots, it is about having all the gear necessary to shoot your genre(s) under any conditions. What if your client wants a studio shoot, can you do that, or perhaps a midnight portrait shoot on a full moon? Do you have the gear to deal with that? What if you experience equipment failure (it happens), do you have the gear to cope with something like a complete camera body failure (it happens -the camera just dies) and still be able to finish the shoot in a professional manner?

    Courses

    There are some brilliant photography courses available, especially those that are more workshops directed at specifics, like weekend wedding photography workshops. They can be very beneficial for YOU. Why for YOU, well your clients generally don’t care what courses you have done, they have probably never even heard of the course or instructor(s), what the client cares about is your work, the quality of it, nothing more. So do the courses to improve your own photography, but don’t necessarily make the fact you have done the courses a huge part of the promotion of your business. Let your own work do that!

    Mentor

    Find a mentor. Find a professional photographer who is willing to take you under their wing, maybe as an assistant, learn from them. Absorb everything you can. But before you go looking for a mentor, be prepared to have done the hard yards learning how to be a damn good photographer first. A good, solid portfolio of work, will make you stand out from the pack, when the Pro is considering an assistant. Remember there are lots of other people out there wanting the experience of working with a Pro as well, you have to be better than them.

    Photography

    Yep, photography is listed here. You need to be good, end of story! Good doesn’t mean that Aunt Bessy tells you that your photos are good. Good means complete strangers (AP members maybe) are telling you that your photography is of a high standard. Start at the beginning, learn the Art of Photography, learn all aspects of you camera, and understand the features, how they work, don’t forget to include light. Light is the key to photography, without it, you can’t take photos. Do you know how to control light? You need to be a very good photographer who can deal with all sorts of situations.

    Post-processing is inherent in photography. Do you have the skills needed to process a photo the way the client wants. Learn all you can about post processing, maybe do a course or two. Sometimes the post-processing is more important than the original photo. Your post processing skills can make or break your success.

    Business Plan

    Create a business plan. You need to make sure you can make money doing this. No use charging $80.00 an hour, if your costs are $70.00 an hour. You need to know exactly what all your costs are, before you can work out a charging schedule. Most small business courses include a section on creating a business plan.

    Another thing to do is a SWOT assessment. Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, Threats

    Strengths
    : What are your strengths compared to the other photographers in your area? Use them to your advantage.

    Weaknesses
    : What are your weaknesses? Work at improving them so they are no longer weaknesses. Your competitors will use your weaknesses against you

    Opportunities: What opportunities exist in your area? Is their a gap in the current market that is not being addressed by the Professional Photographers in your area? Is it commercially viable?

    Threats
    : Threats can come from all angles. Maybe there is a primary industry in your region? What happens if it closes down suddenly and a heap of people are suddenly unemployed; this can impact your business dramatically. Recognise threats, understand them, plan in advance of what to do, if they occur.

    Marketing


    Be ready to market yourself. Can you sell yourself? Some people cannot! You have to be willing to push your business, how else are people going to know you exist? There are plenty of other Professional Photographers out there, how are you going to make your name know? Know your market! If you live in an area primarily of retirees, no use setting up an baby photography studio. If you live in a low income area, it is pointless setting up a $10K per wedding photography business.

    Presentation. You need to be able to present yourself as a professional. Turning up to a client meeting in dirty trousers cause you have been 'in the garden' is not on. You also need a wonderfully laid out and presented portfolio, whether that be albums or on a computer, you need to be able to present your body of work to the client. You need several of these. No use showing baby portraits to a wedding couple, or car shots to to a couple wanting pregnancy shots. Only show your best work, that is relevant to the client. But have access to the other portfolios in need. You never know when a wedding couple might mention that the Groom is into cars, so why not spend a moment or two showing them your automotive photography? This does several things, you might get another job, they might recommend you to a friend who wants a car shoot, and it endears you to the client, they feel an affinity to you, cause you are interested in the things they are.

    Communication

    Your communication skills are paramount. You need to be many things. Marketer, with an ability to sell yourself. Listener, to determine what it is the client wants. Remember some clients will not be effective communicators, so you made need to ask questions, clarify details etc. You need to be a director, being able and willing to tell clients (portraiture), how you want them to sit, stand, turn. You need to be good at both verbal and written communication. No use being a great marketer if your reply to an initial email enquiry starts with "thanks 4 ur email". The skills to control a situation, and move it in the right direction will be tested. Making people who are not used to being in front of a camera, relaxed and enjoying themselves. Have a sense of humour. Be sensitive to clients beliefs (religious and other).

