You know those ’Top 5 Tips to be a Successful Photographer’ type of articles that you see come through your newsfeed and you cringe and say ‘Oh man!…not again!!’?
Well, this is one of those lists. :P
I know, I know. you’ve read this article like a thousand times before.. right?! Well, guess what’s cooler about this particular article? This one’s got SIX tips. :P But seriously, if you stick with me through this stuff, I can promise you that it’s not going to be one of those blog posts that tell you in order to be a successful photographer you need to carry your business cards at all times, market like there’s no tomorrow, and learn your camera settings (all really good tips, to be fair). However, we are going to go on a much bigger adventure than that. :)
So here’s the deal! I’m going to pepper this stuff with cute puppy photos throughout because even if it’s not directly related to cute puppies – an adorable canine here and there can never, ever hurt. right? And I’m not above cute puppy bribery, right? (right!) And for those of you who just want to scroll through the pictures, you can walk away assuming that this post was about how to take an expert look at cute puppy photos and I’d be totally okay with that.
Let me just take a very quick moment to share with you exactly why I’m feeling inspired to share these following 6 tips. I just recently spent one of the most incredible weeks of my life down in Tampa, Florida. Alongside some of the most amazing, inspiring, and impossibly talented people that I have ever had the privilege to join creative forces with, I filmed my class on dog photography for KelbyOne. (you guys!!! I am so excited for you to see it! GAHH!) Being in the presence of other like- minded artists all on their very own amazing, creative journeys reminded me of how grateful I am to be on this particular adventure of mine. I want to share with you a little bit about my journey, and let you in on the 6 tips that I would give that might just be integral to becoming a successful photographer.
As for me, I’ve always been a bit of a dreamer. I’ve always lived just a little bit on the edge of society – thinking up fairytales and big adventures and ignoring the status quo. I like to sleep late and I hate to plan. I like to watch the way the world unfolds around me when I just let go. I’ve always figured that life is for living, right? We’re given these beautiful, bright red beating hearts and these vessels of bone and flesh, and it’s all like one big, gorgeous poem. Everything works together, ticking in perfect synchronization to keep us alive — to keep our synapses firing and our eyes wide open. I think it’s unbelievable. And I’ve always thought – I might as well go discover the world while I still have these two feet underneath my body that are capable of carrying me across any kind of terrain, right?
This was the kind of outlandish thinking that brought me to where I am today. I am humbled and wildly grateful to say that I live my dream through a camera lens each and every day. Of all the things in this world that one could possibly be, I am a professional dog photographer. But it wasn’t just a simple, seamless jump that got me here. Oh no, it’s been a very, very big adventure. I’ve had to carve my own way. Because, while I didn’t know much when I first started, the one thing I did know was that nobody was going to get out of their warm bed and carve it for me.
If you’re reading this blog, it’s highly likely that you are a photographer or are interested in delving into photography. That means you are an artist. You have the heart and mind of an artist. And that is a rare blessing – a gift – that you’ve been given. You see the world in a different way from the masses. And if you use that gift – if you apply that special sight that you’ve been blessed with – in the all the right ways , you have the potential to go on a journey that takes you to places you never even thought possible. This I promise you, take it from me.
Just 5 years ago I was a terribly lost soul – I had graduated college with honors and big, big aspirations. I applied to a gazillion (<— technical number) different companies on a gazillion different kinds of resume paper. When most of those avenues fizzled out, I found myself working a ‘make-ends-meet’ type of job that squashed every fiber of creativity and soul that I had. Leaving my workplace in tears started to become commonplace, and I fell into a state of near depression knowing full well that I was wasting valuable time while not using my gifts to their full potential.
One afternoon, I was driving home from that particular job – tires splashing across wet pavement beneath me – and I made a decision. I was going to take the next step towards finding my purpose. At the time, I had absolutely no idea how much that decision would change my life.
Since that moment 5 years ago, I have photographed thousands of dog photo sessions, traveled the world teaching photography workshops, worked on life changing international animal rescue missions, shot national commercial ad campaigns for some of the biggest names in the pet industry, have seen my work on greeting cards and in calendars and am now impossibly grateful to be standing alongside some of my biggest idols and inspirations as an instructor for KelbyOne.
(It’s actually really hard for me to say those things above. And I’ve rewritten and deleted that paragraph above about 12 times because I feel like such an egotistical megajerk touting these achievements. But, ultimately, I think it’s important to say, ‘Hey, this is my true story.’ I’m living proof that with the right amount of passion, heart and hard work – these are the kinds of things that can happen. If I – just one red headed girl who started with nothing but a camera and a dream – can pull this off, then you can too.)
So, all of that being said, I want to share these following 6 tips. To me, these are the 6 things that have had the impossible ability to change my career, and ultimately, my life. I hope that sharing this wisdom might bring some magic to your journey as well.
