25 Popular Photographers And Where They Started - The Ultimate Inspiration

25 Popular Photographers And Where They Started - The Ultimate Inspiration

 One thing we often forget - All successful photographers started somewhere. This knowledge is motivation that fuels my every action and every photoshoot. We all have the power to exceed our expectations, to set goals and reach them. We may look back at our work and feel embarrassed, asking ourselves, “What was I thinking?” But remember, Rome wasn't built in a day.  Here's a show case for 25 popular photographers with their first photos, next to their recent work. Proof that you can be successful, too.

Photography is like a downward escalator: if you don’t keep working, keep practicing and keep walking up…you’ll just go downAs we grow and push ourselves, we learn more, we change and develop. Instead of being ashamed of our past, be proud. You started at the bottom…now you’re here. If a photographer is not pushing their own boundaries, there is no room for success. We all must work our way up to the top, slowly but surely. But you have to be the one to work for it. The following photographers didn’t stop when a challenge arose – they kept pushing. Compare their then and now images. Their "before" images look like any other beginner photographer's…but look at how far they've come. Set your goals high and don’t stop believing in yourself.

(Photos are clickable and can be navigated via the keyboard arrow buttons)

^Dani Diamond^

^Braxton Wilhelmsen^

^Lauri Laukkanen^

^Simchy Zuckerman^

^Julia Kuzmenko McKim^

^Ace Noguera^

^James Oliver Connolly^

^Taylor Robinson^

^Lisa Holloway^

^Rich Johnson^

^Douglas Sonders^

^Kevin Cook^

^Clay Cook^

^Chris Lambeth^

^Linus Pettersson^

^Sean Archer^

^Emily Soto^

 ^ Karl-Filip Karlsson ^

^Michael Woloszynowicz^

^Gina Parry^

^Craig Lamere^

^David Olkarny^

^Daniel Hager^

^Santiago Elliott^

^Jon Lemon^

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Previous comments
Franck Nederstigt's picture

After reading this article and Clay Cook's article I really really would like to know at what point and how photography became commercially rewarding for these photographers. What made them quit their 'old' job? Where they scouted by an agency or photo studio? Did they take PA Jobs for a senior photographer or started as part time freelancers? Just curious...

Douglas Sonders's picture

went to RIT. got myself hired by a record label as i graduated to tour with a famous rock band by straight up harassing and being tenacious. networked, built my portfolio, kept in touch with old contacts, did favors, and now 10 years later things are pretty rad right now.

Franck Nederstigt's picture

Thank you Douglas. I appreciatie your feedback.

Bo Bickley's picture

Franck - I wondered the same thing after reading Clay's article. I checked out his shameless plug and went to his site, read his about me page and then started reading his blog. His site (and everything he writes) tells what I think is a very transparent story. I imagine it applies to a great many successful photographers. Dani for instance is very open about what he did and does to keep getting better and better shoots and clients. He writes about it a lot.

I encourage you to do the same and then either post a question (like you did here) or email them directly. You just might get some help and direction so you make an intelligent roadmap to get you where you want to be quicker than if you didn't.

Overly simplified - learn, test, fail - get up, learn, test, network, learn, test, etc, etc. Hope this helps.

Clay Cook's picture

Thanks for reading Franck! I live a very transparent ideal as Bo put it. I love sharing my story. It all comes back to networking and just working your tail off. Keep shooting(a lot), keep marketing, stay humble and good things will come.

Sean McQuillan's picture

Amazing collection of Photographers. Looking at these is really teaches me a lot about composition and lighting, thanks :)

Jared Elliott's picture

very inspirational, and yes the icons we look up to started somewhere just like us. But man some of them started off still started off in the stars.

Christian Berens's picture

I go back and look at my old photos and just cringe. I'm sure i'll continue this trend throughout the years lol

Christian Sosa's picture

Dani, thanks for the article! Made me go back in time and seeing some of my old (and really bad) work. If there's one cool thing about photography, or pretty much any craft out there, is that the more you do it, the better you get at it. Yeah, sure that applies to photoshop as well. But shooting in general, you get to know you camera and lens better, what it can and cannot do, framing, experimenting with lights and shadows.

