Hi, I'm a guy from Arkansas.
People pay me to take pictures sometimes, and sometimes they don't. Today is a day where no one is paying me to take pictures, so I'm writing this blog post because Brad Moore asked me to, and he seems like a nice guy (on the internet).
I've been shooting pictures for the last seven years as my only source of income, but that doesn't necessarily mean I shoot "full time" – some months are slow, and some months I can barely keep up, and most months are somewhere in the middle. Photography feeds my family, pays my mortgage, and sometimes I get to buy beer, which is quite honestly everything I could have ever hoped for in life.
I shoot for the New York Times, Reuters, Getty, AP, various magazines, blah blah blah, who caresâ¦ I have a camera and some gear and I'll point it at pretty much anything I'm paid to point it at.
I know quite a few photographers, and the ones who are successful year after year are the ones who shoot to earn a living and pay their bills, while the ones who want to be cute and vintage and Instagram-famous usually end up becoming real estate agents.
So if you're afraid you might be getting dangerously close to listing your first home, here's one of the more important things I've learned in my career as a photographer:
If your pictures are boring, try making them way more complicated.
Most people will tell you to keep it simple, stupid – but in my opinion, its actually really difficult to make a simple photo interesting enough to build a career on. These days, everyone has a camera and maybe even a light or two, and the internet is flooded with simple photos that really aren't that memorable.
The only way to get anyone's attention in the current photography market is to try things that are complicated, difficult, and a gigantic hassle – but when its done right, it pays off. By going the extra mile to try something crazy, you are telling your client (and more importantly, your future clients) that you'll stop at nothing to give them exactly what they want, and much more.
Get in the water. Use a dozen lights. Wake up at dawn. Contact whoever you have to contact to get a permit. Spend an entire week diagraming and outlining your setup, and your backup setup, and your backup to your backup. Pre-light it. Rent gear if you don't own it. Hire models that know what they're doing. Take your time. Make photos that no one in their right mind would go to the trouble to make. If your models aren't working, get new ones. If your location sucks, change it.
Most photographers don't get into this business to get their hands dirty, and sweat, and spend twelve hours pre-lighting a shoot, but that's what it takes these days. Getting everything to work right is obviously much harder when you complicate it, but in the end, that's what makes you better, and that's what separates you from the pack.
The biggest hindrance to your career as a photographer is not the limits placed on you by everyone else, it's the limits you place on yourself.
Don't dumb yourself down to match the attitude of everyone around you, and don't shoot crap photos just because it's a crap paycheck.
Treat every shoot like it's the cover of Vanity Fair, and your entire career is riding on getting this one shot right, and trust me – your business will grow like never before.
Now, since this is a photography blog, here's a few of my pictures…
You can see more of Jacob’s work at JacobSlaton.com, and follow him on Instagram and Twitter.
“…and don’t shoot crap photos just because it’s a crap paycheck”. Best advise ever. As I was told years ago – if you cant handle the small stuff, how can you be expected to handle the big stuff?
Jacob has more photographic skills than I’ll ever have but his “jack of all trades” advice pales in comparison to the success formula that gives people a much better chance at whatever they do: Own your genre. I’m also curious about his signature picture having the window frame divider coming out of the woman’s head.
Great advice, right to the point. Good luck!
Awesome post! Short, sweet and it included a reference to beer. Nice!
I think I remember Jacob saying that Ms. Kay specifically asked for the window frame divider to be coming out of her head in this shot. You rock Jacob!
Jacob Slaton takes luciously beautiful still life scenes otherwise known as photographs. His pictures scream of life. His technique is a work of art in and of itself. I’ve personally had the honor of being one of his subjects. Such a moving experience. I will say that his personality is captured in the lone white spot on his magnificent beard. It’s as if that spot is saying “I’m a rebel. I stand out. I’m magnificently different.” Just like Jacob.
I can tell by your post that you’re an interesting guy with a good personality, and I bet most people who know think you’re hilarious. Your guest blog post was both funny and insightful. So true, who doesn’t take simple pictures? Not to say that simple imagery doesn’t have it’s place, but there is definitely a lot of it. I tend to enjoy complicated imagery as well. I think it’s great advice to challenge yourself, and create images that others wouldn’t take the time to create. Awesome post man!
Blood, Sweat and Beers!
I’ve been photographed by this wizard a few times. He’s crazy and brilliant. But not as brilliant as his beard.
Great Stuff Jacob. I really like what you say without sugar coating it. Being blunt and to the point is what this country needs more of now days. Oh yeah, I like your shots too!!
Great post Jacob! So great, I actually logged in to write a comment so I could say thanks for sharing your thoughts and inspiring a few in my mind. I know commenting on blog posts happens all the time but I have commented on maybe 3 of all the tens of thousands of articles I have read on the Internet. That either makes me a Luddite or you a creative genius. I’m hoping for the latter.
Love the BAR photo. About the window, there are a lot of stupid composing rules begging to be broken.
Or some times you are real estate agent and you become a photographer ;)
Good job Jacob. The best paragraph in your entire article: “Get in the water. Use a dozen lights. Wake up at dawn. Contact whoever you have to contact to get a permit. Spend an entire week diagraming and outlining your setup, and your backup setup, and your backup to your backup. Pre-light it. Rent gear if you don’t own it. Hire models that know what they’re doing. Take your time. Make photos that no one in their right mind would go to the trouble to make. If your models aren’t working, get new ones. If your location sucks, change it.”
Wise words my friend. Wise words.
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