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, 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 and Facebook 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 at life. 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.” It’s hard to practice what we preach, but it’s the simple truth.
3) Put your work out there. I have coffee with lots of “beginners” in the industry, and when I ask to see their work online, most respond that they don't feel “legitimate” enough to start a social media presence. No! Get your work out there. In the 7th grade, I was posting all my (TERRIBLE) photography to DeviantART. No matter what the platform is, start sharing your art. 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 make yourself a Facebook page!
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. And we all know, answering non-client emails during busy season is rough. Give them a few days. The best scenario is that you get answers from a professional, or grab coffee and start networking to become stronger!
5) Study up. 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 technology. Take out books from your library (yes, books, NOT online) from the greats. Study their work. 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). Make a goal to have one study session a week where you sit down and watch a documentary on Avedon, or Bresson, or Nan Goldin, or Eggleston. You will become a more intelligent, worldly, well-rounded artist. Know who and what came before you.