Hey Daniel, thanks for all the amazing imagery. Love your work! I remember reading on a previous version of your website that you were a graphic designer before transitioning into life as a Professional Photographer. I'm just wondering if you would be interested in sharing some more information about how you made that transition between those 2 career paths. Thanks - Trav
This is going to be a long and indulgent response, but it’s no small answer describing what went into the transition.
After graduating a media degree in 2001 I worked as a web designer before changing career paths to photography about six years ago. While doing web design i developed an obsession with photography, shooting loads of gigs and partys for fun, and using my web skills i self published a lot to my blog (born 2003). This was before the era of Facebook and Tumblr where publishing photos became dead easy. It took a little more tech savvy back then.
It was all just for the joy of it, there was no dream to become a professional photographer, i didn’t know how you’d do that, i didn’t know any photographers, and didn’t know how you could make money from it.
But gradually after self publishing a lot, i started getting small commissions, for street press, for party promoters and local bands. I had a full time job, so i’d take these jobs at nights and on weekends. Every now and then i’d take a day off work for a job.
My girlfriend (now wife) who was studying architecture when we met was also developing her passion for photography, and was learning the tricks of the trade from her brother who was working as a photographer. Together we absorbed as much as possible about the technical craft and business side of things. (side note: we now all work together in that photography business)
I was getting quite a number of decent freelance commissions, but not enough to leave behind my well paid web design role to chance it on my own in photography.
As well as being a competent photographer i realised that success in the industry is also about good relationships. Not in a calculated ‘networking’ way, but just knowing that you need to be a good people person, communicate well, be positive, professional and word of mouth will build.
One relationship i formed (drunkenly one night while i was shooting socials at a party) was with a journalist who took an interest in my work. We stayed in touch for about 18 months before i got the offer of a lifetime which was the main transition point to becoming a photographer and leaving web design behind.
The journalist was recruiting a team to work on Time Out Sydney magazine, and needed a full-time photographer. He thought i was versatile, competent and hungry enough to take it on. It paid considerably less than my web design job, but it meant that i’d be taking pictures for a living, for a magazine that i loved.
So it was that full time job that cemented the career change. After a couple of years the job became part time, and that enabled me to build up my freelance roster of clients. I now work even fewer hours at Time Out, but have a great range of other clients that keep me busy and well compensated.
The Time Out gig was definitely a lucky break - but one i’d unknowingly been preparing myself for for years beforehand and once i had it, embraced it and learned as much as i could from it.
There’s lots more i could tell, but that sums up that main events.
When asked about the state of editorial photography and advice for aspirants he offered,
"…you don’t shoot editorial to make money, you shoot editorial to feed your ego… It helps if you are young and beautiful and have a cool blog, but mainly, you need a SINGULAR vision. Find a style and stick with it. Focus on subjects you care about. Pick a theme like humor or irony or debauchery, something that suits your personality. If a photo editor can recognize your photo without reading the credit, you know you’re on the right track."
It rings true - the cynicism, but also the advice on how to make your mark.
Wow, that was quick! Thanks Dan! Basically, at the moment I shoot photos for a website called Voltage Media, I'm a volunteer so my "payment" is essentially free entry to all gigs (which I'm not complaining about!). I gues what I want to know is what's the best way, or the general process, of expanding to other, bigger sites. Is there a set way ot application, or do you just email a letter of introduction/CV/portfolio? What about magazines, either freelance or permanent staff?
Make sure you have an online portfolio of good pictures that’s easy to browse and begin introducing yourself by email to bigger websites or street press.
A facebook page (not your personal facebook), tumblr (that only has your photos) or flickr site could be perfectly adequate.
Your photos should be equal to or better than the quality you already see published in the publication you’re approaching. They should also be of similar subject material to what the publication already runs.
Quality over quantity.
Every time you make contact with someone make it personal to them. Do your research. Don’t write a form letter. Keep it brief and to the point.
