Food For Thought
Ideas To Digest For Aspiring Pros

Ponce Town Square Fountain, Ponce, Puerto Rico. Knowing how to record light on film--which is technically what you are doing when you take a picture--in any situation is key to becoming a successful photographer. Work on your technique, but also work on your individual style. (Canon EOS 1n, Canon 24mm lens, Kodak Elite Chrome 200 pushed to 400.)
Photos © 1999, Rick Sammon, All Rights Reserved

Ever consider turning pro? Then you probably are a whiz at f/stops, shutter speeds, lighting, composition, exposure values, and all the other technical stuff you need to know about to take great pictures.

But what about living the life of a professional photographer? What's it like? Here are some topics to consider, some "food for thought" for you to digest--while you are waiting to turn pro.

Go Beyond Technique. Photography is much more than good technique--mastering your camera's controls and utilizing accessories to get sharp pictures and great exposures. Photography involves putting yourself in a position to get interesting pictures. This may mean traveling to an exotic location, getting up early to catch a sunrise at a local beach or park, or standing in line for hours at a rock concert to get a front row shooting position.

Think about the kind of pictures you want to take, and then think about how you can "get there." After all, anyone can snap a shutter; but not everyone can get put themselves in a place and time that's worth "snapping."

Specialize In Not Specializing. Several years ago, pro photographer Robert Huntzinger (you may have seen his work in the Sports Illustrated swimsuit issue) gave a presentation of his work. He opened up his speech with a great line, which is also good advice. He said, "My specialty is not specializing." What he meant was that he's capable of doing a variety of photography assignments, from photographing pretty girls to photographing pretty cars.

Old church in Ponce, Puerto Rico. Putting yourself in a location for good photographs is just as important as putting the right accessories in your camera bag. "Plan your day, plan your photographs" is good advice for aspiring professional photographers. Planning your life is a good idea, too. (Canon EOS 1N, Canon 20mm lens, Kodak Elite Chrome 100.)

If you want to succeed in the competitive world of pro photography, following Huntzinger's advice is a good idea.

Never Give Up. Starting out as a pro is difficult. But, if you follow the motto, "Never give up," and have confidence in yourself, you'll make it.
Keep your work circulating; remember that it does you absolutely no good sitting in your drawer at home.

Network. You know the expression, "It's not what you know, it's who you know." Well, in pro photography, it helps to know a few folks. So how do you meet the right people? Go to photography shows and conventions and meet the camera, film, and accessory manufacturers. Ask to show your work. Pitch an article for the company's newsletter or calendar. (Canon, Nikon, and Kodak, among others, all have newsletters that feature the work of aspiring pros.) Getting published in these company publications is good way to get started.

While you are at the photo shows, try to hook up with magazine editors and Art Directors. Ask them, too, if you can show your work.

Another way to network with editors, writers, Art Directors, and some photo manufacturers is to attend photo events like FotoFusion, a week-long event in January developed by the Palm Beach Photo Workshop ( This is a great place to show and share your work, not only with folks who can help you, but with your fellow shooters.

Palm tree and sailboat in Puerto Rico. "Work hard, get lucky." That's the free-lancer's motto. It's good advice to follow. (Canon EOS 1N, 24mm lens, Kodak Elite Chrome 100.)

Write All About It. There are a million photographers who want to get their work published, but only a half a million who can write. If you can combine your photography skills with writing skills, then you'll have a much, much better chance of getting published--and making some money.

Getting published does something else for you; it gets your name out there for people to see--other people who may want to buy your photographs or books someday. Another thing to keep in mind about getting your name and picture into print--publish or perish.

Don't Believe Your Own PR. If you do get your work into print, and eventually develop a following, don't let your celebrity status in the photo world go to your head. Too many pro shooters "believe their own PR."

Sure, you can tell publishers and editors and fans about your accomplishments, but please don't let all this go to your head. Nobody likes a big shot, even if he or she takes great shots. What's more, if you come across as having a big ego (rather than a strong ego, which is a good thing), you will quickly lose your admirers--as well as our editors and publishers.

Follow The Free-Lancer's Motto. Free lancing is a competitive business. To help you compete, follow this motto: "Be better than everyone who is faster than you, and faster than everyone who is better than you." Put another way, deliver your very best work before the deadline, which makes an editor or photo buyer's job much easier. And be nicer than all your competitors--so your clients, when thinking about a photographer with whom to work, just may pick up the phone and call the nicest shooter on his or her list.

Help Yourself. Aspiring photographers will benefit from reading The Professional Photographer's Survival Guide (available, like the other books that will be mentioned, through There's lots of good information here on how to make it as a pro. Another good self-help book is Real Magic by Dr. Wayne Dyer. In his book, Dr. Dyer talks about how you can create real magic in your life--create your own reality.

So, if you have the idea to turn pro, do everything possible to make your dream your reality. Create your own magic.