How to Turn Pro
So how do you turn pro? And this is a tough question these days, because it's changing. You know, if I answered this question, well, 20 years ago, I was just starting out as a pro myself, but there was a fairly laid out path back then. Like, you go work for a newspaper, then maybe you start shooting for magazines, and then maybe you quit the newspaper and you start shooting only for magazines, and then you start getting a few of your pictures in ads in the magazine, and then at some point, those companies start seeing, you know, the pictures in the magazines and say, "Hey, we want you to shoot corporate ads for us," and then you become a commercial photographer. So there was, like, this glide path that if you worked really hard, you could kinda see that happening, and that kinda doesn't exist anymore. So there's a whole bunch of different ways to get into the industry, you know, assist an established photographer. I think it's a goldmine of information if you can do it. It can also be ...
a little bit of a trap, because I've known people who've assisted photographers and made a really good income making four to $500 a day as an assistant and never went into their career because they were making so much good money as an assistant. So just be aware, if you're gonna assist a photographer that you want to get out of that if you want to be a photographer. And you can be a professional assistant, that's great, but if you want to be a photographer, don't spend 10 years of your life being an assistant. But, you know, the things you can learn by assisting an established pro are huge. Like, all this stuff, pricing, how to estimate, how to talk to clients, how to work with, you know, models, or talent, or whatever you're doing. How to set up a big production, because that stuff is totally mystifying and, you know, something that you have no concept of how to make that work if you've never been on a set with a bunch of people standing behind you while you take pictures. Which is not, for me, I typically don't have many people out there. It's just me and the athletes and maybe one other person. So I'm not in that world either, myself. You know, like I said earlier, work a part-time job, shoot on the side. I highly recommend saving up some money, then shoot every day for, like, six months to a year, and put it out there, or put it out there to the magazines as you're shooting. If you have a savings, you know, going full-time pro is like jumping off a cliff without a parachute, and you're gonna see real fast if you're flying, or if you're heading in a bad direction. And it felt that way financially, it was terrifying, to, like, cut that job with the steady paycheck, and to see if this can work. I mean, I've been doing it for 20 years now, and still to this day, I don't know how I'm paying bills six months from now. I mean, I've got some savings and retirement account, but still, there's this, like, cloud out there, like, it's been working for 20 years, so I trust it'll keep working. But there's been, definitely, tons of times where cash flow gets tight, or, you know, you've got, early on in the career, there were times where I had $10 in the bank account and $2,000 in bills due the next day, and a check would show up the next day for $2,000. You know, and these days, it's not so much running out of money, it's, like, you put out a bunch of money to fund this next shoot, and then the next client calls and you gotta put out a bunch of money to fund that shoot. And then if they don't pay you, you could go bankrupt. And in 2008, that happened to a lot of photographers. And this last one, build up a huge social media following, can be a huge benefit. There's photographers out there making a living shooting just for Instagram these days. So there's all kinds of different roads and paths into the photography career, depends highly on what you're doing. You know, if you're a wedding photographer, you would go at it a totally different way than what I'm talking about. So how do you figure out what you want to photograph? I mean, even for me, early on, I didn't know that I necessarily wanted to be an adventure sports photographer, I didn't know if I could make a living at that. I shot all kinds of different stuff, and then it was a fellow pro who took me under his wing. It was like, "Kid, this stuff. "This is what's good, forget the rest of this stuff. "This is what you need to be doing, "because these images stand out." So it's tough, you know, you have to shoot a lot of different stuff. I've had people that came and assisted me and saw what it took to create the images I'm creating, like, physically, the labor, and are like, "Ah, no. "I'm not doing that. "I'll go shoot portraits, where I just have to, like, "walk into the studio and not hang off El Cap." You know, so depends on what you want to do. I already said, what are your passions? Your vision for your image, that seems, you know, if you're just starting out, that might be pretty far out there, and I don't think I ever thought about that when I was starting out. But if you have a vision for what you want to shoot and, you know, where you want to be, goals, writing down goals is a huge part, I think, as a pro photographer, as well. I don't think I have it in the