Guest Blog: Portrait Photographer Joseph Ross

Photo by Robby Klein

Hi Everyone! My name is Joseph Ross and I’m a portrait photographer currently residing in Nashville, TN. Huge thank you to the blog for reaching out and giving me the opportunity to guest write. Admittedly I was a bit nervous at first, knowing that my post would follow the words and ideas of so many other awesome photographers but i’m so happy to be here nevertheless. Though my career is young, I hope that my words will encourage emerging photographers to consider the tools I feel best put me in the position I’m in today.

My journey as a photographer started three years ago when I was a senior in college, studying for a degree which would lead to a career that I realized I would never be passionate about. Long story short, I received my degrees, framed them, and gave them the respect they deserved because I was grateful to have received any sort of college education. I had to convince myself (and my parents) that though I worked hard for them, a lifetime of regret wouldn’t be worth it.

So, after graduation I packed up all of my things along with my “new to me” Canon 5D classic (manufactured in 2006), and moved to Nashville where I was convinced that I would become the next big thing…. man was I in over my head.

When I was thinking about what I would share, I was encouraged to write about something that has significantly impacted me and my appreciation for the photography community here in Nashville. I moved to Nashville with my eyes focused on the prize (whatever I thought that was), failing to acknowledge the photographers who had come before me or the community that existed around me.

The year flew by and at the end I had nothing to show for it. One of the things I love most about Nashville is that at the end of that year, the photo community was still there waiting for me with so many people who were willing to help me rebuild the foundation I’d poorly pieced together for myself. That’s when I discovered how important it was to me and how vital it was for my career to start asking for help.

The Importance of Internships for Emerging Photographers 

That help for me came in the form of internships. Internships served as the perfect opportunity for me to not only learn, but they helped introduce me to so many new photographers, creative directors, and agencies that I work with now. It requires a strong sense of humility and vulnerability to go to someone to ask for help no matter the situation but it proved to be the most transformative decision I’ve made for myself and for the career I wanted.

Internships offer the opportunity to experience the industry first hand which is so valuable for emerging photographers to be part of. There is so much to be said about the simplicity of observing and soaking in the very fact that you are surrounded by individuals that have come before you. I feel like when I finally agreed to look for help is when doors started to fly open for me. I wasn’t faking anything anymore, I wasn’t pretending like I had all the answers and I started breathing a little easier as the weight of my fear of not succeeding lightened.

How To Identify Your Mentor

So at this point you might be thinking, “Okay, cool, yes internships sound awesome! Sign me up.. But what should I be looking for in a mentor?” I would say half of that is specific to you and what you want your career to look like. I would say find someone who inspires you and whose career models certain parts of what you’d want yours to look like.

If you already know the person, are they enthusiastic about their work? Do their views on photography align with yours? Do you see this mentorship as a short or long term opportunity? Keep in mind that not every photographer you look up to will want interns or an apprentice… Don’t let that discourage you from expressing to someone that you’d like to learn from them. 

How To Ask For Help

When I started to think about reaching out to my current mentor, there were a couple of questions I had to ask myself before reaching out. What am I asking for? Why was I seeking mentorship? What did I want to learn from this photographer? What could I contribute to this photographer’s life or career? What do I even say?? Looking back, all of these questions were valid and very important questions to ask myself before sending that first email. 

  1. What am I asking for?
    • For the opportunity to shadow and learn from someone whose work left me feeling inspired and motivated
  1. Why was I seeking mentorship?
    • Because in an industry that felt so populated, I knew I’d need more one on one help from someone who had already broken through.
  1. What did I want to learn from this photographer?
    • How to become a better businessman, gain a better understanding of studio lighting, how to strengthen relationships with current and future clients, etc.
  1. What could I contribute to this photographer’s life or career?
    • I hope to inspire and motivate them as they have for me. Lessen their load by being available to assist with whatever they need. 

These are a few questions that really helped me make sure that this is something I wanted to commit to.

Other Ways To Seek Guidance

So let’s say you reach out to someone and you get no response or they aren’t into the idea. That’s okay! Move on! Start thinking of internships as something that is a continuous opportunity to learn and grow as emerging photographers. Find other ways to stay busy and find other ways to get the education you seek.

The first time I ever reached out to someone about a potential internship, nothing followed. I didn’t take that to heart. I kept searching and eventually landed a semester long internship at a creative co-working space/ photo studio. Though it wasn’t the internship I originally thought I needed, it was one that taught me valuable lessons that I still practice. I told myself I’d circle back with that photographer but in the meantime I focused on the opportunities that were in front of me. It was all of these steps that would lead me back around to interning for my current mentor. 

To wrap things up, I hope my experiences and the ideas I’ve shared inspire any emerging photographer out there to pursue an internship. Thanks again to the blog for having me!

Things To Remember

  1. Interning is an important tool to expose you to the industry.
  2. Internships offer the opportunity to see what your career could be.
  3. Ask yourself what you could gain from an internship, and figure out what internships in your area would best reflect that.
  4. Not everyone will be in the position to mentor you, and that’s okay.
  5. Always be looking for opportunities to learn and grow.
  6. Work hard for what you want for yourself.

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

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