Photo by Ted Wood

The question is….

I know. Every Wednesday you hurry to Scott’s blog to see who the guest blogger is. You expect a successful, professional photographer with a stunning portfolio, and a series of inspirational stories about their fabulous career.

Sorry, I’m not that kind of guest blogger.

I’m just a regular gal in Los Angeles, with a passion for photography. I got my first camera at age 5 and never looked back. I might never make any money from my photography and I don’t care. My goal is to keep learning and growing, and just be a better photographer each year than I was the year before.

So if you’re not a professional photographer, my question is, what do you do with your photography? How do you make it part of your life?

Some ideas:

First of all, if it’s your passion, treat your photography like it is your profession. Get the best gear you can afford, and take good care of it. Find classes or tutorials and take them. (If you ever get a chance to take a class with Scott Kelby? Mortgage the house, sell the kids, do whatever you need to do to take it. You’ll never learn more or laugh more in a class.) Read all the books and magazines you can. Get to know other photographers (Scott’s annual Photowalk is a great way to meet locals). Attend trade shows if you can. And, of course, if you’re not a NAPP member, join! That will help you with all of the above.

When you’re looking for photo opportunities, my best advice is to get to know people doing interesting things. And if they ask you to go with them, always say yes. That’s how I wound up in an LA police helicopter, pursuing a bank robber. I met Sgt. Doug Abney when he was at my local station, running an annual holiday charity airlift. Private pilots donated their time to fly toys and supplies down to a mission in Mexico. I helped raise some money. Soon I was eating fish tacos at the border with twelve cops and a priest. When Doug started flying helicopters for the LAPD, he invited me along for a shift. After we caught the bank robber, we touched down on the tallest building west of the Mississippi, cruised by the Hollywood sign, then flew over to the beach (at 150 mph!), flew UNDER the jets at LAX, and found my house–I’m on top of a mountain, it’s easy to find. When we got back they told me they’d taken up 38 civilians that year and I was the only one who didn’t get sick (I took home my barf bag as a proud souvenir). I made a photo book and sent a copy along to Air Support, since I’d met all the officers at roll call. They used it to show visitors what a typical shift is like. For years afterward, I’d be in the Jacuzzi out back, and along would come a helicopter at eye level. Wave hi to the nice officers!


“Our” bank robber. He tried to hide under a freeway but we got him anyway.

Then there was the time I was in Outer Mongolia, drinking vodka and singing folk songs with a shaman. My friend Jeremy Schmidt started Conservation, Ink to bring printed materials to the Mongolian National Parks. Five of us raised some money, then spent a month in the Altai Mountains in western Mongolia, traveling with the nomads. City Girl had to ride a horse across the river and up the glacier, and sleep on the ground with the goats and yaks. For most of the trip we had no electricity, so we hot-wired the Russian jeeps to recharge my camera batteries. We stayed with the shaman, and an eagle hunter. At the end, we donated our photos. So today you can buy maps and postcards with our photos on them, and the Parks make money. You can also buy Jeremy’s partner Ted Wood’s amazing photos to benefit the Parks. After the trip, I made photo books for all of us. I also sent 400 prints to the families we stayed with–they got there eventually, by plane, jeep, horse, camel. If you ever promise to send photos, please do it. Most people don’t, and that just hurts the next photographer that comes along.


Archer at Naadam, Mongolian national festival in Ulaanbaatar.

Closer to home, my friend Mollie Hogan runs Nature of Wildworks, a wildlife refuge in Topanga, California. She takes in injured wildlife, or wild animals that were pets and shouldn’t have been. I just love getting that call, “Want to come see the baby owl?” We had a fundraiser at my house, and she brought the animals, including a bobcat, serval, great horned owl, skunk, turkey vulture, and more. We set up a portable Canon Selphy printer (very easy, just plug in your memory card and get great 4×6″ prints instantly), and everyone took home a photo of themselves with the mountain lion. Mollie also uses those event photos for publicity, and we made photo books for the volunteers.


Me and Phoenix, the best lion ever. Photo by Terry Matkins.

My friend left her dog with me when she went out of town. Turns out her dog will do about anything for a cookie. I made a book of silly dog photos and we sell it to benefit local rescue groups.

I love photo books, but for a real impact, consider making a framed fine art print or a canvas. They cost more than books, but there’s something special about that big image, presented as art. Mpix makes beautiful framed prints, with superfast delivery and surprisingly affordable prices. I’m also fond of Artistic Photo Canvas, and not just because of their gorgeous canvases. They have wonderful customer service, and went above and beyond on my recent order (thanks, Lew!). And of course I loved the canvas.


