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How to transition from full time job to photographer - The Photography Express

How to transition from full time job to photographer

how to transition from full-time job to photographer

The days of working hard on your full time job and expecting your pension to take cruise control for 40 years is long gone. Anyone with this mindset is going to be in trouble because his/her jobs may get outsource, the company/division may get downsize, and if those people don’t have a professional skill set they could be left out in the job market with no paycheck in sight.

This is exactly what I don’t want to see this happening to you. I encourage you to start a backup plan, an emergency route, and just find a way to become a side-preneur (entrepreneur working on the side). Build up a business around your passion when you have down time after work. Do something to work on your business daily and weekends (some people call this weekend warriors).

The reason behind all these is you want to build a business around your passion and get paid from it. You want to build up a system that allows you to implement it anywhere you go. Most importantly, you can survive like a Swiss army knife taking the business with you anywhere in any kind of market.

That is why in this post, I want to share with you about “how to transition from full time job to photographer”. Because we all love photography!

In order to give you the best possible advice, I asked this question to Gina Milicia for her opinion. She has been in the photography industry for over 25 years and has the experience we all need in order to make this transition.

In case you don’t know who Gina is, she is one of the most widely known photographers in Australia (in fact around the world). She specializes in portrait/celebrity/lifestyle photography. She had also photographed many high-profile personalities such as Daniel Radcliffe, Justin Bieber, Ricky Martin, the Dalai Lama etc.

At first, I did not expect any response from Gina after sending her the initial email. But not only did she reply my email with detail responses the next day, she also did an entire 1 hour podcast answering my question the week after! This is one of the most amazing moments in my life and I want to share with you all these knowledge I learned from her.

If you haven’t done so, I highly encourage you to listen to Gina’s podcast at ‘So you want to be a photographer’ before reading this post. It is episode #10 and the link is provided below:

So you want to be a photographer podcast # 10

Gina broke out the answer to my question into 15 bullet points. I went over these points and group them up into 3 categories: Preparation phase, Experience phase, Side-preneur phrase.

I am sure you are going to learn so much in this post! Remember as always, take action and start doing it today!

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Preparation phase

1) Begin today

If you ask me when is the best time to start your photography business? I’d say yesterday. And if you ask me when is the next best time to start? I’d say right now.

As Gina mentioned in the podcast, timing will NEVER be just right. No one will give you the green light and hold your hand step by step to build up your business.

Right now if you cannot find time to do photography try the tips I mentioned in my previous post here. The bottom line is, if you want something bad enough you WILL FIND THE TIME to do it.

I certainly don’t mean you should start accepting paid client the first day you got your camera. Spend some time to learn the craft but don’t spend too long. And once you feel you have enough technical knowledge and able to deliver the result your client wants, you should go for it.

“People don’t want to commit until they have clarity, but clarity comes with movement” – Michael Hyatt.

I love this quote so take your action today.

start today on the road

2) Make it official

There are many things such as getting business card, thinking about which studio space to rent, location of the office etc.

DO NOT take a max out your credit card or withdraw your 401k to start out your business. The least amount you have to put down to start up is the best strategy right now. Before going any further I recommend doing the steps below to make your business official.

Get your business a logo – Let’s start off with the fun part. Having a logo in your business is like printing your name out to the world saying this is the real deal. You are not here taking snapshot but making portfolio pictures and earning income out of it.

Below are 2 of the best online services you can go for logo designs:

99 designs Top of the line quality and designers. They actually compete to get your work and you get to choose which final product you want before the transaction.

Fiverr – Super affordable services but requires some research to find better designer. I got a few of my logo design here and worked very well.

Registered your business – Nothing is more important than covering your back in case of lawsuit and other unfortunate events. I am not your lawyer and you should definitely speak to your local jurisdiction lawyer regarding to this matter.

But just as a general overview, in the USA, it is likely that you are going to create a LLC or S corporation to start off your business. In high level overview, creating a legal business means you are by law legal to run your business. Most importantly, if anyone successfully sued you and you are liable to pay the penalty, the most you are going lose is your business asset and NOT your personal asset (unless you violate the law in some other ways).

Sort out your taxes – Similar to registering your business, I highly recommend hiring a CPA to get your taxes straighten out. At the beginning it may not be a big deal (you are not making any money), but in the long term you will save a lot of hassle with the IRS.

