It doesn’t matter how much talent a photography enthusiast might have, what equipment they own or how comprehensive their technical skills, there are a number of jobs that they’re just never going to land. When it comes to the biggest, the most lucrative and the most demanding photography gigs, paying clients will always turn to a professional.
They want to be able to deliver a brief to someone who understands it. They expect the photographer to arrive on time. And, most importantly, they want to know that they’re going to get back the images they need.
And they also want to work with someone they know. That’s more likely to be a professional who has the motivation and the time to build those connections. You might have a great eye and know exactly how to focus and play with light but paid jobs still go to the people who know something equally important: the people who hand out the commissions.
But that doesn’t mean you can’t pick up paid work that’s nearly as satisfying — even if it doesn’t pay quite as much. Here are five professional jobs that enthusiasts can’t land and the alternatives that they can.
1. Executive Portraits
When it comes to photographing the head of a corporation, giant firms won’t look at anyone less than an experienced professional. They’ll want a photographer who can give instruction to someone more used to giving orders than taking them and who’ll make the best use of the small amount of time available. Each time the board has to ask an executive on a multi-million dollar salary to stand and pose for twenty minutes, it costs the company thousands of dollars on top of the fee paid to the photographer. They won’t want to pay that fee twice, so they’ll always go for professional they can trust who can shoot fast and get the right images first time.
Enthusiast Job: Family and Pet Portraits
A non-professional might not be asked to create a portrait of Jeff Bezos, but he or she can certainly create other kinds of portraits. Build a portfolio of family photographs or offer pictures of pets and you might not get to spend time with the leaders of the corporate world but you will get to shoot and tell stories through faces — and you’ll get paid for it.
2. Fashion Shoots
Fashion shoots are complex. They might involve a designer and an art director, models and exotic locations. Hotels have to be booked, sites scouted, clothes delivered and make-up applied. The images that come out of a fashion shoot are the product of a team and every member of that team will be a professional, from the guy who drives the van to the person who arranges the flowers. Fashion companies will fly photographers to their shoots and pay them four-figure daily fees rather than run the risk of not getting the pictures they need.
Enthusiast Job: Street Fashion Photography
You have to be a professional before a fashion house will put its clothes in front of you, but anyone can photograph the fashion that’s already in front of them. Scott Schuman was a fashion professional before he took time out to look after his daughter and started a blog showing his own photographs of street fashion. The success of thesartorialist.com has turned him from fashion enthusiast to photography professional.
Enthusiasts can certainly sell their images to the press, a process that has become easier in the age of Twitter and Instagram for people who happened to be in eventful places at the right time. But newspapers are unlikely to send a photographer who hasn’t undergone professional training to a dangerous spot. For news editors, it’s important not just that the pictures come back but that the photographer does too. Before they commission a story, they’ll check the photographer’s experience as well as his or her pictures.
Enthusiast Job: Crowdsourced Documentary Photography
You might struggle to persuade an editor to give you a commission but you can persuade friends, family and other enthusiasts to pay for your idea. Emphas.is is a crowdfunding site specializing in documentary photography. You’ll have to market your idea to bring in the funds, but it’s much easier than marketing to a skeptical photo editor.
4. Architecture Photography
It’s not that businesses don’t believe you can shoot their buildings or their interiors; it’s that they know that lots of professionals with full portfolios and rich portfolios can do it at least as well. They know some of those photographers and they trust them. So why should they turn to an amateur they don’t know?
Enthusiast Job: Crowdsourced Documentary Photography
The answer is if you have a style or approach that only you can produce. Businesses will still turn to professionals for the sort of standard shots needed by hotels and resorts but they might turn to an artist for a special look. And creating those artistic architectural images will be an enjoyable end in itself even if you have to work hard to persuade gallery owners to show them or art fair buyers to pay for them.
5. Industrial Shoots
Mines, factories and other industrial sites are all professional places, staffed by professionals and shot by professionals too. Their owners might need images to document the work that takes place in them but they’re going to need a very good reason to turn to someone who isn’t a professional to take those images.
Enthusiast job: none
There are some jobs for which enthusiasts have no equivalent. While you’re out photographing landscapes or cashing in your emphas.is funds, professional will be at industrial sites, shooting workers and trying to make giant bits of machinery look good.
They might be getting paid, but you’ll probably be having more fun — and that’s always the best reward for any enthusiast.