Tips for Young Photographers from an “Older” One

I’m not so sure if it’s true that we get wiser as we get older.  I think we just have a lot more time to make mistakes and hopefully learn by them.  When I was first starting out as a photographer, I was extremely fortunate to learn from some of the legends of my time – not just about photography – but all kinds of things.

Gail with children in small village along Amazon River, Peru

I think sometimes that we have become such a youth centric society in America that we forget what we can learn from those who came before us.

Some things I learned along the way:

  • Watch out for your “peak” years – most hit those peak earning years during their 30’s and 40’s. When you are at the height of your career, remember to live in the “now” and enjoy the ride. Things change quickly in a creative business.  Be prepared for the peaks and the valleys.
  • Stay away from trends and be authentic to yourself – Don’t emulate others’ style, find your own.  Listen to what your inner voice is telling you, despite what happens to be the trend du jour.
  • Be proactive – not reactive – Don’t fight change – it’s an impossible task.  Things are always changing. Nothing is static.  Doing nothing is not staying the same – it’s actually going backwards. By the time people react to change – it’s usually too late.
  • Say yes more than no – Whenever I’ve been brave enough to say yes to a job that I didn’t think I’d like or be able to handle, it has always turned into one of my most rewarding experiences, either creatively, financially or both.
  • Be more vulnerable – if you’re not feeling vulnerable, even at the peak of “success” – you aren’t pushing yourself enough.  During the entire making of my film, Opening Our Eyes, and even now, I have felt vulnerable – first in the journey itself around the world and the trials and tribulations that came with that and now dealing with the rejections that come with submitting the film to top tier film festivals.  But I thrive on the wins and we’ve been honored at so many wonderful festivals and that wouldn’t have happened – if I hadn’t been vulnerable.
  • When a door closes – a window always opens if you recognize opportunity – My worst moments have always been followed by my best ones.  Sometimes, something has to happen to motivate me to take the next step.  Unfortunately, when the crappy stuff happens, I feel least empowered and optimistic but I plow ahead because I know this must happen to get me where I need to be.
  • You’re never too old to be mentored – I love learning.  In fact I love it more now than I did when I was younger.  I love the whole idea of mentoring and I feel that it works both ways.  When I mentor someone else, regardless of age, I always end up learning as well in the process.
  • Marketing & Promotion: Do more pull – less push – The most effective promotion and marketing efforts on my part have been when I’ve spent more time “creating” for the sake of creating, rather than for the intent of marketing.  When I’m working on a project that I am passionate about, people who hear about it take notice and the word spreads.  When that happens, clients or media attention comes to me.  Whenever I have spent more time, “marketing” to potential clients or trying to get publicity, it has never worked.  It’s much better when it happens organically.
  • Network outside your profession – I’ve always found it more interesting to engage with people in all sorts of professions.  As a storyteller, I thrive on meeting different people.  As a photographer, it makes sense on many different levels.  I have found that by broadening my circle of friends and colleagues, it has led to many interesting collaborations.
  • Making mistakes ISN’T a bad thing – it just means you aren’t afraid to try new things.  Well I should probably not imply that I’m not afraid – quite the contrary – but I don’t let my fears become my reasons not to act on something. I often blog about my mistakes and in fact they consistently are the most read posts.  I think people would rather read about others’ mistakes than read manuals.
  • Don’t focus on the gear – focus on the story or the message.  The story never goes out of style.
  • There are no overnight successes – just ask anyone.  We just don’t hear about people until they do become a “success”.  Be prepared for rejection along the way because it comes with growth and consistently trying.
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