1) LOOK FAILURE IN THE FACE AND SAY ‘I’M NOT AFRAID OF YOU’
The idea of potential failure is scary. More than scary. In fact, I’d say it’s terrifying. Gosh, I totally and completely get it. And even worse, in this world that we’re living in, everything is so visible. We’re constantly on display to the world through social media and this impossibly ever-connected society we’ve become a part of. We have this huge audience of eyes on us at all times. If we fail, people are going to know. They’ll see it, they’ll judge us, and maybe they’ll even laugh at our expense. Gosh, how embarrassing, right?
I want to take a minute to list to you some major failures from the past:
The Beatles, Steve Jobs, Walt Disney, Oprah Winfrey, Albert Einstein, and JK Rowling.
Wait??! What’s that you say? The names above are names of some of the most successful people who have ever walked this earth?
Well, have a quick look at their early failures:
The Beatles – Before signing their first record deal with music label EMI, The Beatles were rejected by the A+R rep for Decca Recordings after their first audition. He stated ‘Guitar groups are on their way out.’
Steve Jobs – Steve Jobs was a college dropout. Despite that, he went on to start Apple in 1976 where he pioneered the personal computer revolution. At 30 years old, in 1985, he was forced out of the the very company he created and was left deeply depressed. Just about 10 years later, his journey led him back to Apple where he became CEO and drove the company to it’s greatest successes in history.
Walt Disney – Walt Disney was fired by the editor of a newspaper because he ‘lacked imagination’ and ‘had no creative ideas’.
Oprah Winfrey – Oprah Winfrey was fired from her job as a news anchor in Baltimore, MD because she, ‘wasn’t fit for television.’
Albert Einstein – Albert Einstein didn’t learn to speak until he was 4 years old and didn’t learn to read until he was 7. It has been famously quoted that a teacher of his remarked, ‘He’ll never amount to much.’ Above this, he dropped out of school at 15 and flunked his college entrance exam the first time around.
J.K. Rowling – J.K. Rowling was famously rejected by 12 publishers before Harry Potter and the Philosophers Stone was accepted.
The point is, we are only as powerful as our will to get back up again when we’re knocked down. We all experience failures somewhere in our personal and professional journeys. We’re just human. We’re not machines. We can’t compute things perfectly. There are no formulas, no math equations, no dials we can turn to predict exactly how to succeed at any given moment, in any given circumstance. And that’s what makes us so beautiful. So don’t be afraid of failure. You’re not a success unless you have failed.
Fall Seven Times. Stand Up Eight.
You ready for some of my fails?
These are from an underwater shoot I did earlier this year in the gorgeous waters off of the Florida coast. My model was fabulous. The location was perfect. I got in the water and was ready and rarin’ to go. My excitement was quickly squashed when I spent the first hour failing hard. Like, embarrassingly hard. Shot after shot after shot was horrible. Cue the, ‘Holy crap I’m a total fraud photographer’ panic attack that ensues when you’re wallowing in your own creative self doubt.
But get this. When you persevere — when you stick with something and you stand up and you don’t let it beat you down – here’s what can happen. Maybe an hour and a half later or so:
(Please note that this is only one example of about 3,457,890 other fails that live in a little fail community lighting fail campfires and making fail s’mores all together inside of my Lightroom library.)
When you look at the work of a photographer you idolize or admire – remember, the best photographers are actually just incredibly good curators. And they are only showing you the wins. It’s brilliantly tactical and can trick us into believing they’ve achieved perfection in everything they do. Please don’t forget, this is never, ever the case. No one is perfect.
So remember, when you look failure dead in the eyes, you’ve got say, ‘I’m not afraid of you. Doesn’t matter how many times you knock me down you dirty rat! I’m getting back up.’
‘Most great people have attained their greatest success just one step beyond their greatest failure.’ – Napoleon Hill
2) BE KIND.
I’m actually an incredibly sensitive person (as if you couldn’t tell. Haha!). You know when you walk into a coffee shop and you order your coffee with a smile and a hello and the person behind the counter doesn’t even lift their eyes to look up at at you. Maybe they don’t even attempt to address your hello, or they bark back at you when you ask a question. That kind of stuff wrecks me, it cuts me right to the core. It’s totally silly, but I suppose that’s part of my character as an artist. Either way, I just can’t understand downright meanness.
When I encounter people like that, who are mean-spirited and quite cold – at first, I get really offended and sad. And then, I start to feel sorry for them because I think something must be very, very wrong in their world. But lately, I’ve been having this third kind of reaction that’s sort of brilliant. I think these people, let’s call them ‘the meanies’, are actually doing quite a valuable service for rare, true kindness by helping it to stand out and shine against the sea of average. Against the grain of the mediocre attitude in this modern world, authentic kindness shines.
