Feature Story

My Advice For Aspiring Photographers

The Cottage on the Island
Deep Lake Diver
Little Boy in Big Tub
Barn Girls
Bad Mood Interrupted

I get asked all the time, during workshops, in e-mails, in private messages, what words of wisdom I would give to a new and aspiring photographer. Here's my answer.

- Style is a voice, not a prop or an action. If you can buy it, borrow it, download it, or steal it, it is not a style. Don't look outward for your style; look inward.

- Know your stuff. Luck is a nice thing, but a terrifying thing to rely on. It's like money; you only have it when you don't need it.

- Never apologize for your own sense of beauty. Nobody can tell you what you should love. Do what you do brazenly and unapologetically. You cannot build your sense of aesthetics on a concensus.

- Say no. Say it often. It may be difficult, but you owe it to yourself and your clients. Turn down jobs that don't fit you, say no to overbooking yourself. You are no good to anyone when you're stressed and anxious.

- Learn to say "I'm a photographer" out loud with a straight face. If you can't say it and believe it, you can't expect anyone else to, either.

- You cannot specialize in everything.

- You don't have to go into business just because people tell you you should! And you don't have to be full time and making an executive income to be successful. If you decide you want to be in business, set your limits before you begin.

- Know your style before you hang out your shingle. If you don't, your clients will dictate your style to you. That makes you nothing more than a picture taker. Changing your style later will force you to start all over again, and that's tough.

- Accept critique, but don't apply it blindly. Just because someone said it does not make it so. Critiques are opinions, nothing more. Consider the advice, consider the perspective of the advice giver, consider your style and what you want to convey in your work. Implement only what makes sense to implement. That doesn't make you ungrateful, it makes you independent.

- Leave room for yourself to grow and evolve. It may seem like a good idea to call your business "Precious Chubby Tootsies"....but what happens when you decide you love to photograph seniors? Or boudoir?

- Remember that if your work looks like everyone else's, there's no reason for a client to book you instead of someone else. Unless you're cheaper. And nobody wants to be known as "the cheaper photographer".

- Gimmicks and merchandise will come and go, but honest photography is never outdated.

- It's easier to focus on buying that next piece of equipment than it is to accept that you should be able to create great work with what you've got. Buying stuff is a convenient and expensive distraction. You need a decent camera, a decent lens, and a light meter. Until you can use those tools consistently and masterfully, don't spend another dime. Spend money on equipment ONLY when you've outgrown your current equipment and you're being limited by it. There are no magic bullets.

- Learn that people photography is about people, not about photography. Great portraits are a side effect of a strong human connection.

- Never forget why you started taking pictures in the first place. Excellent technique is a great tool, but a terrible end product. The best thing your technique can do is not call attention to itself. Never let your technique upstage your subject.

- Never compare your journey with someone else's. It's a marathon with no finish line. Someone else may start out faster than you, may seem to progress more quickly than you, but every runner has his own pace. Your journey is your journey, not a competition. You will never "arrive". No one ever does.

- Embrace frustration. It pushes you to learn and grow, broadens your horizons, and lights a fire under you when your work has gone cold. Nothing is more dangerous to an artist than complacency.

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—The JPG team

45 responses

  • James Leocadi

    James Leocadi (Deleted) said (30 Sep 2008):

    Very inspiring words accompanied by beautiful photography.
    This is the type of story that needs to be published. Im sure these words of wisdom will be an inspiration to seasoned photographers aswell as those just starting out.

  • Paul Octavious

    Paul Octavious said (20 Oct 2008):

    thank you..

  • Joven DelaCruz

    Joven DelaCruz gave props (4 Nov 2008):

    that was a shake in the head. thanks for this piece.

  • Rachel Stella

    Rachel Stella gave props (15 Apr 2009):

    I really enjoyed reading that. Thank you:)

  • Maria Mylona

    Maria Mylona gave props (8 Dec 2010):

    beautiful words. I must admit that i don't say that 'i am a photographer". I fear that people will see my work and say: "No you are not. Why you say you are?" So thanks for the nice words of wisdom! Much appreciated!

  • Maura Wolfson-Foster

    Maura Wolfson-Foster gave props (15 Dec 2010):

    my vote.....very informative. Thank you ~ !!!

  • Urbano Desprini

    Urbano Desprini (Deleted) said (14 Jun 2011):

    Great !! thanks

  • Cindy Griff

    Cindy Griff said (14 Jun 2011):

    Extreemly wise words, with some terrific sound advice for all Photographers young or old, accompanied by some wonderful Portrait Photography.
    One of the hardest things to do is to except the fact that we have become so good at our craft that it has sold to the public and we can now be called Professional Photographers.
    I was getting my hair cut the other day when I was asked, "What do you do?" I proudly replied, "I am a Photographer, I have some of my work in The Sooke Museum and have been featured in Fine Art Shows". It felt really good!
    Congratulations on an outstanding article!

  • Sara Valencia

    Sara Valencia gave props (14 Jun 2011):

    Good read! Thank you.

  • Stephen

    Stephen said (14 Jun 2011):

    Great advice - well said.

    Thank you.

  • Jim Crotty

    Jim Crotty said (14 Jun 2011):

    Perfect. Awesome article.