    Contracts / Prices

    You will need contracts. Get all clients to sign contracts for the work they 'employ' you to undertake. Contracts are extremely important if someone doesn't pay you. And be prepared to not be paid, every business has clients that are bad payers. Have something in place to deal with these non-payers. Contracts need to be accurate and stipulate exactly what is being done and for what price. Speaking of price, you need to sit down and work out a price structure, one that will suit your client base, and be affordable to your target markets, but at the same time give you the income you need to not only keep operating by covering business expenses, but also give you a wage, money for superannuation etc. You need to know exactly what the minumum price is that you can charge to be profitable, and then your usual price, and also possible a 'high-end' price for those times you get an extremely demanding and work load intensive jobs that require a huge deal of attention, and thus could also be your occasional 'bonus'. Contracts and Prices are what make you successful. It is the money that comes in that keeps your business running, not how good a photographer you are.

    Professional Associations

    Consider joining professional associations, like the AIPP. These bodies have a wealth of knowledge that is open to you, including things like draft contracts. They also run courses regularly, provide access to discounts on things like insurance. They can be very worthwhile as a source of information.

    Other

    Other! Those things you need to also consider/have. Insurance, both for your gear, and public liability. Guess what is going to happen if a guest at a wedding trips over your camera bag and breaks a leg? Peripheral Business things, website, business cards, and more. There is a lot more to running a successful business, whether it be a weekend, part-time, or full time one. It is not about, 'have bought camera, can make money'.

    Overview

    Becoming a professional photographer can be very rewarding; however, those that succeed have several key reasons, which in part includes those listed above. These are no different in most instances to being successful in any business, not just photography. If you can honestly say you are ready, put in 110% and go for it. If you are not ready assess your weaknesses, work on improving them until you are ready.

    The professional photography industry in Australia is shrinking, this mean some people will not succeed in this industry, and some of those already in the industry will leave it, whether you do or not, is entirely up to you. To coin a phrase ‘be prepared’ and be flexible. Always be ready to re-assess your business plan, or any other aspect of your business.

    Footnote : any member who wants to add productive comments to this thread, please do so, but posts asking for specific answers etc will be deleted. Please ask those separately in the Business of Photography Forum.
    Last edited by ricktas; 25-06-2013 at 1:30pm.
    "It is one thing to make a picture of what a person looks like, it is another thing to make a portrait of who they are" - Paul Caponigro

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  2. #2
    It's all about the Light!
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    Web Presence

    You may wish to have a web presence, and the first question to ask is what sort of site you want (or need).

    Consider the following options:
    • A brochure site - just the basics about your capabilities and contact information
    • A portfolio site - This is a brochure site with a gallery added on to show your best work, organised by Genre
    • A commerce site - this type of site allows online booking and product sales,
      this is not recommended until your business is well established as it has costs in terms of money and time

    Regardless of what sort of web site you have, you will need to keep it fresh and
    up to date or it will soon become and anti-promotion rather than something positive.

    Other web considerations:
    • Domain name - you need something easy to remember and relevant to you

    • Site styling (look and feel) aka Branding - you must get this right

    • Web Hosting - where will your site be server from and which technology will be used. This is a big topic, get help!
      There are two main platforms that affect what you can do with your site.
      1. LAMP which is Linux, Apache, MySQL, PHP/Perl - this is the most popular option with many low cost or free software add-on options (AP runs on a LAMP server)
      2. Windows Server with SQL Server (.Net) - the next most popular option, tends to cost a bit more and the add-on software is often at a price


    • Australian or US based hosting
      Australian hosting will mean faster access to the site, but cost more than US based hosting providers

    • Web site software - CMS (Content Management System eg. Joomla), Gallery, Forum, Blog, Wiki, and Commerce are all options for your site.
      These can be integrated if you select the right combinations.
      You will need to do a lot of research, and again, will most likely need professional help especially if you lack technical skills.

    Web sites can cost from nothing to $10,000+ to set-up and from $10/month to $1,000/month to run depending on many factors.
    Do your homework before deciding that you want a web site.
    Have a good business plan related to what you want to get from the web site and the budget you will work to.
    Last edited by Kym; 15-03-2011 at 8:07pm.
    regards, Kym Gallery Honest & Direct Constructive Critique Appreciated! ©
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  3. #3
    Ausphotography Regular gcflora's Avatar
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    Excellent write-up. And here I was thinking all I'd have to do is print some business cards
    Craig

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    I think as a part-timer the BIGGEST thing to set a scale that you are comfortable operating at taking all that advice. Do you want/are able to shoot weddings every other weekend, or just 3 a year etc. Makes a big difference to lots of other considerations - ie family time and what you will charge to compensate for that, marketing etc - but as said thsi should be part of a Business Plan.

