Then Vs. Now | Artistic Advice From 13 Working Pros
Ever wonder how some photographers started out? The images they share via social media and online portfolios represent a culmination of years of practice, dedication, and endless hours of failure. Take a look back at some of our favorite photographers’ early work and see just how far dedication to your craft will take you.
“Where to begin, and how to unpack all the things I wish I would have known when I first started this journey 3.5 years ago! Above all, I would say, “Stay curious, stay hungry.” Staying curious keeps things fresh. There is such a wonderfully vibrant array of people in this industry, and examining work that speaks to you, working to deconstruct it, and find out why it speaks to you will lead to you better understanding yourself and how you create. Being curious and willing to fail in the pursuit of growth will free yourself to grow without as much fear. We all begin at the starting line, and we all run our race in a unique way. Run yours proudly, and never be afraid to take risks!
Stay hungry, and chase the opportunities and education that inspires you. Don’t be afraid to ask for opportunities, and align yourself with those that inspire you. Give 110%, be willing to grow and take instruction, and be ready when opportunity strikes. Above all…have fun. Remember why you got into this, and what truly sets you on fire. There will be tough days, but remembering your “why” will sustain you through it. Stay weird, friends!”
“Patience is key. You can’t expect 10 years of results from days of work. Hard work and moving fast is important, but one needs to understand that vision takes time. Don’t dwell on your shortcomings; move past them and keep your eye on the target.”
“We always encourage photographers to, from the very start of their adventure in photography, take significant time getting to know their clients. Moreover, when applicable/possible, spend some time talking with their family and friends as well (find out what they love most about your clients, for example). The result of that time is that you will photograph what is most important to them. Subsequently, they will have a connection with their photographs. And not only will you have clients for life, but you’ll also have clients who truly value the photographs that you have taken for them.”
“Practice, practice, practice! Take your camera out with you every day and work on a new technique. Attend local photography events and get out and shoot with others that share a similar passion for photography. I have always been drawn to beautifully lit dramatic photographs so I spent a lot of time when I was first starting out, learning how to properly use natural and manufactured light. I watched countless tutorials on flash and would often bring along my off-camera flash kit on family vacations, outings, walks and family get-togethers to work on lighting techniques. Invest in education and get out and practice!”
“When you’re just starting out, don’t get stuck on what you’re “supposed” to do. Learn as much as you can about EVERY type of photography you can! While jack-of-all-trades in the photography business generally isn’t advised, the more you can learn about different disciplines of photography WILL pay off dividends later. For example – learning subtractive lighting techniques for product photography will make your wedding ring photos that much better. Shooting film will slow you down and force you to pay attention to the little details. Learning architectural photography will make your “big” shots so much more impactful.
Oh ya, and strive to get it right in camera. Be obsessive about it.”
“Never fall out of love with what you do. Throughout the journey, everyone hits a turn where you can choose the thing that makes you truly happy or the thing that will give you temporary satisfaction. Always do the thing that resonates to the core. If that means creating powerful, meaningful art, go for it. Even if you struggle at the beginning, the most promising thing in the eyes of others is commitment. People will recognize your passion and ultimately that will take you farther than settling for something you did just for the money, notoriety, etc. You have to live with your choices in life- make them the best choices possible.”
“I’ve always been told to never compare yourself to anyone but yourself. Looking back at these pictures (albeit painful) shows me how far I’ve come and I can’t wait to see how I’ll look back at what I’m doing now in five years!”
“My advice has always been pretty consistent… .ALWAYS KEEP TRYING/TESTING. things, especially when you’re starting out, will never look the way you are expecting….light, posing, angles, etc etc…there’s so many variables so the most important thing is to keep trying and testing. I was that annoying guy (still am) that asked friends to sit for me while I tested out my gear on every setting and every angle to learn what it did and how each setting changed the look and feel of a shot.”
“This was the first wedding I’ve ever attended 14 years ago. I had never photographed a wedding before and I was that annoying guest trying to snap a few photos while the hired pros did their job and so graciously said I could take photos if I wasn’t in the way.
I took this photo with the rim light coming from one of the other photographer’s on-camera flash. I was so excited by the timing of it and that my camera had captured the exact moment they kissed during their first dance and that flash went off. I had no idea how I could possibly recreate it, though now it is a routine technique for me.
I have a lot of images I’ve taken after this that I could say make me feel a little embarrassed to share, but this image doesn’t make me feel that way. It marks the beginning of my journey, representing what I lacked in knowledge and skill while still being a cherished photo for my friends.
I didn’t realize any major growth in my photography until it was something I did daily. You have to force yourself into uncomfortable situations that challenge your inefficiencies. All of my growth came through adversity and correcting mistakes in my workflow. Pull your head out of the sand every now and then and look around at photographers who do work that inspires you.”
“No one is consistently good at anything when they begin. It’s impossible for a few reasons. First, you simply haven’t done it enough to be good. Secondly, when it comes to photography, you have zero idea what your style is because you haven’t had the time to develop it. You will find yourself trying to emulate the styles of many different people you admire and not doing it very well. The only way to overcome that is to put in the work. Shoot every day. Learn what works and what doesn’t. A lot won’t work. But through all that failure, you will learn and get not only technically better, but you’ll begin to develop as an artist and will be able to consistently create a style that you’ll come to be known for. Don’t give up. You’re just getting started.”
“Short tip; Shooting after eating a mango will usually result in a sticky camera… so don’t do it.
Better tip; Always seek beautiful, single temperature, single direction, single source, even light. The Difference between a good photographer nd an okay one is how they utilize the light in any given scene. Take the time and find the best use of what is available.”
“This is one of my early photos of my daughter Pascaline from over 15 years ago. I couldn’t wait to take this roll of film to the 24-hour lab and see what I got. It came out completely blurry, but I was still mesmerized by her. She loved dressing up, and she was always dancing. I didn’t care about it being blurry – that was my girl. I hung it on our wall, and it made me smile all the time. Was there room to grow? Absolutely! When I’m struggling with being my worst critic, I remember how much I loved these early images. Over the years, I’ve found that our clients judge our work based on content (who is in the photo, what is their emotion, how does it make them feel). But as professional photographers, we judge our work on composition b/c we’ve come to learn so much about lighting, composition, storytelling, etc. We can get the two mixed up and think that they are looking for the same things. When the truth is that even a blurry photo of a little girl dancing fills my heart because it’s my girl.
The photo on the right was taken of her last year. She still likes to dress up. We’d been on the road in Europe filming and shooting for weeks. That morning, our train arrived in Paris. This was Pascaline’s dream city to visit. My husband Brian, my son Blaze and I were all worn out and looking pretty ragged. But within 10 minutes of checking into our Airbnb, Pascaline came out of the bathroom dressed to the hilt and said “Mom, I’m ready for my photo shoot! We’re in PARIS!” How could I say no? I love that the years of practice, almost two decades now, have not just been with Family Portrait clients but on her and her brother. The blurry shots and the focused ones…I treasure them all.”
“Social media can be an incredible tool in reaching audiences and networking. It can also completely derail us from our goals when we fall into the trap of comparisons. It’s too easy to fall into the nasty habit of comparing our work to others. It’s a process that saps our creative drive and confidence, and it’s made all to easy with social media. Keep your head down, understand that everyone starts in the exact same place. Social media tells you nothing of a person’s success in their career or the hard work they’ve put into achieving it. Educate yourself through books, online courses, and other educational experiences. Then keep your head down and grind as you practice each of the techniques you learn.”