Insurance – Yet another important task. You certainly don’t want to have no insurance on the camera equipment you spent. No matter how large or small the amount you spent on your gear you should get one before you start your business. Nowdays it is not that expensive to get photography insurance.

make it official

3) Do some research

Other than reading the camera manual as the research, I suggest reading books regarding to entrepreneurship as well as photography.

The reality is that you can be the best photographer in the world, but if you cannot run a business, you won’t be able to survive long. Similarly, you can be a ‘better than average’ photographer but do great if you know the business side of photography.

The book I recommend are listed in my previous post here, but more than that, do some research on photographers around your local area. Research on the price to charge for your photo sessions. Where are some locations you can take on location photo session with your client? Where are some alternative places you can go if you have to shoot on a rainy day?

At this stage, don’t forget to set up a website and facebook page for your business. Don’t rely heavily on the number of followers or likes on social media. Instead use those platforms to bring people to your website. Your website should be your home online and should be the place where people get to know you and sign up for your session.

A very important thing that I almost forget to mention is to ‘start building your email list on day one!” Offer your client some great information they can use in exchange for their email address so you have their contact.

Two of the best email service provides are: Mailchimp and Aweber.

Don’t stop here. Once you get people’s email contact provide them with valuable information on a regular basis. Give free information and offer sales to them in order to drive your business. You can give information such as photography tips and techniques, behind the scene of your photo session, fun facts and even coupons of your photo session.

do some research

4) Find a mentor

Find a mentor means getting someone who is currently in the professional photography industry to guide you and offer you advice in your photography journey.

Often times you don’t have the luxury to know somebody like that. So how can you find a mentor? Let alone making him/her like you enough to give you the opportunity to do so in the first place?

The answer is: Be their assistant first.

In fact, even before you even ask to be their assistant, you should take the initiative to get to know the photographer first. Do you know what classes he/she is offering? Do he/she hold any live workshops? Does he/she write any books?

If so, go to the classes, buy the book and attend the workshop. Stay after class and get to know the photographer. Let him/her know your existence before you start ask for mentoring help.

Once you both are in a comfortable relationship then you can start asking to become the assistant. Do this in a way that both parties will benefit from this deal. For example, you can say ‘I’m free this weekend if you need assistant on your next studio shoot for the client’. That way the photographer knows he/she has a helper and you get to learn more about photography.

As Gina mentioned, It is normal that you probably won’t get paid doing it 1st, 2nd or even 3rd time. But after the 3rd or 4th time you can really ask for paid work. Remember, you shouldn’t set the expectation to work for free forever.

find a mentor

Experience phase

5) Get as much industry experience as you can

Other than actually taking pictures with your camera, I highly recommend learning from online courses, attending conferences, going to live workshops, listening to podcasts and reading books to learn the photography industry.

Don’t spread yourself too thin by read 5 different photography books and doing 3 different online courses at the same time. Focus on one thing and finish it before you move onto the next time.

For example if you want to build a portrait photography business then you should begin by taking some online courses, joining some local photography groups, then practice in studio and doing on location portraits.

On the other hand, if you want be a landscape photographer, I recommend going to live workshops as soon as you understand the basics of your camera settings. I personally think it’s more efficient to learn landscape photography in the actual environment than viewing a lecture.

get industry experience

6) Surround yourself with people who inspire you

Jim Rohn has a quote “you are the average of the five people you spend the most time with” and I truly believe that. If your friends aren’t inspiring you enough, I don’t mean to completely change your friends’ circle. But allocate times during the week and spend with those people who believe in you and inspire you to keep moving.

If you subscribe to my email list you know that sometimes I talked about what I’ve been up to these days. I often talked about how my wife Melonie is helping me out with this website. One of common emails I get were people praising how wonderful my wife is to walk with me together in this photography journey.

Same to you if you have a spouse, group of friends, cousins, and people you met online etc. If any of them understand and are willing to support you this journey, get with those people often or else you will burn yourself out sooner than you think.

surround with inspirations

7) Have a folio with you at all times and be passionate about your love of photography

The importance of having a portfolio with you is so important because that’s how people get to know your work the first time. Remember make your first impression count!

