How to Create Your Own Luck in Photography

How to Create Your Own Luck in Photography

Sometimes, I like to tell brief stories about my adventures in life and photography that have little to do with the technical aspects of creating an image and more to do with making sense of an often hectic profession.

This particular thought came to me during a 48-hour time span in which I suddenly and unexpectedly found myself dancing in front of 300 members of a live studio audience, acting opposite a movie star and Academy Award winner, and having to improvise five minutes of dialogue at the business end of an Arri Alexa.

All of that might make sense if I were an actor. Or if I had danced at all in the last 20 years before yesterday. Or if I was a performer of any kind. But I am not. I am a photographer. I am paid to stay on the other side of the camera.

I don’t open with that to promote a new movie or to announce a change in profession. As fun as it was, the moment will amount to little more than a brief chapter in my future largely unread and sure to be critically panned autobiography. Instead, the rather odd scenario led me to again consider the concept of luck. We often throw the word around to describe events or accomplishments in our lives or more likely in the lives of our competition to explain why some people get to do certain things and some people don’t.

To be sure, there is such a thing as luck. I live in a city full of actors who would give a limb to have been in the situation I simply stumbled into yesterday. I don’t claim to have earned that memory through talent. I was just in the right place at the right time. But I think even in the randomness of that moment lies a simple lesson that has also borne itself out through my real career as a professional photographer.

Sometimes, you will get lucky. But first, you have to show up.

It always amazes me when asked by new photographers about how I got to shoot this or to be featured in that, how many times my stories start with some variation of “well, just on a whim, I decided to” do this or that. My first big opportunity to shoot for the NFL came about by sending a half-thought-out email at 4:59 on a Friday afternoon. Some of the best editorial exposure I’ve gotten came from a wasted day of canceled meetings being capped off by a Hail Mary email sent last second to a photo editor followed by a hurried and decidedly crowded trip on the subway from Brooklyn into Lower Manhattan for a five-minute meeting just before she left the office. My biggest and favorite client came as a result of a cold call and a decision to spend a bit of my limited financial resources on a plane ticket to fly into town just long enough to meet someone in person.

It would be ridiculous to suggest that luck wasn’t at least something of a factor in all of those scenarios. If any of my emails get lost at the bottom of someone’s inbox, the connection wouldn’t have been made. At least not on the initial attempt. Speaking of lost connections, I ran a real risk of that trying to navigate the NYC subway system as I rushed towards Wall Street for my out-of-town meeting. Not to mention, I could easily have gotten to any of those meetings and completely flubbed the client's name or spilled coffee in my lap. Thankfully, I didn’t. Thankfully, those particular whims bore fruit.

But none of the resulting rewards would have been possible without showing up in the first place. My illustrious acting debut (and likely final performance) wouldn’t have occurred if I hadn’t just decided to put myself out there and try something positive on a whim.

As they say, it takes a lot of hard work to be lucky. So, as you are continuing to build your career and push forward to reach your ultimate goals, just remember that half the battle is simply in continuing to show up, put in the work, and keep yourself in a position for good fortune to come your way. Now, I’d like to close by wishing you all the best of luck.

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4 Comments

So very, very true. Great opportunities happen all the time, but they only bear fruit for those that show up (at least somewhat) prepared and say yes.

Christopher Malcolm I love you! THANKS for that article !

Alex Harris's picture

Cheers man, nice article and well timed, given where I’m at right now.

Btw, how many leather jackets have you got? ;-)