The Big Leap

Some time ago I was asked to be a guest writer for a blog for photographers. I wrote about what it takes to become a professional photographer, and I thought it might be appropriate to post my thoughts on my own blog, too:

Photography is a wonderful craft, whether you are pursuing it as a professional or as an amateur. For me it’s brought me all over the world, connected me with people of all kinds and made me understand and learn more about the world at large and the various conditions that human beings seize to exist on this planet – not to mention how much it has taught me about myself. Still, and maybe most importantly, photography is a way to express ourselves through images; articulate our concerns, emotions and innermost opinions through a personal vision manifested in the multifaceted media that we call photography.

This is the basic drive behind most photographs I know. And that is also why many photographers who start out as amateurs – as most do – at some point dream about making a carreer out of their passion. Unfortunately, and in all honesty, it’s a tough path to choose, but if you bring the passion and a desire to succeed along with you, it’s all worth it. At least if you ask me. You will probably find that you lose the freedom you so much appreciated when you were still an amateur, you lose control of your artistic expression, and you lose yourself in the commerce and trade of the business. But it’s still worth it – if you ask me.

So what does it take to make the leap to become professional? I have already answered one part of it. It takes desire to make it. Not necessarily to become the best photographer in the world, but to survive. It takes persistence to keep at it, even when it seems all in vain. It simple takes a hell of a lot of work, both as a photographer and as a businessman or -woman. You will probably work more than you ever thought you would do, but then again, if this is your passion, that’s quite okay, no?

There is a lot that can be said about making it as a professional photographer. In fact there are books written about it, so I will only point to two equally important abilities in addition to desire and persistence which for me are the ultimate prerequisites. To even be considered for hiring to shoot for a magazine or a client or whatever, you need to be able to show a coherent body of work. Not so much work you have previously done for clients, but work that shows your personal vision, work that shows your passion for photography and work that shows that you can handle the craftsmanship in such a way that your vision comes through in every picture. That is why the best recommendation I can give to any aspiring professional – or any professional who wants to stay in the business for that matter – is to produce personal work all the time. Do a long term project and/or do shorter projects. But do. And do it continuously. This is anyway where your passion will find its outlet once you become professional.

The final point I would like to emphasize here is a willingness to constantly develop. Don’t ever think that you have made it to the top, that you are good enough. The moment you think like that, you are not good enough any more. The world around you develops all the time – and faster and faster for each year – and you need to, too. Learn more about the craft, learn more about what you are photographing, keep developing your vision and don’t get stuck in old ideas just because they seem to have worked this far. And not the least keep develop your creativity. In the end this is what you are trying to make a living out of.

For me creativity is the most fantastic part of the actual shooting and also the reason why I have devoted my blog to this topic. To try to understand how creativity evolves and functions in our brains and how we can facilitate its wondrous act is nothing less than fascinating.

Just to make a few, final thoughts here, the four most important factors that will boost your creativity – as far as I see it are: First – and most importantly – be passionate. I am not talking about passionate about photography, but about the subject you shoot. With passion for the subject, the rest will come easily. Without you will never make interesting pictures. Secondly; do the work. As already stated, you will have to work and keep working, also when it comes to creativity. Without daily practise it will shrivel up and vanish. Nothing boosts the creativity as much as being creative. Again keep working on those personal projects. Thirdly; step out of the box, as the expression goes. It means challenge yourself, get out your comfort zone, do something you thought you would never do or dare do. Fourthly; keep your creative well inspired. Get out there, look at the world, enjoy Mother Nature, travel, watch a good movie, go to an exhibition or just sit down on a street café and enjoy a cup of coffee. A famous photographer once said; if your pictures are boring, it’s because you live a boring life.

So have fun, while you photograph the world around you.


61 thoughts on “The Big Leap

  1. There are so many great statements in here. I can’t tell you how much I agree with your words. Even though I am not really thinking about going to professional, I can identify with it. Trying to develop and learn continuously, passion – and I would say compassion as well – for the theme to shoot, and so on. Thanks so much for having this one written. From my perspective, this is what every photographer who wants to do this seriously should read. Cheers! Andreas

  2. I just found out that two of my photographs are going to be published in an upcoming book by a world-famous dressage clinician. I was asked to take casual photographs of a clinic he gave earlier this year, and did it basically to provide myself with potential painting ideas. I’m not a pro and don’t think I could ever make it as one, nevertheless I’m so pleased that my photos will be in the book! I suspect that if I had viewed myself as a serious photographer the results would not have been as interesting. “Trying too hard” usually doesn’t work for me. I am, however, passionate about my equine subjects!

