How to Become a Portrait Photographer in 2023 (Unfinished)
Updated: Aug 20
Table of Contents:
Initial Photo Goals
Traps to Avoid
Working With Models
This page is supposed to take you from a beginner that's never used a camera with manual settings, into a self sufficient photographer that can grow on their own. As a mostly self taught photographer that's been shooting since 2010, and as a full time professional, I feel comfortable in giving advice since I've personally gone through the growing pains.
I'm mostly writing this for my friends who occasionally ask me for advice. Occasionally, there's people that ask me about how to learn photography and I'm hoping this guide can be of help.
Note: I'm a portrait photographer that only specializes in photos of people. Everything written here will assume your main subject in your photos is a human model.
Starting all the way from the beginning, a very common question you'll see in this community is "which camera should I get?"
Short answer: it doesn't matter
Longer answer: it really depends on what you're doing
For all intents and purposes, I'll just assume you want to do the most common thing that portrait photographers want to do when they first start, taking photos of cute girls (lol).
My first suggestion is a 35mm film camera with a 50mm prime lens. This is the best way to get familiar with the most basic aspects of photography. I know this suggestion can be quite controversial in 2023 due to the high prices of film/developing+scanning/ film cameras, and the fact that film cameras don't have the conveniences provided by digital cameras, but let me explain.
The first advantage of learning on film is that it's easier to learn the basics of the light triangle. This diagram above is used to explain the three aspects of a camera that makes up the exposure of an image. I won't go into details here, but there's a billion videos on this subject on Youtube, or you can click on the image and it'll take you to an article on the exposure triangle. Film's advantage is that your ISO is hard set on the film speed that you put into your camera. So if you buy a roll of Portra 400, you'll be shooting at ISO 400 for the entire roll.
Shooting film helps you avoid forming bad habits that learning on digital promotes. When you learn first on digital, it's very common to see people picking up bad habits such as holding down the shutter to take a million photos every time they turn on the camera. Over reliances on auto features will also slow down the understanding of the basics. Flip out screens also promote poor shooting form. All these negative things I've pointed out can be smoothed out with time, but it's better to just avoid forming the bad habits in the first place.
The upfront costs of film photography is way lower than digital cameras. Today, I see no reason to buy a digital camera under $1500 when iPhones will comfortably out perform these cheap crippled chunks of plastic. A good condition camera should run you $150 max, while a roll of film+processing+scanning is around $45 per roll. Doing the math, you'll have around 18 rolls of 35mm film to shoot before you hit the 1k mark. You also don't have to buy all the film at once, maybe you want to try out different ISOs or types of film. It could also be a case of just wanting to stop all together, if that's the case it's a good thing you didn't buy a low end camera that will just gather dust in the closet.
Lastly, film just looks BETTER. The digital glazers can suck a fat one. There's a reason why everyone sells film LUTs/Presets, and the noobs gobble it up like a thanksgiving turkey.
If you already have a digital camera, feel free to use it. Just set a max limit to the number of frames you shoot in one session. You can't get through the editing when you first start off. I personally suggest shooting a max of 50 photos and having all your settings on manual except auto focus. Also use the viewfinder rather than the screen when you're framing the subject. Just overall make sure you shoot SLOWER and with more THOUGHT.
FOR THE LOVE OF GOD DON'T SPRAY AND PRAY LIKE A LUNATIC THAT ONLY HOLDS DOWN THE SHUTTER AND THEN GOES HOME TO SIFT THROUGH THE 2000 PHOTOS THEY TOOK THAT DAY.
Now that you have a camera, it's time to use it. Just start with taking photos of your friends and family. They're the most available people in your life and for most things in photography, convenience and comfort usually prevail.
When you're ready to graduate to shooting strangers, feel free to branch out by asking people on the street. You also might have local events/meetups where you can hangout and shoot with other local photographers. These types of things are usually a good way to meet friends and experience a more local community.
Social media and art will always have a rocky relationship. In this day and age you'll need to have a social media presence if you want to work with more people. It's the easiest way to connect with models/other photographers, and it's the best way to showcase your work since it's the most visible place to be.
On the flip side, social media can be very toxic to your mental especially when you're first learning. It's frustrating to see all these other people creating awesome images and then you can't help but compare yourself. Don't get hung up on these things and get lost in the sauce. These guys usually have multiple years on you.
As a photographer, having Instagram is an absolute necessity. It's still the dominant platform for photographers to connect with models. The most frustrating part of it all when you first start is definitely getting rejections/no replies from models. If you're new, don't expect to get many opportunities to shoot with models if you just randomly DM them on Instagram, but at the same time shoot your shot. It's better to get used to the rejection earlier rather than later. Don't forget that everyone is a clout demon these days, getting those numbers up will help out with getting opportunities.
Focus on one thing at a time, don't make the mistake of switching back and forth between photos and videos. You'll only learn each twice as slow. It's fine if you want to drop photography for videography, there's no shame in this. Just don't split your focus and then end up half-assed in both. However, I do think making TikToks get harder as you get more experienced. The popular stuff is supposed to appeal to people with little to no experience, and most of the work isn't very technically or artistically inspiring. Maybe if your goal is to be a TikTok star, it actually might be right to hop on video making once you're comfortable with shooting with a stranger constantly.
Btw, follow me pls. I need all the clout I can get ^.^