So you’ve got a fancy digital SLR camera that you nabbed for a thousand bucks. You are also the go-to photographer for your trips with friends, as well as the one who takes the photos for family gatherings. Heck, you’re even the one your aunt calls to make their annual Christmas card!

You’ve gotten past Instagramming your daily dinner and taking self-shots that look like they aren’t self-shots. But are you ready to take the next step and go professional? That’s what we’re here to find out. In this article, you’ll be able to learn whether you have what it takes to become a pro photographer.

1.     Have money saved up for your baby steps.

Going pro often means that you’ll have to give up your present job or career. Many professional photographers advise that for those just starting out to save at least a full quarter’s salary before even considering quitting their day job—and that’s just for day-to-day expenses, not for the photography tools that you (should already) have.

Think about whether your spouse or other family members can support you as you begin, though that is a matter of pride. Also you might want to consider securing your financials from a local organization or even the government by way of artistic grants.

A last resort should be asking for a loan from the bank. This route should only be taken if you are absolutely sure that you will have a steady stream of income from your photography in the months to come—it won’t bode well if you’re in debt. Plan your expenses and potential income, and determine whether going pro will be viable.

2.     Study by going the theoretical route.

It’s sad that many aspiring photographers don’t actually know the ins and outs of their cameras, but keep buying more and more. It doesn’t matter if you have the latest lenses, grips, diffusers, and monopods if you have no idea how to use them.

Read the manual for each and every piece of kit you have. Go on photography forums and ask questions. Read technical reviews, and see exactly how the reviewers (who are likely pro photographers themselves) use the gear. Understand that there are technical and aesthetic milestones that you must aim for, and achieve them. Also, try to read the blogs of camera sellers online. Some blogs, like the one that CameraHouse holds, award people for doing technical shots of seemingly mundane things, in which you might further understand the theory in taking photos. Don’t forget to engage people you interact with in their comments section, you might get interesting answers from other experts there too!

3.     Understand the power of interesting backgrounds.

Shallow depth-of-field shots are often easy, convenient tricks to have great photos. As long as you follow the rules of composition, it’s a simple matter of getting a striking shot where up to 90% of the photo is out of focus, and your subject is the only clear thing.

A good technique to supplement this practice is this: have interesting subjects in your out-of-focus areas as well. Even though these people/trees/vehicles/what-have-you aren’t the true subject of your photographs, their being present in the photo adds dynamism to the image, allowing them to complement your in-focus, smiling (in the case of humans) subject. Just make sure that they don’t outshine your subject’s place in the limelight!

4.     Develop the discipline needed for self-employment.

Going out on your own is an overwhelming prospect, especially if you’re coming from the stability of a nine-to-five. It will be tempting to set aside the entire morning for leisurely pursuits, while doing all of your work in the evening.

Make sure that your work ethic remains in place, and devise a schedule that is optimal for your habits. Perhaps two-hour stretches of pure work, interspersed with thirty-minute breaks for meals and other activities, will work for you. For those even more easily distracted, try introducing some pressure which will force you to seek clients and work (maybe there are benefits to getting that bank loan, after all).

5.     Apprentice with established photographers.

Sometimes, operating on your own steam isn’t enough. A great way to get your start in pro photography is to associate yourself with a known firm. That way you’ll have the solid backing of the organization when going to events or showing off your business card. Build up a portfolio and apply for newspapers, magazines, and other prominent media outlets in your area. You’ll also be able to secure contacts for your eventual independent life as a pro photographer.

These are just a handful of tips to help you become a professional photographer. Keep these in mind as you start out, and with enough motivation and discipline, you can work with your camera full-time. Are there other ways on how to become a pro photographer?  Which steps have worked for you? Share your experiences in the comments!