Below is a rough transcript:
I just wanted to share with you today a little about how I got to where I am, in hopes that it may help you get to where you’re going a little faster than it took me to get here today. I started out as a photographer shooting high school sports for weekly newspapers and after a few years of that, I ended up working as a freelancer for the Associated Press through college. After graduation, I went to work at a newspaper, but I didn’t really like that very much, so I went back to freelancing and I was shooting for magazines like People, newspapers like The New York Times in USA Today and also the Associated Press. In 2003 Reuters asked me to move to Chicago to basically work as a full time freelancer. and that was great until 2008 when the recession happened. That’s when newspapers started scaling back and then Reuters started spending a lot less money and then in 2010 for the first time in my career, less than half of my income came from journalism. Which is fine by me, because I always shot different things like corporate events, portraits for advertising even the occasional wedding and even to this day I have a really difficult time explaining to people what it is that I do, so I basically I just tell people that I light things, because there are so many different things that I photograph.
For the longest time older photographers would always say things like oh don’t shoot video because it’s basically just trash and I believed that for a while, but in 2009 I went from shooting behind the scenes videos of photo shoots to actually shooting videos for money and now that’s a quarter of what I do. So I would just encourage you if that’s something that to you like, you should explore it.
The biggest turning point to happen in my career was when my friend said he wanted me to teach him lighting because he wanted to be a fashion photographer. Until then I only made portraits of people in the news and business people so I didn’t have a lot of experience working with models but we set out and we started practicing with first me then models and after a while, he said you know I don’t really need to know all of this technical stuff, thats stuff you need to know for Reuters, I just want to feel the pictures and then he said something like you wanted to go to Paris to find himself and I guess that was sort of the end of that relationship, but I also realized that I really enjoyed working with models so I started doing it myself, mostly because it was improving my skills. So I kept shooting a model or two every week for a while and over the course of a couple of years my lighting skills really elevated in fact it’s still something that I do today. Every few times a month or so I will test a model that I found on Instagram, just to explore some new lighting technique or idea or to recreate an image that I saw to put my own spin on it.
You should never stop practicing, because you never know when somebody comes along and wants to hire you, you will be ready to do the work. On top of that, a lot of joy comes from actually creating a picture. when I was a journalist, mostly what I did was capture things that were happening in front of me and there is a skill to that, but I got a lot more gratification out of creating an Image all on my own. Working with models was really great because I didn’t have to jump into a photo shoot with an executive for five minutes and then have them move on, I actually has somebody who wanted to have your picture taken and wanted to make a good picture. So you sort of ease into it, you’re able to develop the shot and get a picture that you want and get a picture that they are happy with too.
One of the mistakes that I made was after a while I sort of thought well I don’t want to take everything that I own out on an assignment that I am shooting for newspaper because most of the photographers I’m competing against are just using speed lights and umbrellas so let me just do something that is a little bit better than that. Then I don’t have to go through the hassle of taking cart load of lighting gear. But the mistake that I made was o ver the course of two yers I made OK pictures, but I didn’t make any pictures that I was really happy with. So I would encourage you that on every opportunity you can take the most gear that you can and make the picture that you want to make, if you were able to do it. Sure there’s going to be restrictions like five minutes worth of time and no set up, but then you’ll back to that one light and umbrella set-up…you can make really good pictures that way. But maybe they’ll give you a little more time, or you’ll have a little more set of time, maybe you can do one of the things you practiced with the models.
People will often ask me how do I get high profile jobs and I think the answer to that is to build genuine relationships with people, friendships, that might eventually lead to something. I think a lot of the times the friendship network that I’ve been able to build lead to a lot of referrals. I’m friends with photographers, I am friends with photo editors and those people will refer me jobs directly, but on top of that being social is also helpful. I went to a party one time and I met someone who is a senior marketing executive at a big company and that led to a big advertising campaign. So you never quite know where it’s going to come from. AN acquaintance that I know had a small networking event and I went to support him and after getting through all of the financial planners, life coaches and insurance agents, I met somebody who was in the marketing department of a hair products company and they turned into huge client. So you never really know where it’s going to come from but if you put yourself out there and build real social connections with people, you will eventually get those jobs and you’ll make some great friends along the way.