So you want to be a photographer?
Here's my stab at timeless advice for making it as a professional photographer.
Have a Point of View. How you see the world and what you have to say about it (also known as point of view) is the single most valuable asset you have as a photographer. Often, developing a strong point of view has as much to do about what you read, think, and have seen as it does about photography.
Even before digital imaging the ability to shoot a well-exposed well-composed image only counted for so much. Today, it counts for even less. Simply put, your point of view is what you have to say about the world. This could be based on where you live, the way you grew up, who your peer group is, what your personal interests are, what kind of things and subjects you are attracted to etc…
For me, I love hanging out with all different kinds of people. In High School, I was friends with a wide range of people, from the popular kids to the hoodlums and everyone in between. I still feel that way and my images reflect it. hotography for me is a passport into the lives of different people and places.
There are as many potential points of view as there are people. Spend some time thinking about what your point of view is and then let your photography be a vehicle to express it. Ideally, your point of view will evolve over time in tandem with your imagery.
2. Be a nice person. Clients give work to talented people they want to spend time with. It's that simple. In the past 25 years, I could probably trace every job I have ever gotten back to about 15 people. They would recommend me to others because I had put in enough hours to get good at my craft and they enjoyed my company. It's that simple. Solid Talent + Nice Personality = Third-Person Referrals. Third-person Referrals = everything. This also happens to be a much less icky way to think about marketing.
3. Walk before you fly. The curve of every successful photographer I know represents a slow and steady rise over time-powered by passion. They started with small unglamorous assignments for small unglamorous publications and through dogged commitment and talent built their careers one picture at a time. Sorry folks, there is no fast track to success. For some reason, people don’t want to hear this. I’m gonna sound old here, but this is especially true with some younger people. It takes 10,000 hours to master a craft. The sooner you accept this, roll up your sleeves, and start doing the hard work the better off you will be.
4. Find a mentor (and listen to them). I can trace everything that has ever happened in my career back to 4 mentors. Each of them helped me through different stages of my career in a very old-fashioned way. Basically, they would give me advice and I would follow it. A lot of the time this advice made no sense but in retrospect it always did. None of them ever told me I was great and all of them expected a lot of me.
5. Equipment is a means, not an end. For every hour you research or think about gear/technology you need to spend 100 hours actually using it. Look at the greatest photographs ever taken, almost all of them could have been shot with a 35mm or 50mm lens. I’m begging you… shut down your computer, get offline, and shoot more. The real world can be so much more interesting and rewarding than the virtual one anyway.
6. Embrace business. You’re better off being a mediocre photographer who is an excellent business person than vice versa. I know, creatives are supposed to be above business. Here’s the key, don’t think of business as something that will turn you into a suit and tie. Think of business as nothing more than a way for you to enable your dream job and lifestyle. The better you get at the business part of it the more opportunities you will have. Business for photographers is really just a different application of the creative problem-solving skills we already possess.
No doubt Tony.
I've been doing larger productions where I have to hire other creatives and it's really interesting to be the person doing the hiring. I've learned a lot. The crew that always gets asked back have as much humility and kindness as they do talent. They are the hardest people to hire because there are fewer of them and the ones who have these qualities are always busy.