Five (Unconventional) Tips for Becoming a Professional Photographer

So there are so many thoughts, and opinions and tips  out there about turning pro. BUT!! Here's 5 great tips that I believe in. I endorse. Yes they are brutally honest, and unconventional. But so am I. Have a read...

Andrew McCain

Andrew McCain

1. Do not go to College

More and more I’m meeting emerging photographers who are saddled with over 100K of college debt. My advice to young people – skip photo college. You can learn everything you need through books, mentors and short-term courses.

It will be a more challenging road, requiring openness, experimentation, and plenty of trail and error but the dividends are astronomical. Imagine spending your twenties with the freedom to live and work anywhere you wanted without a crippling debt hanging over you demanding a substantial and regular income.

College is great but spending $150,000 to be a photographer is insane.

Lauren Lippeatt

Lauren Lippeatt

2. Don’t be a Photo Assistant

Photo assisting is a procrastination tool. One can make amazing money in their mid-twenties as a photo assistant – and have fun and strange experiences on a variety of photo sets - but what you won’t be doing is building a creative foundation that you’ll need when it’s time to get serious in your early thirties. The longer one waits to transition out of assisting the harder it will be – one goes from making great money to no money (at least initially).

A better choice would be interning for a great photographer for a season or two, you’ll be immersed in the world that you want to be a part of, and have the license to ask lots of questions.

Andrew McCain, Danielle Spencer, Nick Daviston

Andrew McCain, Danielle Spencer, Nick Daviston

3.  Don’t Move to New York

I’ve met more than one young person who told me that they moved to New York to be inspired and be a part of a creative community only to find themselves feeling isolated and exploited.  It seems that there are two kinds of people in New York, those with a vision, and those without who work for peanuts for those who do.

New York (and other important cities like Los Angeles and London) is primarily a marketplace – cultivate your vision elsewhere then bring it to market and show us something new. New York welcomes you – but come when you have something to say.


4. Don’t be Successful

If you’re any good you’ll find yourself at some point as out of line with the culture.  Your clients will be uninterested or confused by your latest work. Go with it, as it means that you’re onto something special.

Of course one needs to make a living, so hit the sweet spot for your clients too, but keep shooting the less obvious pictures along the way – this will be the work that really makes your name down the road.

Emily Davis

Emily Davis

5.  Do be a Hater

I’ve found that I make my most interesting and original work when reacting against a prevalent trend rather than being inspired by some well-achieved work.  When you’re inspired by a great photographer you tend to make some variation on that person’s work.  But when you react against something you set the bar higher, “these folks are getting it wrong, and I’m going to show them the right way.”  For me that means digging deep into myself and asking the hard questions about where photography should be going and how I might help bring it there.

Written by: Chris Buck, Photos: Kenwyn Alexander