One Shot, One Kill: Working as a Professional Photographer
A version of this article was also published by Thought Catalog.
STEAMBOAT SPRINGS, CO- I’ve always had a casual interest in photography, but since I started traveling I’ve taken it a bit more seriously. It's a common theme amongst vagabonds like me, thinking a bit more about the photos you're taking; in a way it comes with the territory of being an explorer. You’re visiting new and exciting places, and you want to capture what you see for either for your own memories or to share with friends and family back home.
I’ve taken quite a few photos that I’m proud of, but I’ve also taken quite a few that I never want to see the light of day. With a 64GB memory card, I don’t have to worry about a limited amount of space…that’s enough to shoot tens of thousands of photos. My friend Dan gave me some good advice a few years ago: never delete a photo on your camera, always load it onto your computer and see it full-size before you get rid of it. The small LCD screen simply isn’t capable of displaying the complex detail of your JPEG file. With this in mind, I’ve taken to shooting a ton of pictures and slogging through them on the computer days, weeks, or months afterwards. I end up deleting a large majority of the photos I take.
Not to toot my own horn, but I’ve been asked more than once how I take such good photographs. My answer has always been simple…find something awesome to take a photo of, and fire off a ton of shots. As long as you’re attentive to your composition, lighting, and framing, readjusting each successive shot based on what you think went wrong with the one before, you’re bound to take some great photos. Shoot a lot of pictures of cool stuff, and you will end up with some pretty good photos. That’s been my approach for quite some time.
In the past two months, that's changed considerably. In a twisted stroke of luck, I find myself working as a professional photographer—professional in the sense that people pay money for my photographs. This ups the ante considerably, and makes me much more conscious of my own work. The maxim is no longer “take a bunch of shots, and some of them will be good”. The maxim is you have one chance to take a perfect, professional photograph.
That means a high degree of attention to what you’re doing: anticipating lighting, posing, composition, and the disposition of your subject before you press the shutter-release button. There is very little on-the-go adjustment. Full command of the camera is essential, understanding how to compress the background in order to make the mountains seem closer. Knowing that the flash will affect people of various skin tones in different ways. There is very little room for error, since everyone expects a professional product from you, and it’s my job to deliver that. I can't just fire off a ton of shots, and know that the tenth exposure will be good. I need to know what I'm doing before my subjects are posed.
I find myself in the rare position of being paid to do something that I really love. At work, I'm expected to hone my craft and learn more about portrait photography to become better at my job. It's also a skill I've wanted to learn for myself for quite some time, and it's meant I've gotten pretty good at what I do. For the longest time, a job has meant a means to an end--work so that I can pay bills, travel, and try new things. I'm now in a position where I passionately care about what I'm doing, and that means taking a professional-grade photograph—every time.
I’ve got one shot, and it’s time to kill it.