  3. Again you seem to know what I need to hear….. I can always count on learning something from your blog entries. Today’s blog gifts me with new ideas and confirms I am on the right path. Who starts a business (after a life time of never “working” (for pay)) at 68 years old (in 22 days)? What that business will be, I don’t know. I am shooting events recently and getting paid. What a concept. This is not what I want to do but I over came a big fear…….accepting money for photography. I am passionate about giving people photos they like. Making others happy makes me happy. I know this about myself.
    But what I’d like to is shoot for myself with a concept in mind. Patience is not my strong suit. Coming up with original ideas is also not my strong suit. You’ve encouraged me to walk through another fear…… to begin a personal photo project/essay.
    Thank you my friend from afar,

  4. Thank you for this wonderful insight into photography. I love taking photos as a hobby and your articles has helped me to become better at it. I hope it will show in the photos I take.


  5. Well written article… you make a very goog point.
    BTW, you misspelled career as carrier in the 3rd paragraph… I thought I’d point it out… feel free to delete this comment 🙂

  6. There are many gems within your insightful commentary. For example, “a willingness to constantly develop” is easily part of the creative process. Without the internal incentive to go over the edges of what you see, the unseen will never be accomplished. As for you, it is for me a lifelong search. This post re-enforces the need for internalization and externalization. Wonderful advice for those who seek to express and find their passion or passions.

  7. Wonderful words of wisdom for all whether they want to be professional photographers or continue shooting just for themselves. I think passion is the key to most things, not just photography.

  8. like robert, above, i loved the part: ‘if your pictures are boring..’ — i also realize that i don’t step out of the box often. a large percentage of my photos is for reference material, and the rest because i wanted to capture a particular moment/mood/emotion or dramatic light/shadow/negative space. i’ve been lucky on many and sorely disappointed on others.

    reading your posts always opens new windows to better view my work through different vantage points!
    thank you,

  9. Some great advice here Otto. The worse thing about turning professional in any subject/career choice I feel, is when the subject you are passionate about becomes a ‘Job ‘ . This can become the case very easily when you take your ‘eye off the ball’ and forget that you are in business, and that means you have to make sales! This is what starts to sort the boys from the men. If you don’t make sales you don’t pay the bills and feed the family, and it doesn’t matter how creative you are or how fantastic a photographer you are, you have to be able to sell yourself and your product. And I think you aptly point this out in your comment on persistence!
    Here is something for your readers from and ‘old dog’ (71 today). ” Selling is a numbers game. If you knock on (say) 50 doors – metaphorically speaking – and you get 2 enquiries and you do this for 5 days, you will have 10 enquiries by the end of your first ‘selling’ week. If you want 20 enquiries knock on a 100 doors. The more doors you knock on – the more marketing contacts you make – the more sales you will make. And, if you have a bagful of sales waiting to be shot, this will relieve the stress and leave you free to become as creative as you can and to improve as a professional, also be sure to ask for a referral before you leave a satisfied client”.
    A friend of mine wanted to become a professional wedding photographer. For the past 18 months he has worked for a Photographic studio shooting for them for very little money (£100 per gig, morning until first dance and pay your own ex’s). But he feels he has paid to learn. He is preparing to turn pro and work for himself as of January 2013, and he already has 5 weddings booked at realistic money! But he has worked at this for nearly 2 years to gain the experience of shooting weddings and about selling his services to his prospective clients.
    Thank you Otto, I love your work and please forgive me if I have monopolised your post, it was not my intention.

  10. You always present points to ponder. Later this afternoon I ran across an article in The Sun Magazine by Janna Malamud Smith entitled An Absorbing Errand. The article is an introduction to her new book “An Absorbing Errand; How Artists and Craftsmen Make Their Way to Mastery”. This is along the same thoughts you present to us; I figure if I hit these pointers twice in one day, then I better listen up and pay attention.

  11. I think i am really beginning to understand the value of being passionate about the subject, and then photographic technique will develop. I have started to think like a photographer…my camera is always with me and when anything interests me or captures my imagination I make sure to capture the moment. Most of my photos don’t turn out to be too exceptional, but sometimes i get a surprise. You have really encouraged me to take more risks and just enjoy. I have learned a lot from your exceptional work.

  12. Thanks for the great post. If I ever think I’ve become the best photographer I can be will be the time I give up, hopefully that time will never come.
    I don’t hold much hope ever turning pro though! 🙂

  13. I don´t know if I have what it takes to go pro – talent wise. But now I have a better idea what it takes mentally. Anyways I´ve decided to give it a shot. Should I fail miserably, at least I won´t regret not trying. Great post.