The cute, I mean talented, second-line band walked past the hunky, I mean heroic, Cajun firefighters on my birthday in New Orleans. I think that’s worth a canvas.

No Assignment, no problem! Make your own.

So you’re not a professional, and nobody’s paying you to take photos. You don’t need to go to Mongolia (but I recommend it, lovely land and amazing people). Find a project like the amazing Help-Portrait, that’s been mentioned here before. They take and print portraits of people in need, around the world; congratulations on their success this year! I’m also a huge fan of Now I Lay Me Down to Sleep, a national network of photographers who photograph stillborn infants to preserve their grieving parents’ memories. Heartbreaking, I don’t know how they do it, but bless them. Google “photographers charity” to find other photographers helping those in need.

Or do it yourself. Find a local group you support, a sports team, animal rescue group, school club or classroom, senior center, church group, charity (I once ran the massage booth at a Basset Hound event, but that’s another story). Offer to be their official photographer. Attend all their events, provide them with high-quality photos for their newsletter and website. Make prints or books for the volunteers. Treat it as you would a job, take your responsibilities seriously, make sure they credit you every time they use your photos. It’s a great way to practice your skills and build your portfolio.

Photograph your friend’s house. It’s great fun to see your house through someone else’s eyes. (I swear, I will get up to Wyoming to shoot my friend, mystery writer Craig Johnson’s ranch next year. Really! I promise!) Or photograph a friend’s party. No posed shots, all candids and don’t forget the food and decorations. I had friends shoot my big birthday party and write messages on 3×5″ cards (the more mojitos, the funnier the messages)–great souvenir.

Keith Carter (one of my favorite photographers) says you should always have at least one ongoing project, wherever you go. It might be as simple as shooting people in red hats. Reflections in mirrors/windows. Street musicians. I always stop and shoot abandoned shoes. You’ll build up a collection of images, you’ll try new techniques or effects, and you’ll train your eye to be on the lookout for a photograph wherever you go.

Or create your own personal project. In 2010 I did my favorite photo project ever. I decided to make a visual diary of my life. I shot places and things around me, especially things that might be different five or ten years from now. The more I shot, the more I thought of. Favorite restaurants. My dentist’s office. What’s in my wallet. My pantry. My medicine chest. Gas prices. Fast food menus. Magazines and newspapers. Favorite clothes. I wound up with over 800 photos, that got edited down and sorted (Adobe Lightroom was a big help). I made a book that I love to flip through. You can read more about it here (including my comparison of three photo book companies). I’m going to do this every five years, and I wish I’d done it before now.

Many thanks to Scott and Brad for asking me to guest blog, it’s an honor. One thing this blog does is build an incredible community of photographers all over the world. So now I’m asking you, what do you do with your photography? How do you make it part of your life? Can’t wait to hear your ideas!

Janine Smith is a writer, photographer, proud NAPP member, and financial consultant to nonprofit organizations. She lives in Los Angeles, California, with two demanding dogs and a convertible that is not aging well. You can keep up with her at jzine.com and janinesmith.com, and follow her on Twitter.

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49 Comments

  1. Janine, you’re such a blessing. Love following your twits and website! I did Help Portrait with another photog this year and It was a touching experience! I didn’t know some of this stuff about you, thanks for sharing. I believe we should all help folks, most of my photography is to help people and not being my income source it allows me to do what I want, when I want. I do draw the line at atrophy on photogs toes, no weddings or pro portraits, and the ones I do I charge well. I didn’t know about “now I lay me down to sllep”, will check into that! God bless.
    KT

  2. Thank you so much for this down to earth blog post.

  3. Janine, thank you so much for your post and sharing your story and thoughts. Loved to read how you put heart and soul into photography without beeing a Pro (or maybe because of that). That’s what connects many of us, even we don’t know each other personally!

  4. I really enjoyed reading your post and loved your photos! :)

    Janine, you might be interested in a thing called ‘Project Life’. It is super popular among scrapbookers. You take one photo everyday and put them all in one folder, but together with a bit of journaling. Here is a link to it. http://www.beckyhiggins.com/projectlife/

  5. Janine,
    Loved your post, we’ve 2 feet of snow here in Ireland at the minute, and after doing Help Portrait with my son and meeting some amazing people I just can’t think how they are getting by in this weather.

