Category Archives Guest Blogger

BREAKING THE PLANE- 3D For Photographers

I was recently watching a tutorial on advanced product retouching in Photoshop, during which the instructor spent an astounding amount of time removing imperfections and isolating every element to its own layer. It was eye-opening, but not in the way I expected. During my career I’ve captured a client’s or art director’s vision on a two-dimensional plane with lighting, subject matter, resolution, and camera angle baked-in forever. This had me looking for another way to approach image and motion creation.

Here I’m on location capturing overhead shots of foliage to be used in SpeedTree to re-generate the plants in the 3D realm. I capture a naturally lit overhead shot as well as a back lit shot to tell the 3D program how the texture is to look when back-lit.

During a recent series of trips to New York, I found myself with quite a bit of downtime in the evenings which allowed me to dive headfirst into the world of 3D. 3D is nothing new, but as of late the software and hardware is advancing at lightning speed, and I noticed that it wasn’t being used in generating food imagery nearly as much as it should.

In order to use 3D in production as a food photographer, I needed to become adept at modeling, texture creation, photogrammetry, VFX, compositing, and sculpting. Not an easy task and as many know, but the learning never ends!

This entire scene was modeled, lit, and rendered in around 30 minutes. The scene still has that overly-slick 3D look so blending in grunge maps and other imperfections to the scene works wonders. This scene was lit with what’s known as an HDRI map with is essentially a spherical panorama of a location that is used as the lighting source.

My current software workflow includes Modo for hard surface modeling, Substance Designer and Substance Painter for texture authoring and painting, Zbrush for sculpting 3D meshes, Reality Capture for photogrammetry, SpeedTree for foliage generation, Marvelous Designer for fabric, Houdini for VFX, Redshift for rendering, and of course Photoshop for the final touches!

For organic objects, nothing beats photogrammetry! To create this oyster asset, I shot the oyster on a Lazy Susan from every angle possible and stitched the images together in Reality Capture. The resulting 3D mesh is then cleaned up in Zbrush and the color texture is cleaned up in Photoshop.

My favorite breakthrough in 3D and one that doesn’t get nearly enough focus in 3D software development is VR. I currently use MODO for modeling, and they recently implemented a VR viewport allowing the user to physically enter the 3D space. This is important as I’m used to moving around a physical subject and my hope is eventually to be able to conduct a virtual photo shoot live within this realm.

What I love about 3D is that anything becomes possible and the food on set never goes bad!

The strength of 3D lies in the ability to create any photorealistic environment you want and change anything from lighting to export resolution forever. Learning 3D also makes you a better photographer. Photographers always tout their understanding of light, but it took me all of two minutes learning PBR material authoring to realize I didn’t know squat!

Rendering realistic objects is challenging and render times increase as the light complexity increases. I will often test techniques in isolation such as caustics and light bounce counts.

I use Redshift for nearly all of my rendering needs and I tend to render out EXR files which contain the various “passes” needed for post-production. This process separates depth, luminance, puzzle matte, roughness, albedo, emission, sub-surface scattering, and other passes so that each element can be manipulated separately in Photoshop or After Effects If the export is for motion.

Material authoring is addictive but time-consuming. There are many 3rd party sources that provide a variety of base materials such as these to get your started.

As much flexibility as 3D offers, every still image render ends up in Photoshop where the final creative touches are applied. Having a strong knowledge of Photoshop, lighting, camera operation, etc. gives photographers a strong starting point to learn 3D.

The more I progress in adding 3D to my wheelhouse, the more I realize that this hybrid approach to image creation will soon be a requirement for emerging photographers.

Every material applied to objects is a series of tiles, typically 4-8k square in resolution. To apply a texture to an object, it often needs to be “flattened” by creating a UV map. This bizarre image is a world space normal of a UV flattened Buddah’s Hand Fruit.

There’s an enormous amount of information to take in when learning 3D, but hopefully this will help you know where to begin when adding 3D to your image creation wheelhouse.

MODO VR:

You can see more of Steve’s work at SteveHansenImages.com, and keep up with him on Instagram.

From Paris to Hollywood

Ever since I was a teenager I dreamed of being an artist, an actor, a director or just being involved in making movies.

