Lindsay Adler’s 5 Tips for Becoming a Professional Photographer

Lindsay Adler has risen to the top of her industry as both a photographer and educator. Based in New York City, her fashion editorials have appeared in numerous fashion and photography publications including Marie Claire, InStyle, Elle, Rangefinder, Professional Photographer and dozens more. As a photographic educator and having been named one of the top 10 best fashion photographers in the world, she is one of the most sought after speakers internationally.

A clean, bold, and graphic style has become the hallmark of her work, whether shooting advertising campaigns, designer look books, jewelry, hair campaigns, fashion editorials, or professional athletes. Lindsay is renowned for her creativity and collaborating with designers and stylists in order to create fresh looks. Her client list consists of Grey, Edelman, Microsoft, Saatchi & Saatchi and more.

Our School Director, Sarah Chaput de Saintonge, chatted with Lindsay about her five tips for becoming a professional photographer. They range from personal tips to business tips to time management tips! For anyone looking to become a professional artist in any field, you’ll want to read this! Like, seriously…

1. Be a people person.

The first thing that I recommend for someone [wanting] to become a professional photographer is to be a people person – even if you’re not a people person. No matter what kind of photography you’re doing, whether it’s commercial, whether you’re shooting product, whether you’re a wedding photographer, you’re constantly dealing with people. And a lot of people [who] are hiring photographers are not as expert about visuals as we are, so they might not be able to tell the difference between a good image and a great image, but they can tell the difference between somebody that they trust or that they feel like cares about them as a client and as a person. So, I recommend that you fundamentally remember that even when a business is hiring you, it’s a person that’s hiring you. And when people are hiring you, you need to make them feel confident and comfortable and make them feel important. So I recommend the book How to Win Friends and Influence People as a good place to start with that – especially if you don’t feel like a people person.

2. Know who you are as an artist and what you offer that’s different or special.

And that doesn’t mean that your images need to be groundbreaking. I mean, it’s great if you’re a fantastic photographer, but you need to know what your style, your vision is, and why the people that hire you, why would they hire you? And they might hire you because you give them a fully catered experience, maybe that’s it. Maybe you’re a portrait photographer where you do hair and makeup and you have wonderful snacks and a beautiful environment. Maybe you pair up with a massage therapist before the session? like, maybe they hire you because of the experience. That’s not wrong if you’re a portrait photographer if those are the type of people that are going to be hiring you. Or, maybe someone is hiring you because you know how to create content that is very shareable online for social media purposes. Or, maybe they’re hiring you because you know how to create images that their potential clients look at and say “I want to be that person – I need that product.” I mean, what is it that you offer that the people who would hire you want? Because when you can clearly define that, you save them time having to figure out why to hire you. You tell them “Here, this is what I’ve got that you need.” Fundamentally, no matter how lovely people are, they don’t care about helping you, they want to know what you have to offer them. That might be creating beautiful family portraits, or it might be helping them establish the visuals for their brand. So, you have to say what you have to offer.

3. Be aware of new trends and technologies.

The next tip would be, be aware of new trends and technology and be aware of how you can utilize them for your style and your brand. I don’t think that you should follow the trends of what’s cool in visuals if it doesn’t fit your style. That’s not what I’m saying. I’m saying be aware of new technologies that help you reach your potential clients, or new technology that helps you create more compelling visuals. Maybe it’s VR technology or maybe it’s moving images. I just had a panel at my studio of art producers [and] art buyers at some of the biggest brands out there; I had Clinique and Estee Lauder and all of that and one of the things that they said is they don’t even look at a photographer’s portfolio unless they have some element of motion. So, it’s being aware of how technology might set you apart and how you can utilize it for your business without changing who you fundamentally are.

4. Think of yourself as a business.

The next one is think of yourself as a business. I can’t stress this enough: every single photographer is a business. So, when I went to college I got a degree in photography and business. And the business has helped me just as much as anything, because photography, you know, whether you’re assisting or putting it into practice through experimentation, that’s one of those things where you can kind of discover yourself and you can be inspired by people. But, for business you have to have a certain mindset that you force yourself into as an artist. A lot of us artists, we don’t think like that. So, I think that you do need to attend business workshops or meetings and you do need to be following business blogs and you do need to be reading business books. Fundamentally, when you think of yourself as a business, it helps you take some of the personal feeling out of it, in a good way, so that you feel more confident to charge what you’re worth, because then you’re not like “Oh, I need to help that person with money.” No, you’re a business, you need to charge a certain amount. So, it’s things like that. Thinking of yourself as a business helps you succeed as a business, which helps you succeed as a photographer.

5. Last, but not least, don’t try to do it all yourself.

I totally understand that when you first start your business, you are everything. You are marketing, you do your retouching, you do the photography, you do the client relations, you do your taxes, and on and on and on. But as soon as you can afford to outsource things, do it, because it allows you to focus time on your core strengths and what you have to offer. It took me maybe 10 years before I was making enough money to outsource my taxes. And then it was 12 years before I was outsourcing my retouching. And if I could have done that earlier, it would have helped me by leaps and bounds, because I would have been able to focus on client relations, marketing myself and continuously developing my portfolio.

Check out Lindsay’s incredible photography on her website and Instagram!

Lindsay will be one of the instructors in our 8-month career-building Professional Intensive program. This program is all about moving you toward your unique career goal by giving you the technical, creative, and business knowledge you need to achieve it. Learn more.


  • Sarah Chaput de Saintonge

    Sarah Chaput de Saintonge helps shape the direction of Rocky Mountain School of Photography with her husband, Forest. She has a BA in photojournalism and enjoys experimenting with many kinds of photography, but her primary interest is portraiture. She attended RMSP's Career Training program in 2011, ran a business in consumer portraiture for a while, then started working as an instructor for RMSP. She has successfully completed multiple (as in seven) "365 projects" (take a photo a day for a year), and once made it to 155 consecutive days of making self portraits. She loves people, image editing, composition, film, her family, and food.