(I originally wrote and posted the following article a few years ago as a regular thread. As we now have a formal place for these articles, I've decided to give it a home here.)


What Every Aspiring Photographer Should Know

These are my thoughts, nothing more and nothing less.

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. Hereís 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. Donít look outward for your style; look inward.

- Know your stuff. Luck is a nice thing, but a terrifying thing to rely on. Itís like money; you only have it when you donít 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 donít fit you, say no to overbooking yourself. You are no good to anyone when youíre stressed and anxious.

- Learn to say ďIím a photographerĒ out loud with a straight face. If you canít say it and believe it, you canít expect anyone else to, either.

- You cannot specialize in everything.

- You donít have to go into business just because people tell you you should! And you donít 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 donít, 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 thatís tough.

- Accept critique, but donít 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 doesnít not 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 ďPrecious Chubby TootsiesĒÖ.but what happens when you decide you love to photograph seniors? Or boudoir?

- Remember that if your work looks like everyone elseís, thereís no reason for a client to book you instead of someone else. Unless youíre cheaper. And nobody wants to be known as ďthe cheaper photographerĒ.

- Gimmicks and merchandise will come and go, but honest photography is never outdated.

- Itís 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 youíve 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, donít spend another dime. Spend money on equipment ONLY when youíve outgrown your current equipment and youíre 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 elseís. Itís 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 ďarriveĒ. 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.

- CJ