As a teenager I remember seeing Star Wars: Return of the Jedi, and this totally changed my life. Not so much by the quality of movie, which I loved (I went to see it three times in the theater the first week of its release), but by the impact it created around me. Everyone at school was only talking about the movie, and I realized that a movie could have a huge impact on culture and society at large.

This dream kind of faded away as I grew up. I became a father early in life, and I got a job coding. But sitting at a desk was not a life for me, although I loved computers. I then got into sales for the travel industry, first selling sightseeing tours in Paris and later on working for my brother’s company selling websites to hotels.

In 2004 at the age 34 years old, I had four kids to take care of and lots of financial responsibilities. I was doing ok, but I started being obsessed again about working in movies. I decided to go back to acting class and to create some short movies to tackle the world of entertainment. Back then there was no DSLR that could shoot movies. To get anything decent you had to rent very expensive cameras that did not even have nice bokeh or depth of field and did not look like cinema at all.

All my efforts came out to nothing; my shorts were horrible and not finished, and the acting classes were not doing well. I felt like I would never make it.

As I was about to give up, I went on vacation with a whole bunch of friends in Guadeloupe. I had a small Sony point and shoot camera and started for the first time in my life to shoot digital photos. They were just snapshots of our holiday.

One night we were a little bored, nothing good on tv. One of my friends present, Kelvin Pimont asked me if I wanted to see what Photoshop could do. I had heard about the software but never saw it in action. Kelvin was a young designer who was a master Jedi at the software.

He starts showing how to select the sky and make it super dramatic, how to erase all the tourist around a portrait we had taken together and I couldn’t believe how powerful and how ‘easy’ the software seemed to be.

My first Photoshop experience before and after

That day I had a major epiphany that would change my life forever.

Until I could figure out how to make movies, I could at least create art with photography and make my photo sublime with the help of this magical Photoshop software!

When we came back home, I went into the biggest technical library in Paris (Eyrolles) and looked for all the books I could find on Photography and Photoshop. After buying a large number of really hard to understand books, I found a Photoshop book by Scott Kelby. Finally something I could understand.

I then started a project that went on for 5 years, taking dramatic photos of Paris after work in the most dramatic light possible. I would then watch tutorials on post processing and using Photoshop, and then later on Lightroom, I was able to make the photos even more dramatic!

This was a blast and my life made sense again. When I became 38 in 2008, I started doing interior design photography as I did a photo shoot in a hotel in Paris (in HDR) with the Seven Hotel. The hotel belonged to a hotel celebrity by the name of Philippe Vaurs.

Philippe was blown away by the photos. At the time there was very little retouching in interior design photography and most photographer were shooting on film. I added some subtle light effects in Lightroom that seemed to hit home ☺

He started promoting my work to many hotel managers/owners and I started getting lots of job inquiries. So much that a few months later, I resigned from my VP of Sales duty to being a full time photographer.  (more…)

How My Career Turned Into One Massive Personal Project
In 2011, I had just moved to Los Angeles from northern California. I got a little sick and tired of living the snowboard bum life, even though I found a nice little niche working as a real estate photographer in the Lake Tahoe area. Unfortunately by this time, the injuries (and the associated depression) were piling up. On nearly a whim, I moved to Los Angeles in an attempt to snap out of the funk I was in.

This decision was based on the fact that I had heard one way or another that it was sort of the capital of art and design in America, a title which may or may not be true depending on who you ask. I knew essentially nothing of the city beyond also hearing that people were self-absorbed and the traffic was ridiculous, but I’d made my decision, and in August of 2011 I packed everything into a tiny uHaul and drove the 6 hours south to a city my entire prior experience with consisted of transiting LAX.

For the first few weeks I was like a deer in the headlights. I grew up in New England and Los Angeles is a serious departure from that – windy mountain roads and corner stores turned into boulevards and 405 gridlock – but it offered tons of new photographic material. I would shoot nearly constantly, putting a tripod down in front of any new-ish looking building I could find and taking pictures to fill out my portfolio, which at that time consisted of mostly Tahoe log cabins.