Genuine kindness sets you apart and, I can promise you, people remember it. I think, primally, we are drawn to positivity and energy. So always be kind. Your clients will keep coming back to you if you bring them a sense of happiness and joy. And that goes for commercial clients and big ad agencies too. Ultimately, we’re all just people – and people don’t want to work with other people that are difficult or cold. So long as it’s true and authentic, personality and kindness will win you more jobs and relationships in your lifetime than you ever thought possible.
3) CAPTURE YOUR PASSION
Everyone has a passion.
For some people it’s researching black rhinos, or smelling coffee beans or tasting hot sauces. For others it’s helping the homeless, planting gardens or collecting porcelain giraffes (I’m serious, this is a real thing, I had a great aunt that did this. You’d walk into her house and be almost blown backwards by the surprise of how many porcelain giraffes would be staring right back at you. It was like we were on a very fragile, very breakable Serengeti).
For me it’s dogs. I’ve professed my love for dogs on this blog before (here) – and it’s the bonafide truth. My heart beats faster when I see a dog. My feet get all wiggly in my shoes. The spirit and the smile of a dog just bring this unprecedented kind of joy into my life. Dogs set my soul on fire. (I know, I know. This is some serious crazy dog lady speak.) :P
But, here’s the point. For me, it wasn’t until I turned my lens toward my passion that I started to understand what passion even was. Passion is this amazing thing because it’s something you can’t quite put your finger on. It just…..is.
Find your passion and photograph it. When I see the work of photographers who are actually photographing their true, real passion – I can tell. We all can tell. You can’t fake passion. It all comes back to that authenticity I mentioned above. So seek it out and embrace it.
4) CLIMB A MOUNTAIN
Ready for this? If you want to photograph from the top of a mountain, you’ve got to climb a mountain.
It’s simple, really.
What I’m trying to say is that, if you want to capture beautiful, incredible things – you need to go to where those beautiful, incredible things are. This isn’t always easy. (In fact, it’s usually quite difficult!)
I have clients that contact me quite often because they’ve fallen in love with my work and they want photos just like that of their own dogs. When it comes time to have their session they say, ‘So, can we just do this shoot in my backyard?’ Maybe they’ve had a long stressful day at work and they don’t want to get back in the car, load the pup in and battle the traffic to get to the location we’ve chosen. I get it. But what I have to say is ‘Do you see these photos that you absolutely love – you know, that one there with the big, gorgeous sunset on the beach – or the one on that city dock in front of the Boston skyline? The thing is – we have to actually go to those places to get images with that stuff in the background.’ (Sometimes I giggle a little inside when I say this because of its sheer obviousness.) But it’s true – when push comes to shove, I think the average person isn’t interested in putting a lot of effort in. (The word mediocre exists because it defines the ‘average’ route. The common effort. The indistinguishable norm.) And the thing is, you get out exactly what you put in.
The easy option is to stay in the backyard, and get average photos. The infinitely more difficult option is to battle the traffic in the car for an hour, fight for parking and then unload Fido to walk 4 or 5 blocks through downtown to get to an amazing shoot spot.
And you know what’s great about this part for those of us who consistently put the effort in? 9 times out of 10, everyone else is going to pick the easy option. Do you know what that means for me and you – the rare few who decide to get up and put the work in? We’re going to come out on top, every time.
Here are my real world examples about putting the effort in.
“Nothing worth having was ever achieved without effort.” – Theodore Roosevelt
5) USE YOUR RESOURCES
If you’re currently out and about while reading this article, glance up from your phone, computer or tablet for just a minute and do a quick exercise for me. Look around you. How many people over the age of say, 12 or so, are currently buried in their phones?
For better or worse, folks, this is the age we live in. As much as it can be frustrating to be a part of society that is so obsessed with being connected, I think it’s important to take a look at the other side of that coin and realize that we, as photographers, are incredibly lucky for this new internet culture. It is my opinion that we currently live in the single most brilliant age to be a photographer. You see, we are the creators of media – we (among copywriters, journalists, bloggers, videographers and other like minded creatives) are the people responsible for bringing the magic to these people’s screens. We provide the content, which means that we have an access corridor that leads directly into their lives. Directly into the lives 3.25 billion active internet users worldwide.
Let me say that number one more time: Three point two five billion.
Never before in the history of the world has an artist had an audience quite this large at their fingertips at any given time. We have a platform from which to shout our messages to the ears of billions. To me, this is our era’s greatest gift and single most powerful resource. How many times a day do you see this general headline in your newsfeed – ‘Photographer Takes Crazy Cool Photos of Rabbits Wearing Miniature Hats. You Won’t Believe What Happens Next!’…? You see it time and time and time again – and yet, it never gets old to all these people who are feverishly sharing and clicking and liking. They love this stuff. They eat it right up. They want content. They BEG for content – anything that can start a conversation, be shared, viewed, discussed, etc. So, hey, why not give them content??
