I shot this image of a silhouetted cowboy and a horse at sunset over a year ago. At the time thought is was kind of cool, so I shared it on Flickr. A year later, I received an email from Penguin saying they’d found my image on Flickr and would like to use it for the cover of a new book! Yesterday, a cheque in the mail arrived. It’s my very first book cover!
What shocked me was that somebody actually paid me real money for a experimental shot that I took for fun and for free. I wanted to share this story with you because it really hammered home some really important points about the nature of the photography business in this new digital and social age and all the things that are possible for someone with no training, little money, and a strong passion for taking great photos.
- You can get great shots with any camera: I shot this with my trusty Canon Rebel Xti (400D) with a basic kit lens. The quality was good enough to print. Never let your gear limit you, instead learn to master what you’ve got and try to the best possible images you can.
- Even iPhone shots are good enough to print: We are seeing more and more publications accept images shot with an iPhone. The most recent MacWorld Cover was shot with an iPhone 4. F-Stoppers shot an entire fashion shoot with a 3GS. Additionally, when I was reporting on the 2010 Olympics for the Vancouver newspaper, The Province, they posted an iPhone 3G photo taken of me and a very large fry on the front page of the paper. They continued to use my iPhone shots in the paper many times.
- The more you shoot, the more you learn, the better you get: I feel like I’ve come a long way since that cowboy shoot and if it weren’t for that photo session and the many sessions after that, I wouldn’t be able to take the shots I take now. I honestly didn’t have a clue how to do anything technical when I started out. I often made big mistakes and took crummy photos. Instead of feeling bad when you take a poor photo, analyze it and try to figure out why it’s poor and how you can improve your skills for next time.
- Most learning happens by “just doing it”: I haven’t taken a single photography class or read a photography related book cover to cover. I learnt everything I know by doing and doing until I got it right. When I couldn’t figure something out something technical, I’d call other photographers, connect on Flickr, or dive into Strobist for a week.
- Other photographers are your greatest allies: Whenever I meet another photographer like Ken (pictured on left) and Scott (right), I completely barrage them with questions about gear, lighting, techniques, etc. I find most photographers are completely open to sharing information and are wonderful shoulders to cry on when you are lacking inspiration. You can meet tons of photogs on Twitter, Flickr, and Facebook. Share your ideas, go for photo walks and garner inspiration from them.
- Believe in yourself and your photographic abilities: We all have bad days, unproductive days, but it’s the people that keep plodding through the difficult times that end up succeeding. I’m very hard on myself and my photography, and sometimes I’ve completely abandoned it for months because I didn’t feel like my shots were good enough. Now, if I’m having a bad day with my 5DMKII, I’ll switch things up and shoot with my iPhone. I find by taking the pressure off and just shooting for fun, I can overcome a lot of my self-critical negativity. At the end of the day, we shoot because we love photography, not to create perfect images.
- Share your photos: If I hadn’t uploaded that cowboy photo to Flickr, Penguin would have never found it. It’s that simple. The greater distribution your photos have, the more people will see them and the greater opportunities you have to publish or sell your images. So start sharing your shots! Plus, it really helps to have others both praise and criticize your work.
- You can make money with your photography: It’s not easy, but it’s definitely within your grasp. I did it with no training, just hard work and perseverance and so can you! I’m going to do an expanded post on this topic soon, because I know what a battle it is to get paid for professional photography work when everyone’s Uncle Jim considers themselves a Pro photographer.
Until then start with Step One: Get out and shoot. Step Two: Share your photos! I want to see everyone posting pictures on Twitter, Flickr, Facebook, Tumblr & their blogs. Can’t wait to see your shots!!