I’d arrived in Los Angeles with around $2,000 to my name and it was dwindling quickly, as it tends to do when you show up in a new city for the first time. All I knew was that I had to start making money somehow, and I had decided a few years prior that photography was going to be my career. Being a rather naive 23 year old (I’m now 31 and not much better), I spent probably half of my at that point $600 net worth on $300 worth of printed brochures and started going to door to door to the office of any business that could require photos of architecture. Architects, interior designers, realtors, developers, couch designers, if they worked in the architectural industry in even a tangential way, I was there.

95% of those first efforts ended with me being laughed out the door or stopped by a secretary, but by the 10th or so attempt I had this down like clockwork. Of the 5% who actually stopped to talk to me, 2% weren’t interested, another 2% said they might call me back in the future but thanks for stopping in, and 1% – probably four or five business in total out of hundreds – wanted to work with me right then and there. I’d hit them at the perfect time they said, and they needed a photographer for something or other. And how much did I charge, by the way? Okay – great – we’ll call you.

The unintentional beauty of this was that before I went around knocking on doors, I had been out building my portfolio, fueled by the need to create something mixed with necessity and boredom. Since I wasn’t being paid, I got to pick and choose exactly what I wanted to photograph. Los Angeles is full of incredible architecture, and I’d sit on Google searching for the best examples of new architecture to photograph – it was pretty simple, to be honest. Pull up a car, get out the tripod, and make some shots at the right time of day. Sometimes I’d screw it up and make another trip out at sunrise instead of sunset, daytime instead of morning, whatever. I had all the time in the world and none of the money, but we’re gonna get there. Occasionally get busted for not asking permission to be on private property, but occasionally get away with something great, work ’em a little bit in Photoshop and I had the beginnings of a portfolio of interesting architecture. This is a theme that ends up recurring over and over in my career, so make a note here.

My first clients from my door-to-door extravaganza ended up being a realtor from Boston (they heard my accent from across the office when I walked in and we hit it off), a small-time architecture firm that had me photograph some office spaces for them, a couple of interior designers, and a car dealership (I told you, I annoyed literally everyone who would listen!). The beautiful thing was because I’d spent enough time building a portfolio in my own style, I was, for the most part, expected only to shoot what I had done previously. In a sense, I’d been hired on the back of my personal style. The majority of my portfolio was not influenced by clients, it was almost entirely my vision.

And that’s Lesson #1: Only put in your portfolio what you want to be hired to photograph.


About a year later, I had finally moved into a decent part of town and business seemed to be doing alright; the rent was paid and I was feeding myself, though hardly eating at steakhouses every night. Somewhere along the line I picked up some work editing paparazzi photos on the side. This was done in an attempt to smooth out the ups and downs of self employment income and half out of curiosity; the gigs I wanted just weren’t consistent enough and when the opportunity presented itself, curiosity got the better of me and I just couldn’t say no. It was the most LA job one can possibly have; but I learned a lot from it.

This job was enough to pick up around $2,500 every month, mostly from working on the weekends, which was absolutely perfect. Here’s how it would work: the paparazzi would deliver the photos to me on memory cards, and I would upload, edit, keyword, and export the images to our servers. Part of the process was also negotiating some of the licensing deals that came our way – if we had a big scoop, say, some Kardashian making out with someone she wasn’t supposed to be, or whatever it was, I had to deal with news agencies from around the world who wanted to call and buy those photos from us. The numbers were crazy, tens of thousands of dollars and in some cases even more depending on how juicy the gossip was and whether or not we got the exclusive, meaning we were the only company who got photos of the event.

The beauty here was that I was fast learning the value of licensing images, knowing how to negotiate in a fast-paced environment, and retaining control of your intellectual property. Even though the subject matter wasn’t my favorite, the business experience I learned at this side gig would prove to be invaluable. The income from this gig would also allow me to be very selective in what jobs I would take on – because I knew there was some money coming in (there’s always money in the banana stand…), I could turn down the jobs I didn’t want to shoot and spend time building my portfolio with exactly the images I wanted in there. I had enough extra cash to smooth over the gaps and really focus on going after the work I wanted.

Which is Lesson #2: Be open to learning things from unexpected places (like the paparazzi industry).