(Seriously – just think about this for a moment – we live in a world where a cat with an angry face became internet famous overnight and has garnered an estimated $100 million in revenue in just a handful of years through licensing, publishing and guest appearances. Guys…you cant make this sh*t up.) The kind of opportunity that lies in the power of the internet isn’t reserved just for a lucky few — it’s just there, for the taking, for everybody. You just need to muster up the courage to get out there and grab your share.
There was a day when us photographers had to make phone calls, visit ad agencies, send out expensive portfolio books through :gasp!: regular mail that required one metric ton of paid postage. And don’t get me wrong, some of us still do that stuff. But today, that’s all been largely replaced by emailing, commenting, tweeting, uploading, tagging, instagramming, snapchatting, and Skyping your way to the top. Remember above, when I mentioned that 3.25 billion number? Somewhere in there – inside of that astronomical number – there are creative directors, ad agents, CEOs, brand managers, filmmakers, directors – the list goes on and on. The fact that you have the ability to just connect with any of these people, in any of these positions, at any given moment and access their knowledge just blows my mind. You can tweet directly at the President of the United States for godsake! Never before have we lived in a world with this kind of access to open communication. It’s unprecedented. Embrace it.
Still not convinced of how powerful the internet can be for a photographer? I’ve been in business for 5 years now and had always dreamed of having a magazine cover. How the heck do I get the big magazines to notice me though?
One tweet changed it all. I was able to reach out to the editor of this popular dog magazine to let her know that I’d love to work on a cover together. Well what do you know, they happened to be looking for a cover image for an upcoming Holiday issue. And the rest is history!
So the point is, the world is literally there at your fingertips. You have approximately 140 characters to change the entire course of your journey. Get on it. :P
6) FIND INSPIRATION EVERYWHERE
I know, I know. You hear this kind of fluffy-magical-unicorn ‘pseudo advice’ everywhere you look these days. I get it. So let me keep this short. (short, but not without it’s ‘fluffy-magical-unicorn’ essence.) :)
For every waking minute of single day, technically your eyes are wide to the world around you. That means that your eyelids are open and you are perceiving – but does that mean that you’re really seeing?
Do yourself a favor and try to hold tight to your senses even during the monotony and the schedules of the everyday. Try to open your mind to the beauty that’s around you all the time.
- Pause to watch the way the sunlight dances through your window in the late afternoon.
- Pull off your hood in the midst of a city rainstorm. Watch with wide eyes as the nighttime lights glitter and glow in a pirouette of reflections all around you.
- Admire the hard worn lines on the face of an old friend. Remember that each and every one was earned.
- Count the seconds as the sun plummets towards the horizon to swap places with the moon. Stare in awe as the day bows out with a dance of color and light that sets the sky on fire.
- Watch Movies. Look for the scenes that make your heart skip a beat, and then deconstruct why.
- Take stock in the magic of artists and creatives who have come before you. Delight in their imaginations, lose yourself in creation.
- Look inside of you and find what makes you tick. Keep your eyes to the sky and your heart beating about a gazillion miles a minute.
- Remember the luck and good fortune of being alive and of having your particular heart and your particular brain.
As far as we know, we only get one chance at life, so make it as beautiful as it can possibly be.
“And above all, watch with glittering eyes the whole world around you because the greatest secrets are always hidden in the most unlikely places. Those who don’t believe in magic will never find it.” -Roald Dahl
Get out there and write your legacy. Leave your mark on the world. You are the only person that can stand up and change the course of your own history.
Because life is exactly what you make it.
“What is the point of being alive if you don’t at least try to do something remarkable?” -John Green
I hope you find these 6 tidbits from my brain helpful in your own creative journeys.
Or, if you just skimmed the photos of lovely dogs, then I hope you concluded that this was a great article about the technique of looking at cute puppy photos. (which is fine too.) :P
If you’re interested to see more from me and learn about how to take amazing photographs of your dog, I invite you to check out my upcoming class on dog photography on KelbyOne.com!! :) (And speaking of passion – in the class we get to go to an animal shelter and make portraits of homeless dogs who are patiently waiting for their forever homes. We get to create images that have the potential to save lives. EeEEeEeee!!!) See you over there! :P
You can see more of Kaylee’s work at DogBreathPhoto.com, check out her new course The Secrets To Capturing The Best. Dog. Photos. Ever. Taken. tomorrow at KelbyOne.com, and follow her on Facebook, Twitter, 500px, and Instagram.