Today someone asked me:
I have been looking into becoming a professional photographer and was wondering if you had any advice for someone who has an interest in photography. What helped you become what you are today? Are there any specific degrees I should look out for?
My response was longer that I originally intended so I figured I’d post it for the whole world…
For me, photography is something I fell in to. I’ve always enjoyed taking photos and growing up I took every chance I could to document my activities.
I’d say over the years the biggest thing that’s worked for me is: try, try, and try again. Get out there an shoot. Use whatever camera you have and always try new things. When you see photos you like, think about why you like them. What makes them stand out to you? Then try to recreate that. Sometimes you’ll be limited from your equipment: low light, not enough zoom, or limited depth of field, but in time you’ll be able to make upgrades when necessary.
As for schooling, I’ve known people that go to school for photography, but I’m of the personal opinion that your money and time could be better spent elsewhere. There is a plethora of information on the web with thousands of YouTube videos, blogs, and tutorials to learn from and Instagram photos to glean inspiration. That’s how I’ve learned — that, and trial-and-error.
Going in to college (and even now) I’ve never really thought about being a professional photographer, its just something I really enjoy doing and taking on paid jobs lets me buy better gear. I did major in Business (emphasis in small business management) and I’m grateful for that experience. It taught me a lot about different types of companies, business plans and how to market myself; skills I believe have helped me get where I am today.
Another thing that helped me get paid jobs was taking on free jobs. For me, making money has not been my drive for pursuing photography, but rather the joy of seeing moments and memories captured forevever. I’ve taken on many “jobs” (if you could call it that) that had no immediate financial benefit but it gave me a learning experience and created connections for other clients. Photographing friends weddings, sporting events and other events alerted people that I was a photographer and eventually I began to get requests for paid jobs.
I wrote more than I was intending, but I’ll leave you with this: don’t be discouraged when you see your own photos and you aren’t satisfied. This means you have a good taste in photography. Keep photographying and when you do get a photo that makes you go, “woah, that nearly looks professional!”, think about what you did you create that shot. Did you shoot in to the sun? Did the light flare? Was it framed in a certain way? Take note of this in your mental bag-of-tricks.
As Steve Jobs once said, “Good artists copy; great artists steal.” Always be learning, and steal the techniques and styles of photographers you admire, and in time, you’ll have your own style.