How I taught myself to be a photographer

I get a lot of questions about working as a photographer here and on Instagram, so I thought I would put a few thoughts into a post about it. I just love these photos of this little boy being taught how to box by his dad at the Rafael Trejo Boxing Gym in Havana and I thought they were kind of appropriate.

We all start out as amateurs, and we all have the ability to make something of ourselves, it just depends on how hard you’re willing to fight for it

Last week I came across the first photo I took for work, it was taken in Kenya on a camera I had borrowed from my mum. Back then I didn’t even know how to change my camera setting from automatic, I didn’t know what editing was, and being a photographer seemed like a cool job - for someone else…

Fast-forward five years and being a photographer is now my job. I’ve been published (in a book for the ACTUAL Queen of England), I’ve shot campaigns around the world, I’ve become an expert in photographic branding and I work with agencies, amazing brands and, wonderful not for profits every day. That all feels a big braggy, but my point is I went from no camera experience to enough experience to make it a career entirely on my own. Here’s how I taught myself to be a photographer....

Copycat

My drive to improve my photography came from my blog at first. Since I learn best by doing I set out to copy what other people were producing, focusing on my favourite bloggers and photographers at that time. I would try to deconstruct their editing process, or try to re-create the composition of a photo in a different context. Obviously you can’t take other people’s ideas and call them yours, but you can try to incorporate some of their creative elements into what you create. Trying out different styles is how you find your own voice! I can look at my work now and see elements of influence from so many people, and it kind of helps me see how far I’ve come.

Keep going

My early photos were rubbish! Laughably rubbish! But I love that I tried, and that’s how I learned. No one is good in the beginning and I would say it took me a solid two to three years to confidently produce work I was proud of. Sure I did a few shoots in that time that stood out, but looking back I didn’t do it on purpose. Every day, with practice, your work becomes more purposeful and really it never stops. With photography no one ever stops learning.

Start off with simple equipment

Learning with limited equipment only makes you a better photographer. I had a cheap Canon DSLR and the budget 50mm lens for three years before I borrowed money off my mum to buy my first full frame camera. And I was being paid for my photography before I started shooting with a professional camera! It’s easy to think that having a better camera will make you a better photographer, but that’s not true at all. If you're shooting to publish on the internet, you probably don't need a 5D mk iii. I forced myself to hold off on spending that money until I absolutely had to.

Publish

Start photo projects, put them on your blog, Instagram, facebook, anywhere you can. Keep shooting, keep learning, keep finding ways to get inspired and grow. Scour Pinterest for inspiration, go on insta-meets, keep going and keep publishing, keep connecting with people. So much is about the hours you put in. A lot of my work comes from the fact that I have been at it for a long time, I’ve been consistent in the work I produce for my blog and Instagram and clients can see the full range of what I can do. I worked days, evenings and weekends for about four years to keep up the amount of work I was publishing. That’s just how hard I had to work to get to the level I’m at now, but it’s not the same for everyone. Don’t let the hard work put you off, keep going and if you hate it then stop and find something else you love – photography may just be a stepping stone to something better for you.

Ask for help

I’ve sent out a lot of hopeful emails. I’ve asked dumb questions, looked and felt like an idiot and I’ve been shot down but I’ve also been picked up and dusted off by people who were willing to teach me and help me grow. I’ve been told I don’t get to call myself a professional because I haven’t been working as a photographer for long enough, because I haven’t been professionally trained, etc… Some people can push back hard or be evasive and even defensive when you ask for help or ask questions about work or shooting and editing. Other people will sit down with you and show you their entire work flow. It’s a real mix and it hurts to have doors slammed in your face, but it’s so amazing when you get answers and inspiration from other photographers. And when you're just starting out and looking to learn, youtube is your best friend.

Take chances

Part of how I learned to be a professional photographer was through just saying “yes” and taking chances. I become comfortable with feeling in over my head, I made friends with my insecurities and told them “I hear you but I’m going to do it anyway”. That’s how I ended up in Kenya with that camera I borrowed from my mum. Learning how to comfort myself in situations where I’m pushing myself is something I have found very helpful.  In the beginning I didn't always feel like I knew everything or had all the equipment to call myself a real professional, but I knew at the end of the day I could produce something unique and beautiful, and that’s a good place to start.

I hope you've found this useful! If you have any other questions or want me to write a post about a similar topic, put it all in a comment below and I'll see what I can do.

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