  14. As always great article. I like the way you talked about the business that enters the mind once we choose any creative process as profession, be it writing or photography. And as I myself published my first book a couple of days earlier, so I realize how once the creativity part gets over business takes the center place. And I think it’s fair enough, after all every one need to grow in any profession he chooses and that’s where I think importance of business lies.
    You’ve again given us few things to think about and realize their importance.

  15. After reading the post, I don’t actually know what adjective to use to describe. There’s an ineffable impact to me. And, of course, by saying ineffable I mean it in a good way.

    Your words really moved me Mr. Otto. Don’t worry, I will never feel like I’m the best nor that I will live a boring life. Instead, I will make that big leap and express my passion to every subject that comes my way.

    You are such a mentor. It’s a loss on my part to have just subscribe now. (Better late than never as they say.)

    Thank you very much for sharing to us this blog post. A blog post is full of wisdom.

  16. I’ve never desired to turn professional, but much of what you’ve written here is just as true for anyone who loves creating with a camera. It’s advice that will enrich one’s life, as well as one’s photography.

  17. Just what I needed to read this evening while trying to thrive on rejection, thank you Otto, I will be ready to go at it again tomorrow, you are so inspiring, loved your blog from the first day I read it!

  18. “if your pictures are boring, it’s because you live a boring life.” That means we only have interesting pictures when we are interesting photographers 🙂

  19. Very interesting stuff, even for an amateur who is too old too even think of going professional 🙂
    I’ll be myself, but try to “step out of the box” from time to time ..

  20. Thank you so much for your encouraging and inspiring words! I’m tiptoeing on that professional path, constantly wondering if I’m worthy to be there, but eager to continue learning and very passionate about it. This is exactly what I needed to read today!

  21. Thank you for the inspiring words, finally something about photography that makes sense to me and that I can keep at heart. I’ll keep them in mind as I progress along. Thanks again 🙂

  22. Thank you SO much for this. Truly.
    I have no interest (at least right now) in attempting to make photography a profession, but so much you have said here, simply about the creative aspect of it, is so very helpful.

    Thank you again!

  23. My friend, your thoughts today mirrored why I am passionate about capturing life’s images and sharing them.”For me it’s brought me all over the world, connected me with people of all kinds and made me understand and learn more about the world at large and the various conditions that human beings seize to exist on this planet – not to mention how much it has taught me about myself. ” It makes us sensitive to what is real in the world. It makes us care more, give more, learn more. It is a gift meant to be shared and inspire others. Merry Christmas to you and your family.

  24. You are just amazing!
    you make everything so clear ….
    enthusiasm … it is always necessary!
    Beautiful words … too bad you’re so far away!
    I would have chosen as my professor 🙂

  25. It’s not easy to excel. “Genius is the ability to put into effect what is on your mind.” And there is no substitute for hard work. Doing it continuously and passionately – that’s the real secret.

  26. I just love photography as it is a way to help me grow and see as well as feel all that is out there. I do enjoy the idea of sharing my photos in different ways. But I have a long way to go in perfecting what I do capture. I have the visuals in my head what I want as I have seen them in nature it is working towards capturing what I saw. But till then I do love being creative with my photos in so many other ways.

  27. Otto, excellent points, as always. In my case the danger was in not taking enough risks. I have worked for 34 years in a secure (but not high-paying) left-brain career as a university course developer only to realize in my 60s why I’ve been so unhappy and frustrated. I’m basically a right-brain person. The fact that I’ve been able to be passionate about my photoblog (never missing a weekday post in over two years), and the enjoyment I get from the creative process (including writing that book) tell me that I should have given up some of that security decades ago. I’m held back by the limits of my point-and-shoot camera (still can’t scrape together the money for the Nikon D3200 I want), and I’m not sure I could have ever made a living as a professional photographer, but I now know that creativity always needed to be central to my life, and not something I left malnourished in the background.

  28. Your words that stood out for me today: “Learn more about the craft, learn more…keep developing your vision and don’t get stuck in old ideas just because they seem to have worked this far…”
    Such motivational words that helps us to keep a learner’s attitude and “thinking out of the box” attitude! 🙂 Fantabulist!!!!

  29. Love the post. So much to chew on: Be Passionate… step out of your comfort zone … boring life…
    Get out there

    love the photo. Where is it taken?

    Sorry I haven’t been around in a while.

  30. Great advice posted here. Thanks for following my blog – as someone who is in serious lack of self-confidence, I’m honoured that my work has attracted the attention of a professional photographer like yourself.

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