The Five Pieces of Advice I've Gotten That Shaped My Career as a Photographer

The Five Pieces of Advice I've Gotten That Shaped My Career as a Photographer

Our lives are collections made up of people and moments. Every day, there is a plethora of wisdom that passes by, but sometimes, you get one piece of advice that can change the course of your entire life or career. In this article, I share the five pieces of advice I've gotten over my eight-year career that helped shape me into the photographer I am today. 

We all have mentors in our life who we look to for advice on where to go next, so today, I'll share mine. Quotes or sayings might seem cheesy, but for me, the set of advice I've gotten has shaped me into the photographer I am today. Let's dive right in.

The Advice

1. Get to Know Yourself Before Getting to Know Others

When I was first introduced to portrait photography, I was just a kid with a camera. I had no voice or passion, and didn't know what a successful portrait could be. I began by taking self-portraits everyday, because I was too shy to approach other people and ask them to model for me. But, a few weeks later, my whole perspective on the world of portrait photography would shift.

One night, we were sitting around the dinner table with one of our guests, Linda, who was an incredible, intelligent, and deep 75-year-old woman with a lot of history to tell. She ran a nonprofit that helped kids in Africa, and while on her many trips abroad, she would take portraits of the kids she was helping and developed a keen eye for photography. With a shared interest, I showed her some of my first portraits,  and she immediately pointed out that they had no story or emotional substance. She handed me back my photos and left me with a word of advice that has stuck with me to this day. She said: 

If you’re focusing on capturing others, you must learn how to photograph yourself first. Find out who you are as a person. What makes you click? What are your strengths, your weaknesses?

After she left that night, it hit me. A portrait of somebody is a mere reflection of ourselves. Our feelings, our values, our vision are all apparent in any portrait we take of someone. To this day, whenever somebody steps in front of my camera, it's a dance between me and the subject. When I lead the shoot with confidence, the subject will feel that and in turn, feel confident in themselves.

People are hiring you because of the unique qualities you can bring to the table that no one else can. Find what makes you unique, and share that with the world.

2. Shooting With Purpose

With the introduction of cell phones and the fast-paced Instagram era, the amount of photos being made every day is exponentially growing and is quickly becoming a quantity over quality game. So, with the photography industry being so saturated, how do you make your work stand out and go to the next level? Will you get a jaw-dropping image by just luck? I would argue not. When I asked my professor this question, he responded by telling me that:

It's not about being in the right place at the right time, it's about being in a place long enough for the right moment to find you.

Photo by: Shoshi Benstein

When you see a moment, you can approach it in two ways. You can either be a traveler or a tourist. A traveler engages with the situation that is in front of them and actively connects to it. They think about the shot before they take it. A tourist merely sees a moment and snaps a picture and walks away. The next time you are going to compose your next shot, think about why you're taking it, and don't stop until the vision you had in your head turns into a reality.

3. Letting Go of Perfectionism and Self Doubt

As someone who has been fully immersed in the creative field for the last eight years, I have become a victim to the curse of perfectionism. On any given day, ideas are floating all around us, waiting to be initiated. For an idea to become a reality, we must act on them and bring them to life. Humans inherently don't act on their ideas, because they are afraid they will fail or don't know the desired outcome. Instead of focusing that dose of creative energy, we spend it on speculating on its outcomes. Will this opportunity work out? Will it make any money? What if it doesn't work out? When I was going through a period of self doubt, I was reminded by my friend Pratik Naik to:

 Not wait for the right moment to get sh*t done, just get it done.

This statement resonated with me and inspired action. With every project I take on, I am learning to trust my emotions and gut instincts. If my heart is telling me to create, I don't doubt it and immediately channel that creative energy into work that speaks to me. Not overthinking it and just jumping right in has been the most liberating feeling for me, breaking free of perfectionism and embracing the imperfections. Through doing this work, I was able to learn to love the process of creating, instead of fixating on the final product. The final image will evolve and be replaced by better ones, but the memories and process of creating it will pass the test of time.  

Photo by: Shoshi Benstein

4. Trusting the Journey 

When you look at the lifespan of any creative career, the journey of a photographer is one of a marathon and not a sprint. You will have your low moments and moments where you feel as if you've made it, but those moments are just stepping stones to get us where we want to be. People will often give up on their dreams one step too early, before they are destined to succeed. But filmmaker Casey Neistat explains that:

 The distance between where you are and where you want to be is closer than you think.

Can you imagine if Thomas Edison gave up after 999 tries of creating the light bulb? That 1,000th try was the one that counted. When I saw Neistat's words, it reminded me that in order to succeed in this business, I must put in the work, to be persistent and trust the process. If I am going through a low point, I push harder; if I've achieved something, I let that carry me to the next thing. It was a good reminder to me to just keep going. This is only the beginning. Go out and accomplish something today and every day after that. 

5. Learning to Embrace Failure and Accept It

No matter how you cut it, you will fail. You will fail hard and then, again. If you are afraid of failure, then the creative industry is not for you. Learning how to come back from failure is what will make you a more well-rounded creator and will help open your eyes to new and more creative ideas. If I fail, I try to figure out how to come back from that failure and learn from it. This is the most important part in the process: addressing the problem and then fixing it and learning from the mistakes you made. One of the first people I came across applies this to his work ethic. He tells people that: 

“The more you shoot, the more you fail; the more you fail, the more you learn"

When the inspiration strikes, grab whatever camera you have, and bring your ideas to life. If it turns out incredible, great, and if turns out to be a failure, great. Learn from both and apply that knowledge to your next shoots. The more you fail, the more you will learn from those failures and your work will get significantly better.  

Over to You 

Now that I have shared some of the life-changing advice I've gotten, do you have any pieces of advice that changed yours? Share them in the comments below! 

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6 Comments

Gerald Bertram's picture

The best piece of advice I got from my mentor was sending me off to review images from his mentor, David Burnett. In particular the images Burnett shot with his $20 plastic Holga camera. No shutter speed selection, 1/100th and that's it. 2 stops, F/11 and f/8. His point being to focus more on my skills vs upgrading my camera.

How are you going to get your first 100 customers? And when you get each one of them, how are you going to use them for referral marketing? You have to ask them right when they see and love their images…”who do you know who can benefit from my service?”

And as Chef Bobby Flay says…”My No. 1 tip for someone to open their own restaurant is to be overcapitalized and overpatient. It always costs twice the amount of money you think it’s going to cost, and twice the amount of time to build it. And don’t think about conquering the whole menu in a one day, take it one dish at a time.”

Reynante Martinez's picture

Thanks a lot for these wisdom, Eli. I could only imagine what trials you've been through on your journey as a photographer and congratulate you on how far you've gone so far. Keep going and keep inspiring. :)

yehuda levy's picture

This Article Is amazing Eli! Understanding that failure is part of success is not something that some people can understand.Failure is what helps you get back up and pushes you to try harder.And that is something i've learned over the years.Accepting failure is what will help you become the best you,and learning from your mistakes is what will help avoid them in the future. Thank you Eli! Cant wait to read the next one!

David T's picture

That portrait of you is fantastic. Super authentic, conveys a lot of passion.

One of the most life changing advice I’ve received is sometimes “done is better than perfect”. Sometimes finishing something and moving on is the smartest thing to do. Life moves on and we can’t dwell on things that will just get us stuck in the same place for too long. This has helped me finish projects that I have been sitting on for a while just waiting for that moment, instead I just did it, and it felt damn good when I finally just finished it.
Eli that portrait of you is my favorite by far:) Incredible article! Job well done!