Secrets of taking good pictures: Be professional

Photography expert Tom Langford gives his advice on how to turn an interest into an income.

Camera 370 (photo credit: Reuters)
Camera 370
(photo credit: Reuters)
Tom Langford is an event and commercial photographer, professional retoucher, and a website designer.Every now and then I hear from photography enthusiasts who are toying with the idea of becoming professional. This is the usual question they ask: Is this a good career choice? My usual answer is: It all depends.
The best time to develop a photography career is before you have any serious financial commitments - for most of us this is before we have a family. We can then concentrate on learning the business by assisting a good variety of professional working photographers. Often this involves working for free, or for low wages, but it is a very valuable way to gain the experience that will serve you well in the future.
If you already have a career but would love to develop photography as a secondary business, then the best way forward is to take one step at a time. For instance, first find simple ways that test your skills to produce good photography for other people: You could offer to shoot a family Bar Mitzva, take shots for a local magazine or a friend’s website.
It’s very important to use opportunities that will take you outside of your comfort zone. Photography is the sort of business that no matter how well you prepare in advance there will always be challenging circumstances to deal with. The ability to cope under unfavorable conditions and still produce good pictures is an excellent indication of how ready you are to take on professional assignments.
Here is a shot I took for a fashion spread in a bridal ware magazine. I was not so experienced at the time and was used to lighting models from in front, but now had to shoot from behind and deal with reflections in the mirror. This is typical of the sort of problems that regularly crop up when working on location.
With the pressure of an Art Director watching, I quickly set up flash lighting in soft boxes on each side of the model. I knew he would expect the soft glow of the lamps to show in the picture so I used a fairly low shutter speed to capture some of the available light.
For each difficulty that you overcome, confidence will increase. The pressure of working commercially gives you a powerful incentive to learn and develop any techniques or skills that are lacking. I’ve found, however, that solving problems often does not require special photographic knowledge or equipment – often a little practical common sense and a few deep breaths are all that’s required. Eventually it becomes a pleasure to accept more complex work because you can guarantee excellent results.
I have shot fashion models in the cramped interior of a Soviet submarine and in a huge underground military bunker; I’ve shot celebrities in junk yards and Prince Phillip in Buckingham Palace; I’ve shot countless pictures of cosmetics, jewelry, and fashion accessories in large London studios and gourmet food in Art Directors kitchens; and I have shot Bar Mitzvas, weddings, portraits and architecture in all sorts of locations: I love the constant creative challenges inherent in every genre.
Unfortunately experience, technique and creativity are not the only skills you need if you ever consider becoming professional: Marketing, promoting, networking and making good connections are at least as important if you are to succeed in this remarkably competitive business. My best advice is: Don’t give up your day job until you can’t afford to keep it!
Picture Clinic 
If you are aspiring to develop your photography skills, you are welcome to send me one of your pictures that I may publish with some constructive feedback.  Send one picture at a time to j[email protected] Include your name, city or country, and why and where you took the picture.
Please do not send the full-sized picture. Many picture editors and browsers that have a simple “email” button that will automatically reduce the size, open your email client and attach the picture for you.
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Tom Langford is an Event and Commercial photographer:,
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