The Collective: Advice From My Favourite Photographers
If ever there was a post I was super excited to share, this would be it…
In January I got in touch with some of my absolute favourite photographers to ask them what advice they would share with their younger photography-loving selves, as they set out on building their passion into the careers they now have today. Their guidance was as thoughtful, beautiful and truly helpful as I had hoped, and I loved collating their words into this blog post.
I hope this post leaves you inspired and excited to grow your own photography, whether it be deepening your love for a hobby, or transitioning said hobby into a business or profession you love.
Wedding Photographer & Writer
When I first started out, I wish someone had told me not to worry about “what camera” the “professionals” were shooting on. Great photography is about eye; your camera is just a tool, and a useful tool at that, but it isn’t what makes or breaks a photographer. What makes you better is working within your limitations and learning how to use what you’ve got to the best of your abilities. So what if you’ve only got an iPhone or a £100 secondhand camera you bought off eBay? Learn the craft. Learn about things like lighting, aperture, shutter speed, and how to wield them well to capture your vision for an image. I won’t lie and pretend like better equipment doesn’t help— it certainly does! But great photographers are the ones who are undaunted by their resources. They’re the ones who will do whatever it takes to chase the image with what they have available. Because it’s their vision, not the kit, that sets them on fire.
Travel & Brand Photographer
The beautiful thing about being a photographer is that your craft can be ever-evolving and honed. Opening yourself up to new opportunities that spark interest and pushing the boundaries/experimenting with different types of shooting styles and subjects will help build on your existing skills and inform your usual portfolio of work, even when you have a defined aesthetic and certainty of what you like to shoot. Stay inquisitive, push yourself out of your comfort zone, look for inspiration in unlikely places, spend time working on personal projects that excite you and continue to learn new skills by crafting images outside of your usual style/niche so that you're continually growing as a photographer.
Photographer, Illustrator & Writer
With social media, we are constantly exposed to other photographers with very consistent photography styles, it creates this inner pressure for anyone starting out to match up immediately. But it's so important to allow style the time to mature and evolve. If you try to force it by replicating what you see, what you're left with is something that is simply repetitive of the aesthetic influences around you. If you want to have an authentic style that is truly yours, you have to look within for the answers. Complete originality is impossible. But if you don't want your work to just mirror the industry around you, you've got to get outside of that bubble for inspiration and ideas. And the best way to do that is to turn off your phone, get your camera, and go with your gut: experiment, try, test new ways of shooting, play with a variety of light settings, colours, subjects. I don't believe you can know what you truly like & want to keep shooting until you give it a go.
Fashion Photographer & Photography Mentor
If I had to give any advice to my younger self, I’d remind myself to follow my heart. To stay in my own lane, and let myself feel inspired by whatever I like. It’s easy to see what other people are shooting and think that you have to do the same thing to be successful, or to fit in. But that only leads to feeling uninspired by your own work. Keep shooting what feels good, and exciting to you, without worrying what other people think, and you’ll be successful no matter what.
Photographer & Art Director
You don't have to go to school/uni and study photography if you want to make it your profession. No degree or certificate is going to give you what you truly want - a great portfolio, the feeling that you're producing work you're proud of, and getting clients to not end up as a struggling artist. Photography is a practical skillset to have, and while some theory around the technical parts of a camera etc. is helpful, you have to take action and take photos to become better.
This is where mindset comes in. Especially in the creative industries we hear it over and over again - "be authentic", "be yourself". I agree to some degree – when it comes to developing your style and aesthetic and creating a consistent, recognisable portfolio. However, if you're not seeing the results that you want, not getting the clients that you want, or find yourself struggling to take the action you know you NEED to take to make progress (e.g. because you're scared), ask yourself if the person you are right now is capable of achieving your desired results. Maybe not. Maybe it's time to give up your current identity and stop clinging to a character that's not serving you. You can become whoever you want to be, whoever you need to be.
Family & Wedding Photographer
Allow yourself to be a beginner, and accept that you are a beginner. You are going to struggle with the fact your work isn't quite at the standard you wish it was, but you can't afford to let that paralyse you or prevent you from putting your work out there. Your work matters as much as anybody else's! When I started out, perfectionism overwhelmed me to the point that it slowed down my growth and delayed me from actually getting to the standard I was dreaming of. I have since realised that people want to see your journey, and that includes seeing you grow. As much as you might convince yourself otherwise, I promise there isn't anybody waiting to catch you out and prove that you don't know what you're doing!
And then there was me!
I think knowing and playing to your strengths is always important, but I’m a big believer in straying from your own beaten path and experimenting with styles that don’t feel as comfortable for you! If you’re a natural light lover, see how you can photograph under artificial light in a way you love; if portraiture is your comfort zone, give flat lays a go and see what happens. Each new style will inform your strengths too, and broaden your understanding of photography as a whole… I think of it as being like the very little I know about weightlifting: you can’t just work your arms to grow stronger – it has to be your whole body to be your strongest overall.