    Good point about the gear, I know one "photographer" who is cancelling families paid christmas photo shoots as that photographer has only the equipment to shoot in natural light - and it's been bucketing down in SEQ last week or so. Now that's unprofessional.
    Darren
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    The only thing I could add to this comprehensive advice is make sure you have enough capital available to secure all the equipment you need, all the promotion you need and pay all the debts you will incur for at least twelve months. You cannot start a business without cash, a little pot of gold and history tells me that in this industry that nest egg should be around $50,000. If you are not sure how to calculate this see an accountant. See an accountant anyway because 80% of your business will depend on it.
    Photojournalist | Filmmaker | Writer | National Geographic | Royal Geographic

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    Member jeffde's Avatar
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    Add supportive family and particularly your partner - long hours on the weekend and in front tof the PC.
    No business survives if you don't have a supportive partner.
    Jeff - Jeff D Photography
    Canon -
    http://jeffdphoto.ifp3.com/
    www.jeffdphotography.com.au


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    its a scary proposition to make the leap from amateur to professional, but this article has certainly cleared up a couple of outstanding questions.

    thanks

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    Fantastic and Nice information., it has given me the boost to start creating some photo esays!. Great insight about venturing into the photographic world. Thanks for sharing!

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    Hi all,

    This is my first post to the forums.

    I have to agree with Ricktas, as a working professional nature photographer for over 30 years, you spend more time in front of the computer doing admin work than you do out photographing. Which means if you want to be a professional Photographer you are in a sense giving away the very thing you love to do...photograph.

    Many feel that their photography is good enough because their friends and family think so but the reality is that they have an emotional attachment to your images and people that are likely wanting to employ you, don't.

    It is a struggle to make ends meet as a photographer no matter how good you are, if you take a local photographer as an example; Steve Parish, he would be hard pushed to be where he is today based on just his photography, his wealth comes from the marketing and publishing side. If you are thinking of stock than you need to consider that you need tens of thousands of images in libraries to have a chance. There is an old saying that if you value each image in a library at one dollar per year and you want to make $10,000 per year, you need 10,000 images.

    I realise I may be sounding harsh but it is the reality of the business, a lot of hard work with many struggles along the way for rather little wealth gained except for a very few lucky ones. And in the age of digital and social media where the internet is flooded with outstanding images you have to remember that you will be in competition with these.

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    Zack Arias recently did a great creative live session on "Foundations of a working photographer" ... Great discussion about the minimum you need to live etc. ie. When you first start your expenses maybe low, your gear maybe basic. After a while improving and getting better jobs you may want to employ an on commission salesman ... costs go up, prices go up.

    Canon 5D Mark II, 16-35mm 2.8L, 24-70mm 2.8L
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    great thread!

    some really interesting points here, and a lot to think about...

    given my first forays into the genre, the time in front of the pc vs time behind the camera scenario definitely rings true!

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    I think the step from someone who loves photography to someone who takes photos for a living can be a big step. I just completed a Professional Photography Diploma and now working on my website.Not something I will rush into.
    John
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    Ok, this is not going to be a popular post. But, as a recently retired professional photographer from 1982 until September last year, it is my honest opinion that photography as a profession is now dead. The emergence of digital technology, combined with the instant and global publishing ability given by the internet, means that only a very few, extremely talented and extremely good sales/business people will truly be successful as pro photographers.

    Of course, there is, and will increasingly be, a plethora of amateurs/semi-pros making a few quid out of photography. But the real fact is that commercial budgets have simply been reduced as the value of photography has declined. Today even experienced product and marketing managers often fail to see the value in professional images and as a result fail to assign sufficient budget to generate great images. Too often the attitdue is, "So-and-so in accounts is a keen photographer and has a good camera. We'll get her to do it," rather than, "If we commit a large budget to this product and get a really great photographer to shoot it then our brand image will be high with a resultant increase in sales over a period of time." Marketing professionals today simply fail to see the difference between good photography and not-so-good photography. Sad, but true. 20 years ago I was routinely getting shoot budgets of $15000 a shot. My day rate in 1988 was $1400 a day; when I retired it was $600.