My New England genes were catching back up to me sometime around late 2012, and after a year in the city I decided I needed a bit of a break from Los Angeles. By no means was I rolling in the dough, but with a little coaxing from some friends and family, I made another decision that was probably half-baked on the surface but turned out for the best in the long run.

I spent about $2500 of my $5000 net worth (see, we’re getting somewhere!) to go spend 3 weeks on my own in Iceland to build a portfolio of images to promote my business. The goal was that by having images that nobody else in my market had and by filling my portfolio with amazing architecture that I actually wanted to photograph, I’d attract more clients that were both interested in my work and who were designing buildings similar to those in Iceland (clean, modern, set in nature).

The trip was a resounding success, and I’m continuing to use images from that project in my portfolio today. I also made some fantastic connections in the architecture community there, and I’m still in communication with many of the architects that I initially contacted when asking for advice on where to go and what to photograph. I’ve returned a few more times since then to continue building my portfolio of Nordic architecture and it’s always great to meet up with the same architects I met on that original trip six years ago.

Lesson #3: Use your marketing budget for personal projects, creative fulfillment, and travel to new and exciting places, not just mailers and web design.

Before getting too deep into this next saga, which is a brief departure from architecture photography, let me make it clear that I’ve had four longstanding interests in my life: art, design, aviation, and music. To some degree, these four things have never stopped being a constant in my life, and at times they’ve all been an outright obsession. Perhaps this was what contributed to me being a photographer in the first place instead of just following a more standard approach of high school-college-desk job – thank goodness!

It should come as no surprise then, that I’m one of those guys who lines up along the fence at the local airport on weekends hoping to get a glance of rare aircraft or interesting liveries (that’s what us nerds call the paint job), or driving hours out of his way to go to airshows when they’re nearby. For nearly the entire period that I’ve lived in Los Angeles, trips to LAX to watch planes have been a regular occurrence. It was not unexpected then, that on the weekend of March 29th, 2014, I was again at LAX with a camera in hand taking pictures of planes as they arrived and departed.

But I’d been doing this for years, and man, I’d taken every variation of airplane picture possible. Closeup, far away, sunlight, daylight, cloudy light, from below, from the side, whatever, you name it. So I was trying to something a little bit different when I was struck by the idea of applying some architectural photography techniques to aviation photography. When photographing architecture, I’ll often leave the camera on a tripod in the same spot for 20 or 30 minutes while pedestrians and cars pass by, and I’ll photograph all of them to later reconstruct a temporally expanded image of the subject. This allows me to pick the best looking people, most interesting cars, the most balanced objects within the frame as life unfolds in front of the camera; essentially extending the decisive moment from a fraction of a second to minutes or even hours. My idea for this airplane photo was much the same – leave the camera in the same spot for a few hours and capture all of the departing traffic from LAX and then composite it into one photo.

On the next day I returned with my new idea in mind. After about an hour of doing this and scrolling frantically through my pictures on the back of the camera, I realized that this was just too damn cool to quit early. So I made the decision to stay outside, completely unprepared without food, water, or bathroom, for about eight hours in total, photographing every airplane that took off from LAX on March 30th, 2014. Sunburned to the shade of lobster, I headed home around 6pm and remember being struck by this insane inspiration. I ended up staying up almost all night editing this photo together, and the resulting image was the single most career-altering event in my entire life.

After posting it online, (reddit, to be specific) this thing went viral. Stupidly viral. I’m talking Good Morning America viral, Guest-on-a-Japanese-Talk-Show-Viral, spreads in countless magazines, newspapers, websites, shot out of a cannon viral. I was lucky enough to be able to use my background as a paparazzi photo rate negotiator or whatever you’d call my job in a past life to manage the rights to this image and turn it into the single most profitable event of my life (pro tip: copyright your work, I know you’re lazy about it, so learn how to do it!).

This was another completely personal project that changed the course of my career (and life)!  I used the income from this single image to plan a round-the-world project featuring over 20 airports where I’d repeat the same concept with different variations. The project, known as Airportraits, has become one of my brand hallmarks and has been displayed in endless publications, museums, galleries, and more. All of the exposure lead to a great deal of interest by people interested in purchasing prints, which spawned the birth of my online print store which has been a great success by all measures. By carefully managing the printing, licensing and usage of these images, it’s been an incredible investment that has allowed me a great deal of financial freedom and the ability in my own career to only photograph the projects (both architectural and otherwise) that I am interested in.

