I’ve learned a lot in the last eight years as a photographer, lessons that I love to pass on to those coming after me. It doesn’t feel like that long ago I was just starting out like you. Here are a few insights I use every single day as a photographer. You can adopt them too, or incorporate a few of your own.
1. Invest in yourself.
When I first attended the Ultimate Money-Making Photography Workshop in Miami, 2013, it was with a good deal of determination, hope, and fear all rolled up together.
I was coming out of a nasty divorce that left me with nearly $40k debt—what the heck was I thinking, spending the last of my savings on this three-day conference?
Somehow, I knew it would be the best decision I’d make; I wasn’t going to be able to learn all the ins and outs of how to become a successful photographer on my own.
Or, if I could, it would be by working my way through many trials, good and bad. Which would take time—maybe years, and I didn’t have that luxury.
Today, I always suggest people take a course and get hands-on training as both of these quickly propelled me forward. No matter what anyone else tells you, you’re worth the investment. I promise. (By the way, GEP has an online photo workshop on the way, which you can learn all about right here.)
2. Pick up your camera.
Another crucial action every aspiring photographer needs to do is pick up their camera.
Whether you have a fancy-schmancy one or plan to use your cell phone, a camera can’t help if you never take advantage of what it offers.
I practice every single day. I carry my camera with me everywhere I go. I take photos of people, architecture, landscapes, food, wineries, hotels, nature—anything that catches my interest.
I’ve sold my images as fine art, greeting cards, calendars, restaurant menus, stock photography, and family photo sessions to local news outlets as well as neighborhood, regional, and in-flight magazines. The list goes on and on.
3. Incorporate color, texture, patterns, and emotion.
Human-interest stories need inspirational images to accompany them. Photography is one way we can add depth to the human condition. Add color, black and white media, the texture of aged skin, the pattern of tears rolling down a child’s face, a smile that lights up the room, a glorious sunrise at the beach, or the summit of a mountain just scaled—there’s a market for each moment captured. And some of those outlets pay handsomely.
4. Chase good light.
I love to chase light when I’m out with my Canon. Even in the middle of the day, when the sun is harsh, I’ll look for the shade of an old oak tree, the streaks of light breaking through a bank of clouds, or heavy fog over the mountains or lifting off the calm surface of a lake. Good light adds to my photographs; bad light makes me toss the image once I get home and has me wonder why I took it in the first place.
You can capture fantastic photographs even in the worst weather. If the light is right, you’re halfway there.
5. Don’t compare yourself to others.
One of the most important lessons I’ve learned is this: There’s room for every photographer out there. And there’s a need for regular folks interested in documenting special moments, splendid landscapes, life beneath the sea, and newsworthy images, to name just a few.
When I stopped believing I’d be a successful photographer only if a place like National Geographic hired me, I flourished. I still strive to freelance for them one day, don’t get me wrong, but realizing I can be successful today, right where I am, is a blessing.
I only need to be better today than I was yesterday. This is what I work towards each time I take out my Canon. It’s been a good mantra.
6. Try something new.
Photography is fascinating to me. There are so many different buttons to learn on my camera and techniques to try. Even when I am using my cell phone, mostly for Instagram, there are options available that I’ve yet to discover.
Often, I’ll assign myself a weekly activity, maybe something I haven’t tried or something I struggle to master.
Practice may not make perfect—but it has undoubtedly made me a better photographer.
7. Talk and work with local people.
Adding people to my portfolio was the best thing I ever did as a lensman. One time, I met these two old guys. They’d been friends since 2nd grade, and now they were in their 90s.
We sat together over a few beers and pizza while they filled me in on a gazillion stories about the good old days in Saratoga. They were thrilled when I asked if I could take a few photos. What I captured was the sheer joy of their friendship, weathering all the storms life had thrown their way.
I ended up writing a story about them. The black and white photos were such a hit with my editor she assigned an entire series to me for her print publication.
Getting to know other local people has led to backstage concert tickets, private museum tours, and overnight ghost hunts. Owners have treated me to garden and house tours not open to the public, where I’ve spent hours roaming around looking for fine art and stock photos I can add to my portfolio.
Chefs have prepared five-course dinners for myself and a friend. I take pictures, write a story, and get to eat every tasty morsel. Those images have sold as stock, new restaurant menus, and even as framed art on fancy eateries’ walls.
Photography opens doors for me frequently, both locally and abroad. When others see me with my camera, they’re curious. A savvy photographer learns how to let the art of photography start a conversation. Who knows what will happen after those first opening words…
It’s sure been fun finding out!