    Social photography has been impacted even more severly. As the vast majority of social photography - wedding and portrait - are today usually shot outside, the technical knowledge for this type of photography is low and therefore the entry level extremely broad. It is not for nothing that the vase majority of new photographers are therefore entering this field rather than advertising or industrial/commercial photography where a lot of equipment and knowledge of lighting, depth of field, depth of focus and such arcane laws as the Scheimpflug principle are required to be successful with the concommitant investment in both education and equipment is high.

    Does this mean it's not wortlh pursuing a career in imaging? Definitely not. There are plenty of opportunities out there for exceptionally skilled and talented people. Here's what I think is necessary to be successful in the future:
    1. Learn videography rather than just photography. Cameras such as the Red, not to mention the latest DSLRs are capable of creating theatre quality motion pictures as well as print quality still images.
    2: It is becoming much more important for an imaging professional to be highly skilled in post-production technologies if they are to be able to deliver images and footage that is significantly different/better than anybody else. It means the ability, no, the necessity, of being able to pre-visualise an image/scene in its completed state and then to structure the various steps to achieve that final result from set to props to direction to capture to post-production manipulation to output.

    If you truly want to be a professional, invest in education; live, sleep and breathe your craft (there won't be room in your life for anything else) and move to one of the major cities - Sydney, London, New York, LA, etc - where the vast majority or professional imaging takes place.

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    Quote Originally Posted by franko View Post
    Ok, this is not going to be a popular post. But, as a recently retired professional photographer from 1982 until September last year, it is my honest opinion that photography as a profession is now dead. The emergence of digital technology, combined with the instant and global publishing ability given by the internet, means that only a very few, extremely talented and extremely good sales/business people will truly be successful as pro photographers.

    Of course, there is, and will increasingly be, a plethora of amateurs/semi-pros making a few quid out of photography. But the real fact is that commercial budgets have simply been reduced as the value of photography has declined. Today even experienced product and marketing managers often fail to see the value in professional images and as a result fail to assign sufficient budget to generate great images. Too often the attitdue is, "So-and-so in accounts is a keen photographer and has a good camera. We'll get her to do it," rather than, "If we commit a large budget to this product and get a really great photographer to shoot it then our brand image will be high with a resultant increase in sales over a period of time." Marketing professionals today simply fail to see the difference between good photography and not-so-good photography. Sad, but true. 20 years ago I was routinely getting shoot budgets of $15000 a shot. My day rate in 1988 was $1400 a day; when I retired it was $600.

    Social photography has been impacted even more severly. As the vast majority of social photography - wedding and portrait - are today usually shot outside, the technical knowledge for this type of photography is low and therefore the entry level extremely broad. It is not for nothing that the vase majority of new photographers are therefore entering this field rather than advertising or industrial/commercial photography where a lot of equipment and knowledge of lighting, depth of field, depth of focus and such arcane laws as the Scheimpflug principle are required to be successful with the concommitant investment in both education and equipment is high.

    Does this mean it's not wortlh pursuing a career in imaging? Definitely not. There are plenty of opportunities out there for exceptionally skilled and talented people. Here's what I think is necessary to be successful in the future:
    1. Learn videography rather than just photography. Cameras such as the Red, not to mention the latest DSLRs are capable of creating theatre quality motion pictures as well as print quality still images.
    2: It is becoming much more important for an imaging professional to be highly skilled in post-production technologies if they are to be able to deliver images and footage that is significantly different/better than anybody else. It means the ability, no, the necessity, of being able to pre-visualise an image/scene in its completed state and then to structure the various steps to achieve that final result from set to props to direction to capture to post-production manipulation to output.

    If you truly want to be a professional, invest in education; live, sleep and breathe your craft (there won't be room in your life for anything else) and move to one of the major cities - Sydney, London, New York, LA, etc - where the vast majority or professional imaging takes place.
    I actually congratulate you on your honesty. Hence quoting your valuable advice in its entirety.

    It might not be popular, but from one still "at the coal face", I'm basing my comments on experience and not just guess work, which many do; however your advice is spot on.
    William