presentation, but write down your goals, and not just goals for, like, tomorrow, next week, this year, like, lifetime goals. I remember I wrote down a whole, like, two or three pages. "I want to get published in National Geographic. "I want to work with Nikon. "I want to work with, like, these giant dream corporations." And within the first 10 years, I think most of those goals had been met. So just, you know, if you don't write down the goals, you don't have a target you're going after. So I think that's really critical. Doing, like, career goals, then five year goals, then one year goals, and then, like, what do I need to do this week to make this one year goal happen? Which is on the road to making that 10 year goal happen. Or whatever it is, I think that really, at least for me, it really helped motivate me and get me going and pointing me in the right direction to make things actually happen. And then also, look at everything you possibly can. Like, if you're gonna be a pro photographer, it's not a career. Let's just get that out of the way. This is not a career, this is a lifestyle. Because A, you're probably, early on, not gonna live in, you know, forget about the new TV. That new TV money is going to buy gear, or pay for the next trip, or pay for whatever you need to pull off a shoot that might get you a job. You know, so I definitely, in my career, at least, had to give up some things early on to make other things happen. And the lifestyle part of it is that I'm working all the time. You know, my office is in my home, 'cause I don't shoot in studios. My studio is the outdoors, wherever I'm at. So, you know, there's that door which is the office, and luckily, I can close that door and walk away for a little bit, but I'm constantly thinking of ideas, you know, and I'm so passionate about this, it doesn't feel like work for me. And maybe that's unique to what I shoot, but if you're passionate about what you're doing, it's not gonna feel like work, and you're gonna work harder at it, and you're gonna do more, I think, at least, that's been my experience. Is what you want to photograph a viable option? So, if you want to be a photojournalist these days, it's a rough world in photojournalism right now, sadly, 'cause we need photojournalists, especially right now. But that 34,000, like, that's probably what most photojournalists that work at a newspaper, if they're making that much, if they even have a job. If you want to be a landscape photographer, that's a really hard way to make a living. I mean, I'm not trying to, like, depress you or anything, but I would say, my experience is that I do a lot of landscape photography on my own. I don't necessarily look to sell it, but occasionally, I will license a landscape photograph to a magazine or whoever. But I would say, pictures with people in them sell 20 times more than a landscape photo, just because people want to look at other people. Magazines are talking about what people are doing. This is just the economy we live in and how it works in this world. I mean, it's not to say that there isn't a place for landscape photography, and we have Ian Shive coming in, and he's one of the best landscape photographers in the world, I think, and he's done really well. So, it can be done, it's just gonna be harder. You can still be a photojournalist, it's just harder than it was, maybe, 10 years ago, and the model of how to make it work is a little different. You know, the trick is, simplifying everything, it's just start shooting amazing images. Hone your craft to a really high level, you know, as fast as you can. You want to understand all aspects of photography. I think post-production, when most people ask how they become a better photographer in my workshops, I say, "Learn how to workup your images better." Become better at post-production. I'm not saying, like, doing crazy stuff in Photoshop, I'm just, learn, like, learn color theory, learn how you should workup your image to get it to a really high level, you know, and that will make your photography better, 'cause this day and age, we are the photographer and the lab. You know, we don't hand our slides off to the lab anymore. And then start sending the pictures out to buyers. I mean, in the old days, this is how it worked. You went out and shot pictures and you sent them to the magazines. And you know, if they liked what they saw, they published a few of them, and then they sent you a check. And if you did that for long enough, they would get to trust that every time you sent images in, there were some decent ones in there, and maybe we'll give this guy an assignment, or this person, an assignment over here. After a few years, that's why I didn't have any assignments the first three years, I was telling you, 'cause I was just going out and shooting with my friends, or on my own, and submitting them, and I made my money by just selling images to magazines. And they would buy, you know, two or three a month or whatever it was, and that would be my income, and then eventually, they started giving me assignments. You know, these days, the buyers are not just magazines. There's websites, there's all kinds of stuff out there. So, it's not too difficult to start, it's actually making a viable career out of it can be difficult.