Lesson #4: Explore photographing the things you are passionate about, even if it’s not what you’re usually paid to photograph.

I realize that there was certainly an element of luck, timing, and other factors outside of my control that played into the success of the Airportraits series, but my combined experience with personal projects, rights managing, and commercial photography all came together to help me get the most out of this massive project. There is a compounding effect at play as well that I am just beginning to truly understand: when you are able to grow your brand around personal projects, you are able to create only the photographs that you want to create.

You can generate income from these projects that allows you to be more selective in what commissioned work you choose to take on. Since you’re more selective in your commissioned work, your portfolio of commissioned work becomes very tightly curated; so much so in fact that you only get contacted to do the high-end jobs that you show. And at this point, since you’re such a specialist, you can charge top dollar for your work which then allows you more time and freedom to pursue personal projects. And if you’re able to monetize those personal projects…you see where I’m going with this. You’re able to create exactly the career you want for yourself, (mostly) taking the pictures that you want to take.

Lesson #5: Set aside time every year to really knock out a personal project, even if there is a financial risk involved. A well-calculated risk is a risk worth taking in artistic careers.


At this point, I’ve got my career in a place that I’m quite happy with. I’m able to break up the year between personal and commissioned work more or less as I see fit, and every year I try to expand my catalogue of personal and niche commissioned work. Recent projects include photographing the creation, use, and destruction of aircraft in my series Life Cycles, investigating NASA’s assembly process and the myriad stories it contains, and setting aside three months earlier this year to create a coffee table book for a major publisher of some of the greatest architectural works in California.

All of these projects, while requiring tons of planning and time, end up refining my style, growing my brand, and in the long run, paying dividends both in terms of artistic and financial fulfillment. I think it’s absolutely critical for any successful photographer to set aside time each year not only for a literal creative break, but also to create work that inspires you. While it may seem daunting at first, with proper planning, you can absolutely get your personal projects working for you. It’s a concept that I believe transcends genres: no matter what you shoot, there’s something out there that will both inspire you and further your career as a photographer. Who ever thought that taking photographs of airplanes would help me as an architectural photographer? But these personal projects have unequivocally made me a more successful photographer in almost every way. Get out there and make it happen!

So, to recap:

Big lesson #1: Only put in your portfolio what you want to be hired to photograph.

Big lesson #2: Be open to learning things from unexpected places (the paparazzi industry, for one).

Big lesson #3: Use your marketing budget for personal projects, creative fulfillment, and travel to new and exciting places, not just mailers and web design.

Big lesson #4: Explore photographing the things you are passionate about, even if it’s not what you’re usually paid to photograph.

Big lesson #5: Set aside time every year to really knock out a personal project, even if there is a financial risk involved. A well-calculated risk is a risk worth taking in artistic careers.

You can see more of Mike’s work at MPKelley.com, purchase prints from him at MikeKelley.art, and keep up with him on Facebook, Twitter, and his architectural/commercial Instagram and fine art/personal Instagram accounts.

[Editor’s Note: Hey all, Brad Moore here! I’ll go ahead and admit that I’m a little biased with this guest post. I recently got married, and Hannah was our wedding photographer! As you’ll see though, I didn’t just invite her to do a guest post because she shot my wedding. She’s truly awesome and has some beautiful, amazing work. Apparently photography is in the Foldy DNA since her cousin is sports photographer Rob Foldy! Anyway, I thought that since so many of you know me through my time working with Scott, you might be interested in this little life update from me as well. So, without further ado, here is my interview with Hannah accompanied by her photos from a very special day!]