    Our Daughter died a few years ago and a photographer I didn’t know approached me to take pictures and really touched our lives, I believe you are touching peoples lives, probably a lot more than you realise.

    God Bless. Merry Christmas

  6. Janine is also probably one of the most helpful members of the popular NAPP community forums. That’s how I’ve gotten to know her, and to see her featured here on Scott’s blog is quite exciting! Congrats Janine…here’s to future and even greater success in everything you do! :)

  7. Janine

    Love your enthusiasm in your post. I’m not a professional photographer either, but I love taking random shots and just experimenting. Spent my weekend going out taking shots of the snow we’ve had here in Leicester (UK), ended up with some pretty cool/scenic shots.

    With my photos I usually build a color scheme montage, all framed up using clip on frames.

    Thanks for your post. :)

  8. Janine

    What a wonderful post. You took a page right from my life. I’m not a professional but for me a day without taking an image is a day without all the pieces fitting together properly. My photography took a different turn when I discovered Scott Kelby. I haven’t been able to swing Photoshop World yet but I buy all of his books, read his blog daily, subscribe to Kelby on-line training, and am a proud NAPP member.

    Thanks for the inspiration and the ideas of some things to shoot. You have made my day. Thank you.

    Upde

  9. Great post, Janine. You are an inspiration to us all. Thanks for sharing your story.

    –John

  10. Janine you definitely had the right message at the right time for me. Its great to know that all photographers of all levels and ambitions can share their stories and inspire each other.

    I’m committing myself to a year of improving as a photographer and getting involved in the community.

    Thanks for sharing your thoughts.

  11. Very inspirational. Usually I read blog posts and move on. This one is bookmarked.

  12. Hi Janine, what a inspirational post! I’m ready to just run out today and shoot, shoot, and shoot! Seriously, I do appreciate your enthusiasm for photography! I have just retired and some of the things you mentioned have sprung a interest for me to do. I feel so inspired after reading your words. I just started digital photography about 6 years ago, but didn’t get serious until I read Scott’s first Digital Photography book! Then it was go go go! Thanks for sharing your experiences and your love of Photography! We all need to hear stories like this to keep us going!

    God bless and have a Wonderful and a Very Merry Christmas!

    Dennis

  13. Awesome blog Janine. I recently photographed a snow ball pageant in my little town of Petersburg WV, and it ended up opening a big door for me. The story goes like this. I walked in to the local clothes store and saw a sign up that said “Little Miss Snow ball pageant Dec 4th”. I email the director of the pageant and I asked if I could photograph the event. He told me I was more than welcome to however he already had a dedicated photographer. once I showed up at the event the director informed me that I was now the only photographer. Ok I thought. But thats not the cool part. As I was snaping of shots of the event a very nice laid approached me, the director of the Tri county pageants, and asked If I could photograph the Miss Petersburg High Pageant. This was huge for me. I couldn’t believe it. I started out today just wondering around shooting photos and now I’m on an assignment. I couldn’t ask for a better day. A big thanks to all

  14. Scott’s blog is one of the first I read daily…and he’s had some great guests in that regard. But few have made me nod my head “north and south” as much as yours did. Your words coupled with the hot coffee I was drinking as I read them, started my day off way better than most. Thanks for what you do…and if you don’t mind I’m gonna “steal” some of your ideas and enthusiasm…hope I’m as successful as you obviously have been.

  15. I had the good fortune to meet Janine at a Kelby Walk at Union Station in Los Angeles. My old eyes always open a little wider when I see her comments on one of the blogs. I’m wide awake this morning. Thanks to Scott for having her contribute more than a paragraph today.

  16. what a great idea to do photo books on “visual diary of my life”! I love it! thanks for sharing your thoughts and passion!

  17. Thanks Janine for the inspiration!!! I love your picture book ideas…i will have to get started quickly before my Wife takes my wallet away.

  18. Great blog Janine and awesome stories! It’s cool to see where life can take you if you’re just open to things. I had the privilege to be a part of the Help Portrait here in Nashville Saturday. The people that we met that day left a huge imprint on me. I’m with you, God bless the people that can do the “Now I lay me down to sleep”. My heart is in it but with my wife and I trying to start our family through adoption right now, it’s a little too close to home.

    Thanks again for the stores and inspiration.

  19. Loved your post and photo’s!

  20. Wonderful post… so perfect for ‘the rest of us’.. the non-pro AVID photographers lurking on Kelby and other photography blogs and web sites. Sometimes I wonder why I shoot.. I’m never going to be Joe McNally, Moose Peterson, or Jeremy Cowart . I really needed your perspective on how to put myself ‘to work’ as a photographer. Thanks so much.