As mentioned by Gina, one of the best way to show your portfolio is to use smartphones. Don’t underestimate this little gadget because it works better than business cards.

As soon as someone find interest in your work, instead of handing him/her your business card hand them your smartphone and let them scroll through the best photos in your portfolio.

If you don’t have any apps to do that don’t worry, just open a separate pictures folder in your smartphone that include all your best work. Do not mix personal photos inside this portfolio folder and make it easily accessible on the home page of your smartphone screen.

Once people like your work enough they will ask or gladly accept your business cards. Why hand them your card in the first place if they have no idea what kind of work you do right?

portfolio ready

8) Make friends with other photographers

One of the fastest ways to make friends is on social media these days. However, as mentioned in my other posts, social media can suck out of your life if you don’t use it wisely.

What exactly do I mean wisely? There is not right wrong answer but here is my definition:

Log in; find answers; consume relevant news; engagement with the right people; then log out.

What about your family and friends? Don’t you want to connect with people you care the most there? Yes but here is my other definition:

If you care about them, meet them in person or call them.

Yes I understand sometimes it’s not possible and we have to use social media to connect with people we care. What I’m saying is just finish what you need to accomplish first before ‘getting relax’ and do other things on social media.

So back to the point on how do we make friends on social media?

Facebook – Join photography communities and private photography groups. Make sure you comment and engage with people.

Twitter – Follow other photographers as well as their friends. Do not follow random people. What you want is white noise (photography related tweets) in you twitter feed and not sales pitches and random messages.

Google + – Join other photography circles and be engaged.

As you can see this is pretty much common sense. There is no magic trick to build up your followings and making friends on social media. You just need to be engaged just like how you do in real life.

friend with other photographers

9) Having a full time or part time job while you build your business is a great idea

Even if you can’t wait to jump onboard to start your own photography business, I encourage you to just hold on and “don’t quit your day job” just yet. Plan your path to quit is be much better than being fed up with work and tell you boss you are leaving during busy season.

Personally, I don’t think you should make the move until you make at least half the current income as you do in your full time job. Because even after you quit freeing up 40 hours you may still not make it back to your current full time salary.

Don’t’ let yourself down if you are not in this situation yet. At least I am still in this journey. But think about “Do you really need to be a professional photographer right now to enjoy what you are doing”?

If you are not satisfied, it is because you are not getting paid?

If this is what you are thinking right now, think about the Olympics. The athletics attending are the best in the world (even better than the professionals) and they are not getting paid.

Being a part time photographer can be one of the best things happening right now. You can still be a great photographer taking great pictures. And the best thing is you can do whatever you want since your paybacks aren’t totally depend on your client. You have the freedom to shoot whatever photography you want at this point of time.

having a full time job

Side-preneur phase

10) File clients amongst your inner circle

If you are just starting out and have no clients, the best way is to take photo sessions of your close friends, neighbors, coworkers, and anyone that you hang out with all the time.

Any of your friends recently got engaged?
Any of your neighbors just had babies?
Any of your co-worker’s son or daughter need high school senior photo session?
Any baby showers, graduations, community events you can take pictures for?

Offer a photo shoot for those people and events. Do your best and deliver more than what people expected. If they already hired a photographer it doesn’t matter. The photo you took and the experience you delivered is going to last in their memories. Then, when the right moment comes with similar opportunities you name is going to pop out first in their minds.

I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel. – Maya Angelou

find clients

11) Share you work on social media

I should dedicate another post all about social media because it is such a huge topic. But for now please do the following at the very minimum for your photography business:

Facebook: Have a page on facebook, nice logo and cover photos. At least 10+ portfolio shots in the pictures folder. Only post the best picture, show some personality and behind the scene pictures. Do not showcase a picture that you think is just average, it has to be the best work.

Twitter: Use your own name (not business name) as the account. Follow other photographers and their friends. Retweet and answer their tweets and make them know your existence.

Instagram: Show some of your better pictures but mainly show behind the scene photographs. Shown more of your personality on Instagram.

Pinterest: Pin the most popular photography tips, tutorials, cool photos and other interesting topics. Make sure you join group boards for more exposure of your pins.

share on social media

12) Your uniqueness is the most important asset you have

Uniqueness in photography means having a style in your photograph that no one else does. If you can achieve to a point where people know it’s your photograph without seeing your name written on it, then you got it!