How did you get started in wedding photography?
My mom got remarried in 2014 and I befriended her wedding photographer because I was very interested in photography. I had been doing families and senior portraits for a while and was ready to plunge into the wedding world. Her photographer graciously let me second shoot for her 5 times (unpaid) and I learned SO much just with those first 5 weddings. The few most important things I learned immediately with those first 5 weddings were the following:

  1. Always be on your toes and adaptable, you never know what is going to be thrown your way.
  2. Smile, always. Positivity and enthusiasm is huge, especially when people are only looking to you for guidance on a wedding day.
  3. Never be too prideful and always be hungry to learn something new. This industry is always growing and changing, so grow with it.

What’s the most rewarding part of wedding photography?
Capturing humans and their raw emotions and moments are the reason I do what I do. We are incredible creatures. There is nothing like us (as far as I know). It makes me realize how similar we all are. We all have emotions, feelings, moments, life, death, etc. Capturing life as it is is truly euphoric. The fact that I am literally stopping time for others to reminisce on later is demanding yet humbling at the same time.

Is there a lesson you learned the hard way early on that has shaped the way you work today?
ALWAYS write to two memory cards. If you don’t have a camera with two card slots, go buy one. Now. Do not risk it. Cards corrupt all the time, and the one time you think it won’t happen, it will. At least that’s how it was for me. So don’t risk it. Don’t shoot a one time event with a one-time card. Seriously, it’s dumb.

Is there a specific piece of gear or technique that helps you achieve your style? 
I love shooting at f/2.2 – f/2.5 pretty consistently (unless it’s a large group portrait, then I stop down more to make sure everyone is in focus). But I love the bokeh it creates, and I feel like that has really been my style for the last 2 years or so. And I like it, and my clients seem to like it, so I’m gonna keep doing it :)

What’s the most memorable moment from photographing Brad and Katelyn’s wedding?
All the love surrounding them was impeccable. It was intimate and so many moments were happening around me that I wanted to capture. They are clearly so loved and it was an honor to witness such an amazing celebration.

But I will say that when the confetti cannons went off and most of us weren’t prepared for how loud they would be, that was probably the most memorable because the whole room was scared sh*tless, but it was THE BEST.

What was it like photographing a photographer’s wedding?
Honestly, it was nerve wracking at first, but I soon realized that this is my craft and I have done a ton of weddings so I GOT THIS. So I quickly got over it and just did my thing like I always do :)

(more…)

Everyone Is A Photographer Or: How I Learned To Stop Worrying And Love My Phone
I distinctly remember the first day I saw a credentialed photographer in the photo pit with an iPhone, and only an iPhone. My fellow “professional” photographers and I were beyond annoyed; we were seriously offended by his mere presence in our workspace. We saw it as a sign of the end of days for us.

And not long after that our fears seemed confirmed when the Chicago Sun-Times decided to lay off their entire photo team in one fell swoop, leaving photography to their journalists armed with iPhones. In the years following that, my Facebook feed/echo chamber has become regularly populated with fatalistic articles and angry status updates about the decline and commoditization of photography at the hands of more and more affordable and accessible cameras enabling more people to become photographers. Cameras that in fact are in most people’s pockets right now.

What Happens When Everyone Has A Camera?
It’s been 5 years since the fateful day when the Sun-Times heralded the beginning of a serious change in the photography world. There are now over 2 billion smartphone owners globally. That’s nearly a third of the population of the entire planet taking photos on their phones. When anyone can do it, what happens to the value of photography? All of the Sun-Times journalists had iPhones which were capable of taking technically decent photos, so why would they bother keeping on seasoned photographers? As many subsequent news articles were quick to point out, this logic didn’t really hold up in practice. The Sun-Times struggled to provide decent imagery for important events after their decision and have released a string of embarrassingly bad covers. This is because although almost everyone has a quality camera, relatively few people are actually good photographers.

A beautiful photo straight from my iPhone using the Full Spectrum camera app

A Lower Barrier To Entry Poses Risks, But The Rewards Far Outweigh Them.
Right now, anyone almost anywhere in the world can start an Instagram account featuring only photography from their phone and launch an entire legitimate career. If you’re over the age of 30 or so I want you to really think about that. What did you have to go through to buy your first professional grade camera? How much did you save up, and how old were you when you got it? I’m willing to bet that whatever your story is, it was a lot more challenging than the scenario I just outlined. That’s because the barrier to entry for photography used to be much higher, and the number of working photographers reflected that.