  21. Thank you for sharing. This is a great guide to get more people thinking along the lines of how proper photographers should think, and full of great tips. I really like the tip that suggests always having a project going on. It’s a great way to get in that photography mindset.

  22. Love the “talented” and “heroic” guys on the canvas photo!! Must have been a fun b-day :)

  23. Janine, I really enjoyed your post. You seem very down-to-earth who does photography just because they love it and for the heck of it. That’s exactly where I am right now. I’m pretty new to being “serious” about it, and just look for opportunities to shoot for myself. I participate in a few monthly photo assignments which helps get me out of the box and think about different things I would never have considered shooting. Everybody always seems so serious about it, so I’m glad there are people who aren’t. Off to follow you on Twitter and your blog now! Thanks for sharing with us.

  24. Janine, loved your post today!! I especially loved the idea of the photo diary. What a cool idea! I attempted to do a “photo a day” in 2010 but then got too busy and lost track around February! lol. The photo diary might have a better chance of actually reaching completion. Thanks for sharing all of your wonderful ideas with the rest of us!!

  25. What a wonderful post – thank you for the inspiration!

  26. for the pure love it . Thank you so much for that message today!

    RC

  27. Thanks for the direction – I was beginning to feel that I was getting off track and that big what’s next question was looming. I took up photography in High School and really loved it. College came around and there was no money for a camera of my own. Once I got enough money for one I got my first film camera and did ok. Two years ago I made the big switch to digital photography. I take photos of my boyfriends daughters volleyball team and we make scrapbooks for the seniors. Very big hit and since she’s a senior this year the other parents are getting worried! :0) I also took her senior portriats. In the middle of all of this, I took a three day no credit course at our local university with Barry McWayne (rest in peace!) I feel honored to have met him and learned from him before his passing. His class was the first step in learning what I needed to learn. I’m just finishing up my first photoshop class and will be looking for another class soon. It’s nice to know that I’m not off course. And now that I think of it, I have my next assignment. Family photos for my Sisters and I.
    Thanks,
    Kristie

  28. Hi Janine
    Enjoyed reading and viewing your Guest Spot on Scott’s Blog. Your words rang a bell, gave me inspiration and new ideas in pursuing my photography hobby! I haven’t made any photo books yet but that is my next project!

    Check out my website! FordsFotos.net
    Doris

  29. It’s wonderful to read a creative post about realizing ideas in expressive and meaningful ways (whatever your artistic medium, here photography).

    BTW, is there a link for the Golden Rules book?

  30. thoroughly enjoyed this, j! great tips…

  31. Hi Janine,

    Thank you for your post, and thanks to Scott for inviting you. Many of the guest blogs are over my head, but yours spoke to me directly.

    Best wishes,

    Marie

  32. wow really good post Janine, I just read your post and a tons of ideas came to me, thanks for sharing your experience, well I am not a professional photographer yet, but I will some day, I hope so, hahahaha…I have some projects in mind for a while, but I’ve always have those question ? what I’m gonna do with those photos, you know things like that… really motived post, Thanks once again.

  33. Inspiring post. Not only are you an adventurous photographer but your writing is the best! You always come up with such creative projects.

  34. Janine, that was an amazing blogg! Excellent writing and very inspirational! Don’t stop, keep it up.

  35. Thank you Janine for a wonderful post. I love photography. I am not a professional. Your post really hit home about treating your passion like its your profession. I always feel like I don’t deserve the best equipment because I’m not making money with it. I always treat photography like it is something I get to do after all the other work is done. The truth is taking pictures is good for my soul. I love your ideas and thank you for sharing them. By the way, your book, The Golden Rules, gave me the push I need to do something with my pictures. I have the goofiest Golden Retreiver ever and I love taking pictures of him. He also will do anything for a cookie and I believe he will be my first project, after I buy that new Nikon 2.8 24-70 I have been drooling over!

  36. Thank you for a wonderful post Janine. I love the visual diary! What a great idea. I wish you had told me about it 10 years ago. Then, perhaps, I would have pictures of my hometown grocer, dentist, pediatrician, fountain, etc. You really dropped the ball on that one. I’ll forgive you in exchange for a tip or two on how to keep a puppy from chewing off the Santa hat on her head before the photo is snapped.

  37. Janine is a breath of fresh air. I love her attitude and outlook. Refreshing.

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