“I want to become a photographer but I don’t have a camera. What camera should I buy?”

The number of messages ( on Facebook ) and emails I receive that essentially state the above is horrifying.

In my head, what I hear is this, “I want to become a soldier, what gun should I buy?” or “I want to become an F1 racer, what car should I buy?” or “I want to become a Chef, what gas stove should I buy?”

If these sound ridiculous, why doesn’t the photographer-camera question sound ridiculous I wonder.

I believe the word “photographer” is massively misused these days. The dictionary defines a photographer as : “a person who takes photographs, esp. as a job.” I think most of us miss the latter half of the definition. I might purchase a gun but I’m more likely to cause harm with it than make money / do it as a job. Really, it’s quite the same with a camera, except, with a camera – hopefully, no one dies.

Some other questions I get are, “I’m an engineer & I have a boring office job but I want to make money so I want to become a photographer. What camera should I start with?”

That’s like asking for the solution to your life’s problems. You’ve got bigger problems than “What camera should I buy?”

Then there are those who have a camera and think of themselves as a photographer. Don’t get me wrong, I am pro “Everyone should have a camera”. But it’s like any other job. If you haven’t put in hours honing your skills, you are not going to be a successful photographer. And being a photographer isn’t just about shooting photographs. There’s so much more. You’re essentially a business person and actual photography is only a small part of running a successful photography business. Why is that so difficult to fathom?

Sure we all start small but please don’t be misled into believing that a camera in your hands = you being a successful photographer. I started with an analog film camera and a digital point and shoot and it has taken me about a decade to get where I am now and I still believe I have so much to learn.

It takes hundreds of hours of practice to become a decent photographer – if you don’t have the “eye” for it then probably much longer. Once this is done, it then takes you many more hundreds of hours to figure out how this business works. Who is your target audience? What is your style? Where is your client? What assignments can you handle? What more do you need to learn? What’s a balance sheet? Are you making a profit / a loss? And if you don’t cater for this latter set of hundreds of hours, you are going to be VERY frustrated because the reality is not going to match up to your expectations.

Just because I have two-three computers doesn’t mean I have to now suddenly decide on a career as a programmer!

I don’t run a photography business only because I want to make money. I try to maintain a balance between making money and doing things that make me happy and both these goals feed each other. And it is not easy. I know there are other photographers who have set up veritable empires – they have 20-30 photographers on their team, they have a CEO, they cater to all kinds of clients. That works for them but since the very early days I knew that would not work for me. I work solo. Ergo, I don’t make as much money as the person who runs that empire I described. And I’m not going to let that make me hanker after the latest toy in the market so that I can “impress” my prospective clients and hence charge more.

If your work is good, over a period of time, that good work allows you to incrementally increase the prices you charge. But if you don’t even have a camera, please understand that it will take you a while.

The answer to the original question is : I’m sure you have a mobile phone that has a camera? Shoot with that. Use apps to edit your images. Share those images with your friends, acquaintances and on your social media channels. Tweak your work according to the feedback you receive and according to what your gut tells you. If you are not able to make good photographs using your mobile phone’s camera, I can pretty much guarantee that you could buy the world’s best camera and your images will still be shitty. Once you’re better on the mobile phone camera, graduate to a point and shoot ( and no, I will not tell you what brand – nothing will ever be good enough – know that if you’re starting out on the path to being a photographer ). And edit your images. Shoot. Edit. Share. Once you’re making great photos on a point and shoot – you will already have enquiries coming in where people will ask you to shoot for them and you will tell them that you just use a point and shoot and their mind will be blown. Get your first paid assignment and then buy whichever DSLR you fancy. This will enable you to get professional gigs – large clients need resolution and a point and shoot will hold you back.

A camera is like any other tool. It helps you capture and create beauty from your own unique perspective. It doesn’t help you start a business.

Like any other business, the business of photography needs a business plan. Some people are lucky that they can afford to play it by ear and experiment and take their time to discover what makes them happy – I’ve meandered and experimented all my life. ( By afford I don’t necessarily mean money. ) My business plan has shown itself to me over the years and I’m constantly fine-tuning it. I was lucky that in my childhood I could use my father’s camera to waste lots of film and finally reach a conclusion that I really liked this picture-making toy.

But it took me an additional +two decades to get the courage to try my hand at making it a business.

If you’re miserable at your current job, picking up any camera and trying to make a living with that is going to make you more miserable because you won’t have cash flow initially. It’s a cut-throat business. Don’t be fooled by only what you see on blogs and in magazines. Just because a photographer got to make a picture of a celebrity doesn’t mean they were paid to do it. No really.

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  1. Some sound advice. I would like to think I have an eye for capturing that moment, however a large majority of my capturing comes via my smartphone. The relevant apps help add any extras to help the mood of the photo. Totally agree photography takes hours of practice and requires relevant patience to go with that.

  2. Very well said Naina. From early childhood I had the opportunity to play with film cameras, even the ones with view finder on top, have processed films too in dark room. I do love photography and spent a major part of my life thinking that I am a “photographer” infact a “pro” but when I tried my luck to earn money out of it I realized that I am better off as a programmer 🙂 I just can’t take the pain to process the images, writing code is far easier for me.

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