While I have been in photography and retouching for over 6 years, this September marked 1 year of being a full time freelancer. I think most people would translate that as "You haven't had a job in one year?!" but that most certainly isn't the case. In fact, I would say this has been one of the hardest working years of my life...and never more worth it. Here are some things that I learned, hopefully they can help you in your journey!
1. WORK WORK WORK - If you are going to be a full time photographer you need to be putting out new work ALL THE TIME. I cannot stress enough, and I am certainly not the first to say this, that you need to constantly be evolving and growing in your craft, and you can't do that if all the work you create is for clients. Make up a personal project and go do it, if you don't have work, make work. You're a creative, go create. My only caveat is that your personal work should be the work you want to get hired to do. If you want to get hired by Nike to shoot ads, then you better be shooting stuff that looks like that every moment you can.
2. NETWORK, NETWORK, NETWORK - You've heard the saying "It's more about who you know, than what you know"? Well it's true. Granted, you need to be a good photographer when it all comes down to it, but you need to know people to take pictures for! Meet as many people as you can; meet art directors, creative directors, other photographers, videographers, agents, meet PEOPLE! The more people you know and know you the more likely you are to make it!
3. SURROUND YOURSELF WITH GOOD PEOPLE - My friend Sean Hagwell had something to say about this on his blog, and I readily agree with him. Who you have on set, who you talk to about images, who you talk about ideas with and let into your life, these people matter. This is not networking, this is community, and you must have a solid community to survive. When times are hard you'll need a hand, and you want to make sure that hand is a steady one. (You can see Sean's blog here: http://seanhagwell.com/16-things-ive-learned/)
4. BE CAREFUL - To follow up with what I just said you also need to be careful who you take advice from. Everyone wants to make money, and a lot of people make money by giving advice to creatives. Now, I have met some people who are worth paying, but I have also met some people who aren't! Make sure you do your homework before you go diving into some scheme to get a ton of money making photography...the only real way is to work really hard, and if they are telling you otherwise I would be skeptical. One other thought on this, be careful who you get to critique your work. I have noticed that every photographer has a very specific idea of what an image should look like, and a lot of times it is nothing more than an opinion, and usually a negative one. I do show my work to a select few photographers, but I also show it to industry people who aren't photographers...I would recommend looking into that.
5. YOU DON'T KNOW IT ALL - If you think you know everything there is to know about running a photography business, and you think you can do it all alone without any advice or help, then please do it...that's one less competitor we all need to worry about :) On the other hand, if you want one the most satisfying careers around then strap on your learning goggles and have at it. Always be a student, and know that you can learn from anyone, even if it's what NOT to do.
6. IT'S NOT A SPRINT - You know what comes next...it's a marathon. This might sound cliche, but it's true, and I see a lot of people dropping out photography because of this. If you think you might be the next Annie Leibovitz, and I am not saying you aren't, just remember she had a long and hard road before she made it. This is the story with photographer after photographer, they didn't just wake up one day and have incredible success without any hard work. You have to put in the time, earn the respect, and have some stamina. When we embarked on this crazy road and things got rough the first question we asked is "should we sell the house?" it was not "should I quit photography?". We knew it would be hard, and we knew the only way is through it.
7. HAVE FUN! - This industry is incredible, we get to do and see things that most normal people don't even dream of. Almost every time I am on set I get excited, and I am grateful. I know most normal people sit at a desk, and I do that a lot too, but I even have fun when I'm at my desk! We get to make pictures for a living, and we are a select few people who do what we love for a living. Don't forget that.
8. STAY INSPIRED - It's easy to get burned out, especially when you are working all the time. Make sure you have people, places and things that you look to for inspiration. I have movies that I'll watch, coffee shops that I'll sit at, people that I'll talk to, portfolios that I'll look at. Never stop exploring the world around you, there is so much to be seen and inspired by!
There is a lot of really awesome stuff in the works for the coming months and heading into 2016, stay tuned for more on the blog, tutorials, plus lots of new work. Don't hesitate to reach out if you have questions and of course, BE AWESOME!