The following is a special guest post by award-winning photographer Scott Robert Lim.
The road to success can be a long and painful one.
My own career has spanned three decades and is marked by tumultuous shifts like dropping-out of college, earning $10k per year as a graphic designer, and starting my career in photography at the ripe age of 37. Where I am now is due to a confluence of hundreds — probably thousands — of factors, but a large number of them resulted in the same thing: better results with my photography.
Wherever you are in your journey, here are my tips for making remarkable images that can launch your photography career or inject an existing one with renewed life.
Sony SLT-A99V | 35mm F18 1/160 ISO100
1. Choose education over equipment
Learn first, buy later. Upgrading your gear doesn’t upgrade your talent, and incredible photos can be shot with the most simple equipment. If a guitarist picks up a $200 Yamaha guitar, plays a few songs, then picks up a $2000 Gibson, is he any better?
If you spend $10-20k in equipment, don’t be afraid to spend that amount in high quality education. It comes down to this question: how much are you willing to invest in your photography career and where is that investment best placed?
The tragic error when striving to be a great photographer is investing more into equipment than into quality education. Mastering natural light or portraiture posing is far more important than having the snazziest light kit. Creating great images has to do with the skill and vision of the photographer; the type of camera and equipment used is relatively insignificant. The more you know, the less you need.
The way you educate yourself is up to you, but ultimately it’s a way to feed your soul and mind good information. With this and thousands of hours of practice, you can expect exponential growth. Get the equipment that completes your vision, nothing more and nothing less. If you lack vision, go back to feeding your soul and mind.
Sony SLT-A77V | 24mm F4.5 1/100 ISO800
2. Choose remarkable over good
In beginning your journey to excellence, you have to realize a few things. First, “good” is average. Most clients can’t tell between poor, fair, and good. Second, your imagery probably looks very similar to everyone else’s.
Nobody panic. This isn’t really news. These are the realities of the trade: to be a successful photographer, you should aim to be better than 98 out of 100; if you have dreams of being a world class photographer, aim to be the best out of 1000.
To beat out the competition with remarkable photography, I suggest that you constantly push yourself to learn, style your own sessions, shoot in exotic locations, and get honest assessments from a professional you trust.
Canon EOS 5D Mark II | 25mm F4 1/50 ISO400
3. Know how to find and create dramatic light
Finding good light is about being reactive to your environment — constantly channeling, whittling-down and filling-in the light from its already-existing source. Creating good light is more proactive, starting from scratch and building the kind of light you want.
Highly essential skills for any ace photographer, both of these approaches can be an easy base for learning new techniques and styles. Already established as a glamour portrait photographer, I adapted my style and kept my portfolio fresh by moving from softer, natural light to highly dramatic strobe light. If you constantly test your ability to find and create new and interesting light in any setting, you will see your style transform into something unique.
4. Don’t be afraid to reinvent yourself
As with light, the secret combination for success always evolves and changes; you must learn the basics but continually build and innovate on them. Once you think you’ve made it, it’s time to reinvent yourself.
I suggest running towards the hard stuff, challenging what you think you know and expanding your professional brand. As career coach Brian Tracy once said, “most of us are one skill away from doubling our income.” Perhaps I’d expand it to, “most of us are one personal reinvention away from rising well above our wildest expectations.”
5. Find a mentor
Nobody makes it alone. Nobody has made it alone.
This is something that professionals of all types should repeat to themselves every few months. It doesn’t matter who you are, we are what we are largely because of the people around us.
An effective and engaged mentor can be a huge boon to a photographer — the feedback loop can resolve questions, mold new ideas, provide insight into necessary skills or techniques, develop best practices, evaluate images and styles, test strengths, and bring new work opportunities and connections.
While photographers are constantly learning and (re)discovering as part of their creative process, a photographer has achieved a certain level of success once she becomes mentor in her own right, enabling her student to become remarkable too.