Demonstrate that you like and understand the sort of work that they publish. Say you’d love to contribute and show that you’re up to scratch by providing a link to your work.
Sometimes people will ignore your email. The people you’re approaching probably get lots of people like you getting in touch every day/week. If you get no reply, then follow up a couple of weeks later. If still no reply then move on. Keep shooting and improve your portfolio.
On a related note, here’s a previous question i answered about pursuing a career in music photography.
How do you get your subjects to relax in front of the camera?
Like a dentist or doctor, a photographer must have an excellent bedside manner. You have to instill confidence in your subject. If you’re having a tooth pulled, you want your dentist to act as if this is a really normal procedure that he’s done thousands of times before. It’s the same with taking a portrait. Talk to your subject about what’s going to happen, ask them questions about how they’re feeling, explain that this should be a collaborative and enjoyable experience. Use positive reinforcement. Some people are natural in front of the camera, but most people aren’t, so allow them time to warm up and realise that getting their picture taken really isn’t as bad as having a tooth pulled. And if all that fails, get them drunk.
Trying to pursue a music photography career, what's one thing that can help set you above other photographers trying to do the same? It is the way you approach publications? Or the way you display your photos? Connections? Obviously you need to have a good portfolio to start with. TJ
First i think you have to define what you expect from a “music photography career”. Shooting live shows? Publicity photos? For a job? For a hobby?
If you want to do it for a job i think you have to adjust your goals as i know very few people in the world who only shoot music and make a living from it. I certainly don’t. I think maybe Kane does? And people like Danny North?
But it’s not like it’s a job. It’s a hustle. Every single day. Even if you’re the best in the business.
So my answer is going to sound clichéd and trite, but i think the main thing that can set you on your way is passion. That means doing it because you love it, not for the money, not for the acclaim, not for the free tickets, not for the facebook likes. Doing it because you couldn’t imagine doing anything else. Because you’re compelled to do it.
That means having a day job and working like a dog all week so you can afford a camera and some decent lenses.
It means shooting after work and on your weekends. It means not waiting to be asked to photograph something, but going out of your way to make photos happen.
If you’re into music then it means paying for tickets to shows and taking in your camera and shooting as much as you can from the crowd.
It means critically editing your pictures each time and sharing them with others. It means wanting to one up yourself every time you take a picture. Be your own worst critic.
It means sharing your passion with the world. Showing your pictures. Talking about your pictures. Publishing your pictures everywhere you can. Hello internet.
Keep your cynicism and negativity in check and treat photography as a joy.
Personally i never intended to be a photographer. It was an accident. I took pictures because i loved to do it. I’d do it if i was paid to or not. I had another career for many years before my photography got to the point where it paid the bills. Some days i wish i didn’t do it as a “career” because it makes it harder to treat as a joy.
So there you go, no easy answers, lots a vague clichéd advice. But it’s what i believe.
He has a tendency to shoot band photos with the lead singer out of focus in the foreground.
Depeche Mode NME cover
G Star Raw ad
No doubt there’s more examples if you keep looking.
You know what they say - if you’re gonna steal, steal from the best. In my case that’s Anton, in his, it’s himself.
Jason lamented on twitter that he didn’t find any inspiring work on Flickr.
While it’s true that much of the early enthusiasm and community spirit has diminished, there’s still many inspiring photographers there who are active and sharing their work.
I did a very quick trawl of recent photos from my Flickr contacts to come up with this list.
They’re producing inspiring work for all manner of different reasons. And there’s so many more to discover on Flickr if you keep looking.
I worked out some time ago that shooting live music photos is no way to make a living. Concert photos are a dime a dozen. Most shows have at least ten accredited photographers shooting them, not to mention the dozens of people photographing from the crowd.
Everyone is getting very similar photos. We all use pretty much the same cameras and lenses. The show we shoot tours around the country with the same staging night after night. Every week hundreds and thousands of adequately professional photos of an artists performance are produced.
There’s lots of supply but where’s the demand?