  • Dean MacKay

    Dean MacKay gave props (14 Jun 2011):

    Well said.

  • Dilshad Aroos

    Dilshad Aroos (Deleted) gave props (14 Jun 2011):

    Yeah! Rad!

  • Karen Menyhart

    Karen Menyhart gave props (14 Jun 2011):

    well done! congrats on the feature! I am a fan!

  • Krystle Williams

    Krystle Williams gave props (14 Jun 2011):

    Your advise is so simple that it is hard to see without being told, thankyou.

  • Stephen Cotterell

    Stephen Cotterell gave props (15 Jun 2011):

    Authenticy, Integrity and honesty always shine out, just like you

  • Ronda Langley

    Ronda Langley said (16 Jun 2011):

    Love the article. Thanks!

  • Kathy Costello

    Kathy Costello said (18 Jun 2011):

    "Never let your technique upstage your subject"--this is something I noticed before I even knew what aperture meant, one of the reasons I thought I'd be a good photographer. Great article, loaded with gems. Thanks for the inspiration.

  • Sean-Michael Gettys

    Sean-Michael Gettys gave props (18 Jun 2011):

    I have been avoiding creating a separate FB and twitter account for my photography because I knew I was not ready to start a business. Until recently. I still haven't started a business... but I finally gave in and I'm glad I did, because I found the link to this on twitter, not through my JPGmag.com account :D Great advice. I will favorite this tweet and look back to it often.

  • Andrew Chapman

    Andrew Chapman said (19 Jun 2011):

    Wow. I'm glad unread this. Great choice of words

  • Pamela Oliveras

    Pamela Oliveras said (20 Jun 2011):

    Brilliantly said!

  • Patrick Rosenthal

    Patrick Rosenthal said (20 Jun 2011):

    Very beautifully said, wise words, great reminders too!

  • Annie Kayser

    Annie Kayser gave props (4 Aug 2011):

    Ummmm tears here... thanks for reminding me of things that I deep down know... and others that I need to hear. Beautiful post, thank you so much.

  • Becky Gaviola

    Becky Gaviola said (4 Aug 2011):

    OMG I have been crying all night and just got up to see this posted, THANK YOU!!! You have no idea how much this helps. I am going to print if off and post it all over my house so I can read it every day. Not only does this apply in a photogs life but life in general!! THANK YOU, THANK YOU!

  • Rhonda Lopes

    Rhonda Lopes said (5 Aug 2011):

    this came at a time when I really needed it. Such great advice!!! Just what I needed to hear. Thank you...

  • Eckie Prater

    Eckie Prater said (10 Aug 2011):

    Wow! Thanks for this wisdom.

  • Saroj Swain

    Saroj Swain gave props (29 Aug 2011):

    Great narration!!! Nice!!!

  • Erin Attaway

    Erin Attaway gave props (29 Aug 2011):

    You have inspired me more then ever. Thank you for the wonderful advice!

  • Litz Go

    Litz Go gave props (2 Sep 2011):

    a wonderful article, and your photos are fantastic! Love it!

  • Denzil Jennings

    Denzil Jennings (Deleted) said (13 Sep 2011):

    Inspiring words that ring true. I'm going to bookmark this so I can come back to it anytime doubt starts to creep back in.

  • Girish Djoshi

    Girish Djoshi said (30 Sep 2011):

    Amazing write up. Thanks to Steve Evans and his facebook post I have come over. This is a bookmarked page for sure. Points one need to remember everday.

    The 2nd last point is so important.

  • Amanda Hill

    Amanda Hill said (10 Dec 2011):

    Love love love.
    - "Gimmicks and merchandise will come and go, but honest photography is never outdated."

  • Glenna Walker

    Glenna Walker said (11 Dec 2011):

    Thanks so much for this!! Could you suggest a good light meter?

  • Rami­r Delgado

    Rami­r Delgado gave props (14 Dec 2011):

    I recommend this story to many "photographers". When rules like this are applied, it's going to be another step, to take things to another level.

  • Siddharth Kumar

    Siddharth Kumar gave props (25 Dec 2011):

    Very Inspiring .. not many people talk about such things!

  • Anika Pilnei

    Anika Pilnei gave props (23 Mar 2012):

    Awesome advice. Especially the comment about not comparing your journey with someone else's. It's like knowing that we all stitch our puzzle together at a different time and with different pieces and in the end we will all have a beautiful picture but they will all be different.

  • Scott Stalcup

    Scott Stalcup gave props (27 May 2012):


  • Davide Simone

    Davide Simone (Deleted) said (5 Jun 2012):

    Love the article. Thanks!

  • Sherry Heitmeyer

    Sherry Heitmeyer gave props (15 Aug 2012):


  • Christina Santiago

    Christina Santiago said (14 Sep 2012):

    Great Advice, thank you!

  • Lisa Simmonds

    Lisa Simmonds gave props (14 Sep 2012):

    Awesome article Cheryl

  • Agnieszka Sulikowska

    Agnieszka Sulikowska gave props (18 Sep 2012):

    great words, thank you!

  • Suma Raviprakash

    Suma Raviprakash said (21 Sep 2012):

    Thanks! Thoughtful points to ponder

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