Many thanks, Scott – an honor to be able to write here.
I’ll be all over the place here (I’m no writer, so my apologies), but I’ll try to be quick, sprinkling little nuggets of wisdom you should probably ignore. (Seriously, the only real tip here is SHOOT. Always be shooting.) I’ve been through highs and lows as a photographer, and have learned a thing or two in the process. Hopefully the below will help one day.
-You can’t get better if you don’t continuously practice. That’s really the big secret. Keep shooting all the damn time.
-You have to love photography. I mean, really love it. Photography as a hobby is much different than photography as a profession.
-Surround yourself with smart, humble, and hard-working people. Try to be the same.
-Also, be nice.
-Respect your crew and keep everyone well fed. You’ll be amazed at what can be accomplished after one eats a delicious burrito.
-Try to shoot with film every once in a while, especially if you never have. And not just because it’s the cool, hipster thing to do, but because it’s truly magic on earth. (Seriously, darkrooms changed my life.) It will also help your photography – constraints, non-immediacy, and knowing each shot is costing you a pretty penny does wonders to your work.
-Appreciate the gift that is being given to you. What an age to be alive. To be able to capture an image before your eyes, forever eternal based on your choosing. Wow.
-Photography is great. It can also be horrible. It has provided lifelong joys and struggles; the brightest of highs and darkest of lows. There’s something so beautifully human about this. I can’t keep away, and realize this is the life I’ve chosen. Know if you can handle that.
-Photography is in oversupply. Those who are creative problem solvers and who can adapt are going to win.
-Balance your life. I recently became a father for the first time. My job demands a lot of hours and travel, and it’s been a lot of work to balance that and being able to be there for my daughter and wife. Every parent goes through this, and it will always be a struggle, I’m thinking.
-This is a stressful profession. Fun, but stressful. Develop strategies to keep the stress low.
-Enjoy the ride. Photography provides access. I’ve traveled to many places and met many amazing people, and feel blessed to be in this position. For all the craziness this career provides, few professions provide experiences as unique and great as photography does. If you’re one of the lucky few making it, know you are indeed lucky.
-Luck favors the bold and hard working. (My father told me this when I was young. It’s always stuck with me, even though sometimes I believe you truly do get just lucky sometimes.)
-Watch films with great cinematography. Get shamed at how bad you are. Get inspired at how great you can become.
-Stare at the stars every once in a while. Imagine all that’s been and all that can be. (You’re looking at the past in the present. How beautifully strange is that?!)
-I have never taken a truly great photograph. This haunts me. I can’t stop until I get a shot I’m happy with. I’m afraid it may never happen. Try to have something that both drives and scares you.
-The key to great photography is not letting anyone see your bad shots.
-I’ll get some flack for this, but the equipment does matter. Doesn’t mean buying the latest and greatest guarantees great shots, but it means getting the right tool for the right job, and knowing your equipment inside and out. Speaking of…
-Know your sh*t. I cannot stress this enough. There is no excuse with the limitless (free) resources available to you. Photography is simple, but it’s also mind-numbingly difficult. You don’t want to be fumbling around a set – people can smell the fear. Know your equipment, the science, the software, the techniques, the styles, etc. Learn as much as possible and don’t stop learning.
-Fear and nerves can ruin a shoot. Each person deals with this in different ways, but overcome any way you can once you’re on set.
-Talk to people. I consider myself an introvert, but the world is different when you’re in charge and a camera is present. Let those social worries melt away. Learn to talk to people, to relate to them, to know their trepidations and what makes them unique. Go out and take some street portraits of strangers – it will do wonders to your other work. Relationships, y’all.
-I have found that you have to stop and smell the roses. We live in a fast-paced world, and we ignore the simplest of beauty around us. Stop and smell those roses. Hang out with your son or daughter at sunset, seeing the golden light hit their face. See the patterns and chaotic randomness of nature. Hear the rain. Turn off your phone. These seem silly, but believe me – they’ll help your photography. You’ll see light and compositions in new ways if you just stop and see the beauty of the world.
-Get in front of the camera. Let people photograph you for a change. Know what bothers you, what makes you uncomfortable, and use that when you’re finally back behind the camera.
-Learn post-processing. It’s becoming a must. Shooting for post is very important nowadays, as well. This part of the process can’t be ignored.
-Of course, don’t shoot with an ‘I’ll fix it post’ mentality. Jiminy. Get your shot in-camera; shoot for post as a prepared strength, not as a way to polish a turd.
-Out of camera does not equal a retouched photo.
-Everyone is using the same equipment. There is no ‘magic’ lens or camera that makes someone better. Although the gear is expensive, we’re technically all on a level-playing field. Don’t get discouraged by others’ gear – get encouraged by their skill.
-I’m still trying to make it. I’m still learning. Still making mistakes. Always will. Take what you can from above. If you have any nuggets of wisdom you’d like to share, write them below in the comments – would love to see them. Also, some obligatory photos I’ve shot. Shrug:
Jessyel Ty Gonzalez is the Manager of Photography at Crispin Porter + Bogusky, an ad agency in Boulder, Colorado, working as a photographer in the process. You can see his work here, and also follow him on Twitter.