Before getting into this almighty level of uniqueness, there is something you should work on to define your uniqueness:

What is the one unfair advantage you have that others don’t?

For example, you are working a full time job and want to make photography a side business. The disadvantage is that you have less time than other people to build up your client and portfolios. However, the advantage is you have steady flow of income that you can invest promoting your business.

Location is another big unfair advantage. If you are living in Arizona with great mountain views, you certainly have the advantage in landscape photography than people living in another state. Similarly, if you are living in Tennessee or Virginia, you are going to have the best fall color leaves during autumn time.

Every person is different and every situation is different. But I hope the above example can spark your thinking as to what unfair advantage you have against other photographers.

be unique

13) Shoot personal project that inspire you

You probably heard me saying this from time to time (this is also listed on my getting started page).

Photography = inspiration + techniques + post processing.

As you see, inspiration is one of the big categories. So how do you get inspire all the time?

As Gina mentioned in her podcast, shoot some personal project can inspires you. In additional to that, I personally feel working on photography related project can also inspire you to take pictures. What do I mean exactly? Here are two examples:

How to build a cheap photography lightbox – In this post I talked about how I made a light tent to take product photography. I ended up enjoying taking pictures of my toys around the house!

Everything about Legography – This post I talked about how I brought a legoman and start taking pictures of him with meaningful background.

Sometimes a personal project doesn’t necessary need to be using your camera. It can be projects that support your photography journey. I highly encourage you to try it out!

shoot personal projects

14) Seek constructive criticism and learn from it

When I first get into the online photography space, I get my work shed to pieces in online community forums. That’s because a lot of names out there were anonymous so people can be as nasty as they want.

I’ve now stepped away from those forums and engaged in groups that require real names before people can comment. Anyhow, the constructive criticisms I got there were priceless that improve my photography so much. The thing is:

Sometimes you need to put yourself in vulnerable situations.

I don’t mean to cause any physical harm to yourself. But if you only show your pictures to your best friends and families they will always say it’s great because they like you (Gina also mentioned this as well in the podcast). That’s why you need to show your pictures to other photographers for their feedbacks.

Those people will say things you don’t like to hear. But if it’s reasonable and you feel you are learning from it, then listen and improve on those points.

Overall, Don’t let people put your down. Be selective on which construction criticism to react on (note that I only mentioned constructive criticism, if it’s plain nasty just ignore it and move on).

seek constructive criticism


After all, photography is THE THING we all love to do. Stick with this passion, enjoy it, master it, share it. Sometimes you have to just go with the flow and be easy on yourself. You are going to get there!

love what you do

There you have it! Both Gina and my answers on ‘how to transition from full time job to photographer’. What is your opinion on this topic? Is there anything you want to share? Feel free to comment below and talk to us.

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About Gary

A passionate photographer with goals to fulfill your photography passion and motivate you to take pictures even when life is busy!


  1. This is very thourough and full of great information! Thanks for sharing and I love the voice message thing that’s cool.

    • Thanks Cody. Yes just want to speak from my heart about this experience. I hope this is going to help anyone who wants to take the leap of faith in the journey. Thanks about the voice message plugin as well. It’s speakpipe if you ever wonder what it is. The free version you get 20 free voicemails per month so try it out!

  2. Great advice for those thinking ahead. I would say that research should come before making your business legit though.

  3. SUCH a wealth of valuable info here! Thanks for sharing!!

  4. Great read! Thanks for sharing.

  5. Hey, thank you very much for sharing all this, if we wonder at some point if we are doing well .. thanks always for the experience…

  6. Dear Gary,

    Thank you so much for the providing the article with useful advice and tips……….Hav a wonderful time

  7. Great advice. Good place to start for those who are unsure of how to start!

  8. Great post, Gary! I took the leap about 6 months ago from weekend warrior to full time photographer. There has definitely been a lot to learn and there’s more pressure on me now but I would never want to go back to working for someone else again! I’m loving it!! Hopefully more people will be able to do it too and realize their dreams making a living in photography.

    • Thank you Karen I’d love to hear more about your story from weekend warrior to full time photographer! Also a big congratulation on stepping out the comfort zone and taking control of your life! I am so happy for you!

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