I was recently invited to the Art Center in Pasadena for a Q&A session with the graduating photography class run by Jeff Sedlik, photographer, director, and leading expert in copyright and licensing. He’s shot some of the most beautiful jazz musician portraits I’ve ever seen. I love talking to students about the business, so I jumped at the opportunity.

It was a wonderful class.  Jeff and I discussed everything—my early moments as a photographer, how I built my business, the psychological effects of downtime, maintaining creativity, among many other things.  At the end of the session, each student had the opportunity to ask a direct question with an optional followup. I loved all the questions, and wanted to share and elaborate on a specific one: 

What advice can I give to someone who is just starting, fresh out of school?

Assist on set

This is a great way to learn about production, photo shoot pre-prep, the flow of a set, how to handle surprises tossed your way; how to communicate with the artists, the talent and the client, among many other extremely helpful skills.

Figure out what type of photography you’d like to specialize in.  At first, I wanted to be one of the top fashion photographers with endless editorials in Vogue and billboards in Times Square. My vision changed quickly as I discovered that, as much as I appreciate and am inspired by fashion photography, it doesn’t light me up.

I tried many different things.

  • Wedding— It didn’t captivate my interest
  • Product— I hated it. There wasn’t any chemistry, or anything to talk about on set.
  • Food— I loved eating the food, not shooting the food. 😉
  • Events —I argued with other photographers, and all the waiting around was boring.
  • Jewelry— I especially hated it.

At the end of the day, I was always obsessed with faces, beauty, portraiture— I could shoot a red lip forever. Try different kinds of photography, experiment with assisting on different sets, and identify what excites you.

Pick your dream client and work backwards

It’s very easy to get lost in art and get caught up in creativity—that’s why we’re photographers. Unless you’re happy eating Cup Noodles for the rest of your life, you need to make money with your art.  Once you’ve figured out what you want to specialize in, think about your ultimate goal. Ask yourself: What is my be-all end-all goal?

Pick your dream client and work backwards. Who shot the amazing campaign?  Look at the photographer’s website and study their style— does it match yours?  If so, keep shooting in that direction.  If not, you chose the wrong dream client—you have to keep looking to find what works for you. Think about your ultimate goal again. Create mood boards of your work— figure out whether you’re on the right track to realize your goal.

Become an expert in your field

It’s not enough to take pretty photos—you have to understand your field and what you’re photographing.  For example, I’m a beauty photographer, which means that I am an expert in producing a beauty photo shoot: I know how to select the artists and talent who will best help translate my (or my client’s) idea. I understand the difference between commercial and editorial beauty; I understand the different properties of makeup; I know how each look will translate through lighting, warm and cool tones, what blended skin looks like, and how to utilize these tools to span a variety of genres.

There’s is always more to be discussed— these tips are essential building blocks to help you get started and moving toward your ultimate goal.