One of the hallmarks of professional photographers is that you’ll find them constantly going back to school. They’ll also be involved in a local guild or professional association. In fact, they’ll be involved in just about any activity that gets them involved with other photographers and out shooting pictures for assignments or group projects. Besides that, you’ll find them participating in and leading photo walks on their day off.
The reasons behind that are complex, but the main reason is that photography tends to be kind of a lone wolf profession. Very few shops can support paid help, other than on a contract basis, so it tends to be an isolated profession.
If you stay isolated long enough in photography your work can become stale and routine. Working by yourself there’s no one to challenge you, to inspire you, or show you some new lighting technique, or new way of shooting a particular shot.
Taking a photography class is something you’ll find even pros do once in a while, even though they may sit through a class or online course that lasts for days in order to glean one or two new tricks. Professionals also understand the value of reviewing the basics of framing, like the Rule of Thirds, exposure and other photography fundamentals.
The more you grow in the profession, the more you know, the more time you have to put in to gain knowledge. Doesn’t seem fair, does it? But that’s really true in any profession. The higher you go up the ladder, the more time you have to put into education to move up. Photography is no different in that regard.
Beyond the purely educational aspects, photography is still much like a trade in many ways. Older photographers help those coming along in their careers and most people getting into the business do so by building up their portfolio as an apprentice or second shooter for someone more experienced. In situations where a photographer can’t afford an apprentice or assistant, then classes, photo walks and arranged group shoots are the only way you’ll get to network with other photographers to build your portfolio.
Photography is one of those trades that takes days to learn but a lifetime to master. The only way to really master the craft is to be constantly learning. Studying the technical aspects, learning the rules, then learning to write your own rule book.
The day you stop progressing in photography, pushing forward with learning, is the day you start sliding back into mediocrity. There are very few people who can keep their edge if they’re not constantly out shooting. If you lose interest in going out every weekend for a shoot and getting together with other photographers, then you may want to consider whether photography is really your best option for a career field.