The repercussions of a low barrier to entry are annoyingly well documented. They make people angry and scared, and that’s the sort of viral content that catches like wildfire online. If you’re a professional photographer you probably didn’t need anyone to tell you your business is in peril; you’ve likely noticed it first hand. At best, you’re wasting your time getting angry about the state of things. At worst, you can easily slip into negative thought patterns that become extremely self limiting. Instead of focusing on how to market yourself better in this new terrain, you’ll end up stagnant and mad about how unfair things are.

Smart phones like the iPhone level the playing field when it comes to photography and even film making. I think it’s nothing short of amazing that billions of people all over the world who otherwise may have never had the means to document their lives visually can now do so. And why shouldn’t that be the case? When people ask me what camera to get to be a “good photographer” I have always said that the best camera is simply the one you have. Our gear has never been what makes us good photographers. We have to remember that even with a third of the world capable of taking photos, a truly good photographer is still not a dime a dozen. If you feel threatened by the presence of 2 billion other people with cameras, it’s time to revisit your creative process. Your vision is not a commodity. How can you position yourself to tell stories only you can tell?

Change Is Good. I Promise.
My career as a photographer has changed drastically since its inception 15 years ago. These changes routinely forced me out of my comfort zone and challenged me to explore new territories as a photographer and creative. Our changing professional landscape inspired me to to learn how to code and even led me to creating a pretty successful photography app on iOS for awhile. Scary slow periods between gigs compelled me to work on passion projects that ended up being recognized in publications like WIRED. If I didn’t embrace change and face these challenges, I’d be seriously struggling trying to be the exact same photographer I was 10 years ago. Instead, I went from being that angry photographer in the photo pit to, of all things, an Art Director for Apple’s #ShotOniPhone campaign and helped launch their official Instagram account, @apple. How things come full circle!

Photography can be a particularly difficult career to manage because it’s a unique blend of being both a trade and art. As a profession it brings the challenges and rewards of both. The major changes that have happened over the last 5 years are the growing pains of a trade. Our tools have changed, our process has changed. But photography is still an art, and art isn’t going anywhere. If we gave 2 billion people paint and a canvas, how many Picassos would there be? There will always be a demand for compelling imagery, whether that’s printed and hung on a wall or on the screen of a phone. The changes of our trade have put us all in a position to make an important decision: will we change too?

Ellie Pritts is a photographer and director based in Los Angeles. Her imaginative work has captured the attention of esteemed publications such as WIRED and TIME, who named her one of the top photographers to follow in the U.S. She now additionally works as a marketing consultant for professional creatives. Check out more of her work at ElliePritts.com, and keep up with her on Instagram, Facebook and Twitter.

LIVING THE DREAM – MAKING MONEY ON THE ROAD

When I thought of a subject to write about for my first ever guest-blog for Scott Kelby (totally honored, btw!) I wanted it to be something extremely useful, yet brutally honest. Perfect, I’ll answer the number one email I receive in my inbox: “Hi, I’m a photographer and want to do what you’re doing. How do you make money?”

If you’ve never heard of me, here’s the rundown on who I am and How I Became a Nomad: Normal girl goes to school and loves taking pictures. Graduates college, moves to China and back. Gets married, starts a career in a camera store, and quickly falls into the 9-5 suburban lifestyle. Becomes depressed, gets divorced, life turns into work. Sees the sunrise over the mountains and has a life-changing epiphany. Quits job, gives away material possessions, moves into a tiny teardrop trailer chasing her dream of being a professional landscape photographer.

Whew! Sounds like a dream, right? Just giving it all up and moving to the open road? In a sense, yes, it is “the dream.” But I’d like to shed a little light on the reality of this lifestyle and what it takes to be successful.

As of this very moment I have officially been “on the road” for 907 days. In the beginning I made next to nothing, but it has grown into a healthy career which I can now live and thrive from. The truth is, there is no one answer to “how to be successful on the road.” It is going to vary with each person. That being said, there are some general tips that I have learned over the last few years and would like to share with you now.

Follow Your Passion
First and foremost, whatever you dedicate yourself to in this life should be something that you have a true passion for. Something that brings you happiness and makes the world a better place. If you consider the percentage of our lives that we spend “working,” it seems appropriate to make that something we are passionate about.