    www.longshots.com.au

    I am the PhotoWatchDog

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    Franko said
    Does this mean it's not wortlh pursuing a career in imaging? Definitely not. There are plenty of opportunities out there for exceptionally skilled and talented people. Here's what I think is necessary to be successful in the future:
    1. Learn videography rather than just photography. Cameras such as the Red, not to mention the latest DSLRs are capable of creating theatre quality motion pictures as well as print quality still images.
    2: It is becoming much more important for an imaging professional to be highly skilled in post-production technologies if they are to be able to deliver images and footage that is significantly different/better than anybody else. It means the ability, no, the necessity, of being able to pre-visualise an image/scene in its completed state and then to structure the various steps to achieve that final result from set to props to direction to capture to post-production manipulation to output.
    Sure, there's a lot of truth in what Franko says and what William endorses but it still is only one side of the picture so to speak. Both these gentlemen are old school photographers and photography, like every industry, evolves with time. Some people can endorse change and others wither (or retire) and that's quite natural but in no way does that mean the industry is dead or dying. I've been in the photography/filmmaking business for close on fifty years and make a far better living now than I ever have. I've just come back from a documentary shoot in PNG/Fiji for which I will earn eight to ten times the national wage for six months work. I never made this sort of money twenty years ago. Yes, I did a film shoot but also a photography commission for a major mining company but neither job would have come my way if I couldn't write.
    Newspapers, magazines, large and small corporates and lots of government departments want multi-skilled people - it makes economic sense - but also suggests as Franko pointed out, that the old photography skills alone that we use to depend on are no longer enough.
    What does this mean for a budding professional photographer? Simple, learn additional associated skills to your photography, perhaps journalism, even business studies, maybe publishing or editing, print or film. These are all part of the creative industry. Be versatile and prepared to move from one part of the industry to another because at the very least it will keep you employed when other so called specialists are on the dole queue or retired.

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    While I may be oldish, I would never describe myself as old school Those who know me dont.

    I agree with you though - if ever there was a time to posses multi skills its now; isnt that what Franko has said, which I've supported and you yourself are saying exactly the same thing ?

    And FWIW the IBSA report on the state of the industry, also suggests is the key for anyone entering the imaging capture business - that a business model based purely on stills is unlikely to produce an income that can be sustainable in the near future.

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    isnt that what Franko has said, which I've supported and you yourself are saying exactly the same thing ?
    Not really. Franko's opinion was that professional photography was now dead (first paragraph). To the contrary I believe it's alive and well. It just takes a different form as evolution always will.
    Like filmmaking thirty years ago consisted of a camera, tripod, a roll of film and a pot of glue. Today, filmmaking is very technical, much more costly but in the end tells the same story. Simple evolution - photography is no different.
    BTW: Filmmaking and photography are both great careers and younger people can make a real go of it if they get the right encouragement from us mature guys.

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    Member franko's Avatar
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    I'm with William. I may be oldish, I certainly don't think of myself as old school. I've maintained my post-production skills from the days of the original Paintbox through all the iterations of Photoshop (I can remember it before it was an image editing program ) and moved to digital capture in around 2000. Not as early as some of my (richer) colleagues but early enough to have had a more gradual learning curve than most. I was also working in video nearly 30 years ago and have won more than 20 awards for TV advertising. FWIW I've also won awards in almost every other advertising media, including a Golden Stylus, an Echo and a Caples.

    But I'm old school in the sense that I do believe in getting as close to the final image in camera as I can, in understanding and being able to light effectively and in not relying on Photoshop (or other apps) to fix up something that should have been completed in the original capture. I've retired for two reasons - 1. a heart that has a very irregular beat and 2. answering the Lord's call to ministry. For me the timing's right. I love still images but cannot get nearly as excited about moving pictures in that I will never, even when technology permits, hang them on my wall to look at. But I do have a number of photographs on my wall from the likes of Ken Duncan, Peter Lik and a Sunny Coast photographer whose name I forget at the moment but who does absolutely sublime images of flower, moss, lichen, etc.

    Edited to reply to your last comment. I think we are saying precisely the same thing and are in complete agreement. I was using the term 'photography' in its traditional sense of capturing still images; I agree wholeheartedly that there are still great careers to be had in digital imaging, but not in the traditional sense of photography. Which is what I said in my original post. I think we three are all in agreement, we may just use certain words with a different emphasis.
    Last edited by franko; 05-09-2011 at 4:52pm.

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    Member Bonnie's Avatar
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    Thank you so much for your insight I am so determined to make a career out of my passion for photography. I have taken your advise and am currently learning more about my camera and its functions, and as much as I possibly can about composition and editing!

    Perseverance and Determination

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    Quote Originally Posted by Bonnie View Post
    Thank you so much for your insight I am so determined to make a career out of my passion for photography. I have taken your advise and am currently learning more about my camera and its functions, and as much as I possibly can about composition and editing!

    Perseverance and Determination
    So join in and show us some, you have 3 posts in 6 months on AP. One of the best ways to gauge if you are ready is to get some reviews/critiques on your work from your peers (fellow photographers/ AP members)

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