Small Business
Snap a picture-perfect career
Tips from an aspiring photographer, to succeed in the industry
7 min read Last updated 15 Sep 2020

A photo is worth a thousand words. Photos can sort all the chaos of the world into images; they capture a moment that’s gone forever, impossible to reproduce. These are just some of the reasons you’ll hear from photographers when asked why they do what they do. If you’re in the photography industry, there’s no denying passion is what drives you. However, in today’s competitive market, the widespread availability of stock photos, and an increasing number of ‘hobby’ photographers offering heavily discounted services through online platforms, it can be a real challenge for newly emerging talent to succeed in the industry.

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We had the chance to chat to Sharnee O’Rourke – an aspiring photographer based in Newcastle. Sharnee developed a passion for photography from a very young age, when she would often use the family camera to take photos of anything she found interesting. Growing up outside the major capital cities, she faced some real challenges with access to training, and building the right professional network to help her succeed. After working hard to navigate through these challenges, Sharnee has already had early success, receiving a Commended Award in the Australian Photography Magazine 2018 Photographer of the Year Competition for the Wildlife Animal category.

Read what Sharnee had to say about training, building a network, and setting yourself up for success...


We sometimes hear about photographers who rose to the top without any formal education or training…do you think formal training is important?

I cannot stress enough the importance of formal education! Access to education was something I really struggled with in the beginning, being from Newcastle. I started off studying online, but then was accepted to study a Diploma on campus, and the difference in how much I’m learning is huge! Yes, there are some naturally gifted people out there who have that creative flair, but there is so much more to photography than just taking the photos. If you want to be a freelance photographer, you need to learn about everything that goes into photography before, during and after the shoot. Things like pre-production; post-production; contracts; quotes; permits; colour profiles; delivery of files, just to name a few. You are in charge as a freelance photographer, but that also means clients are paying you to deliver a fully professional service, so you need to make sure you’re meeting their expectations.

Sharnee O’Rourke

Yes, there are some naturally gifted people out there who have that creative flair, but there is so much more to photography than just taking the photos.

Cameras and other equipment don’t come cheap, how can someone starting out get the money together to buy their first camera?

You don’t need the most expensive equipment to take good photos. It’s the technique you use to capture interesting images. I actually started out with an entry level DSLR and kit lenses that I got for Christmas a few years back. As I’ve progressed through my journey, I have worked hard to build my kit up over time – it’s not something that will happen overnight when you first start. Another thing I’d emphasise is to research equipment before you buy to make sure you pick the best option for you. Ask local camera stores for their advice, you will eventually learn what suits your needs and will become more confident in choosing the equipment yourself, but in the beginning, get advice any way you can.


You’ve worked hard to build up your kit, what do you do to protect it, and make sure nothing happens to it?

I’m always really careful with my equipment, so I do whatever I can to prevent any damage, but of course, there are some things I can’t prevent. For example, my sensor got some dust on it recently, which is pretty common since I do a lot of outdoor shoots, so rather than try to clean it myself, I take it to the local camera store. Always leave cleaning to the experts because some camera parts are really sensitive, and even the slightest tinker could completely ruin it. It’s also a good idea to take out insurance for your equipment in case anything major happens to it.

How does someone starting out build networks, and meet others in the industry to learn from?

My top piece of advice would be to join associations and attend as many events as you can. I have a student membership with the AIPP, which has been a great way to connect with other professionals in the industry. Events like the AIPP Trade Show & AIPP Awards have been a great way to get inspiration for my own photography practice and projects. I’m also part of the Canon Collective, which is a national photography community led by some of Canon’s best photographers who host workshops and events across Australia. That’s been another great way to connect with industry experts, learn more about the technical side of photography, and also try new equipment before buying them.  


And lastly, what advice can you give on building a portfolio?

Clients will book you as their photographer because they love what they see, so this is probably the most important part when you’re building your brand. I’d suggest building a portfolio for your chosen area/niche – E.g. events, families, pets, etc – this will make it a lot easier to find your target audience because you will be able to clearly present your unique style to your potential clients. Social media is a great way to get your name out there, especially when you’re just starting out, but it’s also not promised, so it’s worth investing in a website as well. This is something I’m currently in the process of doing for myself. Having a website makes you look a little more professional to potential clients.

As a leader in the industry, Aon have been providing tailored and competitively-priced business insurance solutions to professional photographers for over 20 years and currently service thousands of photography businesses Australia-wide. Over this time, we’ve been continually listening to the changing needs and work of photographers and have organised our insurance policies to match.

As a result, we’re now proudly an approved and recommended insurance partner for members of the Australian Institute of Professional Photography.

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