I have always taken snapshots for a long as I can remember. I had no formal training at all, and I would just point the camera in the direction of the action and fire away! Some stuff would come out great and other stuff…not so much. In 2008, I just got tired of the old technology. Maybe it was my engineering background and knowing the great advances in technology, I began to feel like a DSLR was in my future.
And my wife listened. For Christmas that year I received a Nikon D40 for Christmas. My first DSLR.
I was super stoked! I thought every image I took was the bomb.com! I took so many crappy photos and posted them online thinking they were so awesome! I enjoyed my DSLR on Auto for a few years, and then the day came when I realized I was a super-noob…
I attempted to shoot a wedding.
Don’t get the wrong idea, I was not the hired photographer, nor was I the friend asked to shoot the wedding for super cheap. I was the brother-in-law, in the audience, with his super-nice camera. I took all kinds of shots and thought they were the best ever. Then I got to my computer and was absolutely disappointed when I saw all the grainy, blurry and under/over-exposed images.
I decided to do something about it.
“Picture-Taker” became “Hobbyist”
I started reading a lot more…and all photography books! It was quite nice on a business trip because I could read on the plane, and then immediately try the techniques I had just read about in the hotel before crashing for the night.
But since I had no formal training in photography, the basics of ISO, Aperture and Shutter Speed still weren’t clicking.
I knew that I needed to learn some skills that I could not just teach myself. Books are cheap, but everything beyond that is an investment. The thing about photography that no one tells you when you get that first camera, is that anything beyond this basic setup will cost you a pretty penny! As with any hobby, if you are truly interested, you will invest in it!
My first investment: I upgraded my camera to the D90, mainly so that I could remotely trigger my flashes that I was experimenting with.
It wasn’t just money though. There is also an investment of time to learn, and there were some obstacles to spending more time on my hobby. I am a husband, a father, a full-time engineer, a church musician. It wasn’t going to be easy but I had a few things on my side.
- A wife and family who supports me
- I don’t sleep
I had to maintain my full-time job. The bills have to be paid and photography is not cheap. I was working 8-5, and on-call some nights and weekends. I had an engineering degree, so I had no intention of going back to school for photography. My goal was not even to be pro. I just wanted my images to look good.
After some looking around online, I stumbled upon a local company called Indy Photo Coach. They offer many different photography classes, from fundamentals to lighting, and even wedding photography. The class schedule was definitely something I could work with at only 2 hours a week in the evening for 4 weeks. After just my first class, I began to produce better quality images. That was my entire goal! I just couldn’t stop after that. I had a little flame burning now that wanted more!
Hobby becomes Obsession
I set up a little studio in my garage just to play and practice. I would go through an entire day of work, eat dinner, put the kiddo to bed, wait for my wife to go to bed…then sneak off to the garage to shoot, review, share, rinse, and repeat! This was great practice in learning my camera, lighting and editing, all with objects that don’t move and can’t talk back! Trying out the different techniques, playing with every button on the camera, and pushing the limits is how I became super familiar with the camera. As I got better, I just continued searching for more ways to learn.
Fuel the Passion
I had already read Scott Kelby’s books. So I signed up to watch the online Scott Kelby videos. It seemed like at this point, every night I’d be laying in bed reading or watching on the iPad, and my wife would get the same answer to “What are you looking at?” day in and day out, “Photography Stuff.” I took a student approach to it all. I would not just read or watch, but I would practice and apply what I was learning as I learned it, improving in the process.
Dipping my toe into the Pro waters
I started receiving requests to photograph family, friends and events. I took every opportunity that presented itself to me…it was all practice for me! I just kept forcing myself to practice as much as possible. I now had a few requests coming in and was getting paid for sessions. Now that I had some basics under my belt, I just kept striving for more. I wanted to learn speed lighting, how to shoot weddings, how to work with models, how to do everything!
I could not stop. I took vacation days from work to go to a week-long photography conference called After Dark. I jumped on an opportunity to take some workshop training from a great photographer, Bill Jones. Shooting fashion photography from LA to New York, he took the time to train a few Indianapolis photographers, and I am grateful to have been taught by a master!
I found other local photographers who had a style that I liked and I contacted them just to see if I could sit in on a session and observe. If any of them were ever requesting help on a shoot, I would volunteer. I didn’t care if it was second shooting, holding a reflector, or merely directing and corralling folks. It gave me the opportunity to be in the midst of someone who shared my passion and from whom I could learn! And back to my interest in weddings, I found another photographer and asked if I could tag along on a Wedding she was shooting. She agreed and I became her second shooter for the season.
I knew I was working toward something. In late 2012 I upgraded my gear again to a full-frame Nikon D600. Was I a pro yet? No, but I started to present myself as a pro. I was looking the part…the gear, the images, the website. I think perception is a key factor in a person’s decision-making process. If a client perceives that you lack knowledge and/or skill, why would they be inclined to hire you? They wouldn’t. I became a service provider to a client. I was building a business. I was becoming a Pro.
In 2013 I got involved with the local art community and was invited to showcase my images at the RAW Artist show in May. RAW is an organization that brings together local artists for a monthly showcase, including photography, painters, bands, makeup and hair artists, fashion designers, etc. I was extremely nervous about showcasing my work. After all, it was only my second year of focused work in photography. It went really well and I again showcased my work at the RAWards in December. Here’s the amazing part…I won the RAWards Indianapolis Photographer of the Year! I was honored that my art was chosen among the many other photographers whom I follow and who have mentored me.
And I guess things run full circle, because I just signed on to be a teacher of the Fundamentals Course at Indy Photo Coach!
Advice from a Pro
I’ve said a lot here, but the takeaway should be the following:
- Becoming a pro photographer doesn’t happen overnight, in a week, or even a year. Take the time to learn the basics and always be willing to learn.
- Be professional and consistent in your work.
- Look to other photographers who have paved the paths before you, and learn what they do and create your own style.
- Be your own cheerleader and promote your work.
- Take some time for yourself and your family. Photography will consume you if you allow it. So keep your day job and pay your bills!
- Know that your hard work and dedication will pay off, even if it is only a coffee table album of your kids from last year’s vacation.