Without passion, we have no purpose. Remember when we learned about “mission statements” back in high school? That’s a real thing! The first goal I accomplished when I moved to the road was to define my purpose. That gave me something to work towards and kept me from treading water for months until I sunk.

My mission statement:

“Show people things they wouldn’t normally see, to inspire people to do things they wouldn’t normally do.”

Work Hard
I have met a lot of “full-timers” on the road, and most of them last anywhere from 6-12 months before running out of money and giving up. They made the biggest mistake of all; romanticizing road-life by thinking it is akin to a long vacation with a bit of work tucked in between adventures.

Yes, traveling is fun – but I guarantee that the moment I began working for myself, I turned my 9-5 job into a 24/7 job. I work harder now than I ever worked for any company… but you know what? That’s okay! All of the hours you put into your own business only serve to grow YOU – so why limit your own growth?

The best advice I can give someone who is about to go full-time is don’t give yourself a plan B. Have plan A and work your bum off until it works! DO NOT go onto the road with any more than 3-months savings. If you live too long on savings, you begin to rely on it. With 3 or less months you are forced to find another means of survival.

Don’t be disillusioned that life on the road will be easy. You will do yourself the biggest favor of all if you remember: You are your own best and worst employee. You do everything. It’s going to be a lot of hard work.

Don’t Put All Your Eggs In One Basket
In this day and age, there are many corporate positions that allow you to work remotely with benefits and job security. If you have one of these jobs, congrats! But let’s be honest, most of the people reading this blog are photographers or other creatives working on their own solo ventures. This puts us at the disadvantage of job insecurity, but alternatively it gives us the independence to do the things we are passionate about.

Here is the meat and potatoes of what you are here to learn, how I make money:

  • Sell Prints online: We are photographers/artists. Find the best fulfillment solution and start selling your wares!
  • Sell other products: As a photographer, I offer annual calendars and even recently published a book! What other products could your art provide?
  • Teach: A large part of my income comes from teaching photography. Can you offer unique classes teaching your skill?
  • Speak: I offer myself up to speak both educationally and as a keynote at events relating both to photography and living tiny. Value your time and knowledge.
  • Promote Products: Once you’ve established yourself as a trustworthy source of information, many companies will work both in product trade and in payment for promotion. Just remember the key here is to stay true to yourself over the dollar signs. Promote the products you truly believe in, not the ones that just want to pay.
  • Online Affiliates: There are many ways to offer advertising on your website, make money from YouTube, become an Amazon Affiliate, and even offer subscription based content through sites such as Patreon.
  • Multi-Industry Advertising: Obviously, I focus on advertising to photographers, but because of my lifestyle I am also open to the RV/Camping world, Tiny House enthusiasts, and even other full-timers. What other industries does your art cover?

Budget
Living on the road is a great way to minimize bills, but by no means does it eliminate them! Do NOT move on to the road thinking it will be a “free” way to live. I still pay nearly every bill I paid when I had a brick and mortar home. Replace the “rent bill” with the “gas bill” and everything else is pretty much the same.

That being said, living in a tiny home does put your possessions into perspective. You only own and keep what you need rather than what you think you need. The simple thought of “where will I keep this?” keeps me from buying a lot of things.

Define Your Idea Of Success
My favorite all time video blog that I have ever posted is one I created after only 5 months on the road (when I was just a road-baby!). It is titled “How to Be Successful on the Road.” Right from the start I learned one of the most valuable lessons I will probably ever learn in my whole life: if you want to be successful, redefine your idea of success.

Growing up, we are all taught that the successful “American Dream” is to go to college, have a long-term career, buy a house, get married, have kids, make money, make money, make money. If that is success, consider me a failure.

On the other hand, I have taken myself from barely being able to make it through the day without an anxiety attack – to being able to laugh at myself when I am alone. Now THAT is a feat. If I am able to die with a smile on my face, I will be more successful than any amount of money can ever bring me.

You can see more of Mandy’s work at MandyLeaPhoto.com, and keep up with her on YouTube, Facebook, and Instagram.

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