Levi Arnold's picture

Cool beans! Practice Practice Practice.

Federico Guendel's picture

Nice work guys! I love to see how people grow. I keep my flickr just to keep my old work and see where I came from. Here's mine, I still haven't had a "wow" photo this year, hopefully soon!

Brian Erickson's picture

Dani, I really wanted to thank you for this article! I started out with a Canon t2i and editing in iPhoto and now I'm in LR and I couldn't be happier with the direction I am going except I feel as if I have hit a bit of a wall at this point. I really don't quite know how to keep challenging myself unless if I make the jump over to Photoshop and learn the whole idea of destructive editing. Hopefully I find the courage to make the leap but for now, I am happy with the tools I have. Keep posting articles like this, it helps us young photographers want to keep trying.

(I don't know if I uploaded the photo in a correct resolution to see the photos well, let me know if I need to re-upload the photo.)

Ajith Pran's picture

Thnx for sharing..!

Von Wong's picture

Love the before/afters. Precisely the reason why my flickr stream contains all shots taken since 2009 - that progress is inspiring to so many.

25 popular photographers and the first one is the author! this really is getting worse and worse.
Sorry but all of you are not very popular outside of Fstoppers...

Douglas Sonders's picture

lol. ok dude

Lee Morris's picture

Dani is probably the most popular writer outside of Fstoppers

Michael Foyle's picture

Typical - the only negative comment comes from someone who doesn't even have a profile picture, let alone a portfolio. *Slow hand clap*

There is also to say that someone was a shit first and then got crappy. ;)


Mark Alameel's picture

These before and after are amazing.

However, they are a bit misleading. Here me out before I sound like a troll.

Show me a simple headshot from 5 years ago, and show me a simple headshot from today. Let me judge your new skill on similar situation, how your skills makes the situation even better. I'd be more impressed with out of the camera skills "before and after" with just the basic grading of course. Impress me with your camera skills, not your editing skills.

A lot of the "after" images I tend to see show these amazing environments. Yes that is part of photography, showing people breaking out of the simple comfort zones, but its like using hot models, of course they photograph well and add tons of production value.

You want to impress me with better Architecture Photography, show me the same house in the before and in the after. Do not show me a wrecked home for the before image and a mansion for the after.

Again, all these examples are great, but I SUGGEST a "before and after" article that is also without heavy retouching.

/ Time to put soap box away. :)

Filip Kowalkowski's picture

Sean Archer's progress in one year...christ

Granville James Collie's picture

Great look at how photographers have to evolve and awesome quote - "If a photographer is not pushing their own boundaries, there is no room for success."

Michael Foyle's picture

I've not been shooting too long - but this shows my progress from when I started to take photography a bit more seriously in 2012 and where I'm at now :)

Elliott Brockelbank's picture

Ah this is great to see, possibly my favorite post I've been through here just based on how this puts things in perspective for me.

The biggest thing I'm noticing here is huge jumps in lighting and use of color, and those are the two things I find myself struggling to grasp most. Going to be fun trying to figure it all out.

I guess to pitch in with everyone talking about PS vs. LR. I started in iPhoto, jumped to LR and definitely use it for bulk editing and is great for my uses since right now I currently do a lot of music/concert work. I am looking to move into lifestyle and portraiture though. I think I'll start making a transition to PS but it just seems to cumbersome...at least a little daunting :/

Great article! I've been pretty frustrated with my photography lately feeling like I've hit a wall. I think a big part of that is I'm spending too much time comparing my images to some of the greats we come across online instead of the personal improvement I'm making. (especially when some of those greats have only been shooting a couple years) Some progress tends to add up over time. Here's one of mine from 2008 and a recent one.

gabriel olude's picture


Brandon Adam's picture

You have all come a long way. I hope to make as much progress as this in my work.

Maria Kurganova's picture

Looks like Woloszynowicz was born as a professional photographer :)

p.s. I'm a fan, no more needs to be said :P

angelo dau's picture

Some was better before