I get a lot of emails from aspiring photographers asking for advice. In reality, that’s a novel worth of material – but I sat down and thought of the top five things that would benefit creatives starting out in their field (or a reminder for seasoned pros!)
1) Shoot all the time. Bring your camera everywhere you go. Shoot everything under the sun, come back, and practice different editing styles until you find one you like. Practice DOES make perfect, my friends.
2) Only compare yourself to yourself. Okay, so I would tell anyone this, not just someone starting out. It is so easy to turn green in the face with envy looking through creatives and other photographers’ Instagrams feeds. Why are their lives so perfect? They just got published in The Knot! They’re speaking at WPPI! On top of that, they live in the Pacific Northwest, which is basically cheating. Instead of scrolling through and getting depressed, take a step back and remember that your journey is no one else’s. Pull out an old hard drive and look at your work from a month ago, a year ago, and two years ago. Look at the difference in composition, editing style, artistic vision… I’m willing to bet that there is a significant change. Be proud of that! As Mary Marantz says, “Don’t compare your behind the scenes to someone else’s highlight reel.”
3) Put your work out there. When I used to get coffee with “beginners” in the industry, I would ask to see their work online. Most would respond that they don’t feel “legitimate” enough to start a social media presence. NO! Get your work out there. Get feedback and learn from your peers. There is no “kickoff date” when you run your own business, it all just unfolds on its own, so take the plunge and post your work to Facebook, Instagram, etc.
4) Don’t be afraid to reach out to others. If you love a photographer’s work, and have a question about how they got the shot, or their camera, or their editing – ASK! Send them an email, comment on their Instagram… the worst that can happen is that they don’t reply. If you want a better chance of a reply, email, don’t Instagram DM. Timing matters, too – answering non-client emails during busy season is not a priority. It’s better to reach out in Jan / Feb / March, and be SPECIFIC with your question. Asking for general advice on photography or business will not get you an answer. But asking a targeted question like, “Did you find that online education or in-person workshops helped your skills and career more?” – that’s a better question.
5) Invest in yourself and your education. If you didn’t go to school for photography, make sure your knowledge reflects that you did. Watch documentaries on the history of photography and the progression of the technology. Study the work of historic photography figures. Know their names, their work, and their legacy. Know how your camera and lenses work inside and out. Learn why there is a “burn” and “dodge” tool in Photoshop (yes, these are real darkroom techniques). Don’t know these things? INVEST in an online course, a Patreon, or a one-on-one mentor or coaching session. You can trade dollars to shave years off of learning curves. So do it! Do not expect people to invest in you if you do not invest in yourself.