Making Photography Your Career

In a world where photographs are everywhere, displayed largely via web pages and small screens, the traditional career tracks for professional photographers have fallen by the wayside. So what do you have to do to make photography your livelihood in today’s world? I recently moderated a lively discussion on this topic with two professional photographers based in Portland, Oregon: Hudson Henry and Dan Hawk. In this short, thirty-minute video, we talk about how each photographer turned their passion for photography into a career, how to keep your outlook fresh, and the role of diversification in building a successful business. Click the link below to watch.

Managing your photo library: pruning old growth

At the end of October, 2019, my photo library contained approximately 60,000 images, mostly taken over the past 20 years. (Of those, nearly 40% are from the past five years.) Comparing the size of my library with those of friends of mine, I’m about average, but still, 60,000 is a big number, and managing that many photos can be a bit intimidating. I once topped out at 80,000 photos, but about six years ago I came up with an exercise — pruning a single year’s worth of photos — that has helped me get my library better organized and more efficient. As a photo-management tool, I felt it was worth sharing here.

The editing conundrum

I tend to do the majority of my editing — culling, sorting and post-processing — on my most recent photos. For example, out of a shoot where I end up with 600-800 images, I’ll quickly get that to upwards of 50 selects, and I will then spend most of my time working on those photos. The rest soon get lost into the archives. It’s not that they’re unimportant, but they aren’t compelling to me at the moment, and as such, they end up disappearing. As time goes on, and I take more photos, it becomes harder to find key photos from the past (at least those non-portfolio photos), or to even know what I might have hidden that is of some value.

Read more »

PDF, Kindle and epub versions of CDP online

You can now purchase the electronic edition of Complete Digital Photography in PDF, ePub (Apple, some e-readers), Kindle azw3, and Mobipocket versions. When you buy the ebook in our store — currently on sale for $25 — we include download links for all four book formats. Choose the version that applies to your desired device, and follow that device’s guidelines for installing the book.

Further information on the file types is listed below.

  • PDF is designed for use with Windows and Mac computers, and can be opened with most PDF reader applications, including the free Preview app (macOS), and Adobe Reader (Windows, macOS). The PDF can be printed directly from most of those apps.
  • ePub can be read by many ebook readers, including Apple Books (macOS and iOS), Calibre, Sigil, and others.
  • azw3 is the format used on most Kindles made after 2011. It offers superior typographic options, better graphics handling and more. If you’re sure that you have a recent Kindle, try the azw3 file first — it looks a lot better than the Mobi format. (Note that azw3 files cannot be viewed in the Kindle app on iOS devices; you’ll need to use Mobi, or download the ePub version for the Apple Books app.)
  • Mobipocket is the original Kindle format; this version should be viewable on all third-generation Kindles and above. Use this if you have an older Kindle, or want to use the Kindle app on iOS.

One final (and important) note: Please respect the work and the time that we’ve put into Complete Digital Photography by not sharing these files. These files are intended solely as a study aid and reference; we have priced the book (which has more than 400 pages of content!) so that it is affordable for most people.

Photo Workshop in Cuba, April 4-9, 2020

Join Hudson Henry and me on a special, six-day photo workshop in Cuba, April 4-9, 2020. It promises to be a magical photographic and cultural experience:

Cuba is one of the more exciting, rich photographic locations I’ve been to in a long time. Wonderful people, great landscapes and cityscapes, gorgeous beaches, music and good food abound. We’re going to have a ton of fun on this all-inclusive workshop to explore Cuba and its culture. Our group will be traveling on pre-arranged ‘help the Cuban people’ visas and we will meet, photograph and interact with artists and local craftspeople.

We will ride in vintage cars through Old Havana, and see how cigars are made…and we’ll meet with Cuban artists — including a dinner with local photographers.…This trip is not just a photo workshop; it will also be a cultural exchange, and I think you’re going to be amazed at how special the experience is.

This workshop is priced at $4,495, and is all-inclusive; during the first part of the trip, we will stay in a beautiful, private residence in Old Havana, then we will move to a hotel with spectacular dawn and sunset views in the limestone-rich agricultural valley of Vinales. Come join us on this special, once-in-a-lifetime workshop.

Additional 2020 workshops: Kauai, Portland, Yellowstone, Tetons and Moab

Hudson is also leading a workshop to Kauai in late February, complete with an open-door helicopter tour; there are a few spots left, but they will go quickly. He will be assisted in this workshop by his good friend (and amazing photographer in his own right) David Archer.

I will be helping Hudson run a number of other workshops in 2020, including Portland (July 31 to August 3), Yellowstone National Park (Oct. 2-6), Grand Tetons National Park (Oct. 9-13), and Moab (Oct. 16-21). Signups for the latter three workshops aren’t open yet, but you can add your name to the priority waitlist on each workshop page, which will get you the first shot to sign up.

You can find information on all of Hudson’s workshops at hudsonhenry.com.

Magnum/Aperture Square Print sale

This year’s Magnum Photos and Aperture Square Print Sale, entitled Hidden, is underway right now. For $100, you can get a 6×6-inch museum-quality print from one of 120 modern and contemporary photographers, including Elliott Erwitt, Elinor Carucci, Joel Meyerowitz, Todd Hido and many more. Most of the photos offered are signed by the photographer; others—from folks like Eve Arnold, Robert Capa and Mary Ellen Mark—are authorized by the photographers’ estate, and are stamped as such.

The Autumn 2019 Magnum Square Print Sale in Partnership with Aperture brings together a selection of over 120 images by international photographic artists, exploring the idea of what the photographer sees that is otherwise hidden.

This yearly event is always a fun one, and it’s a great way to get a high-quality print from well-known photographers for a reasonable amount of money. Even if you don’t buy a print, it’s worth looking through the website; you might find a new photographer whose work inspires you.

The sale ends Friday, November 1, at midnight EST.

 

How to get better at photography

(This is an excerpt from the introduction to the companion exercise book for the 9th edition of Complete Digital Photography. It can be downloaded free from the CDP 9 support page on the website.) 

Throughout your life you have probably been told to practice one thing or another—musical instruments, sports, handwriting, whatever. If you’re like me, you were never thrilled with the idea of practicing, and though you understood that the exhortation to practice was true and important, you also didn’t really believe it. Maybe you clung to some of the popular cultural myths that we share—the myth of the “natural” athlete or the “gifted” musician—and so skipped practicing with the hope that you would turn out to be one of those natural, gifted individuals. The truth is that, while there are people that start with a skill level above the normal baseline, those people only achieve greatness because of their extreme dedication to practicing. The same is true with photography.

It can be difficult to understand how important practice is to the discipline of photography because the camera takes care of so much of the craftsmanship of making an image. There is, of course, plenty of theory to understand, as well as technical considerations to weigh when making a photo, and learning those things takes practice. What can be less obvious is that visualizing and seeing as a photographer also requires practice. The good news is that the process of seeing is something that you can learn and improve at.

Because we are constantly looking at things during the normal course of being alive, we don’t always think of “seeing” as a skill that can be learned, but I can offer two proofs that your ability to see changes with practice:

First, in addition to seeing, most of us are also constantly hearing things. If you’ve ever learned to play a musical instrument then you know that, through practice, you can train your ear to hear pitch, intervals and rhythm. Similarly, your eyes can be trained to recognize form, light, and many compositional ideas. 

The second proof is something that might sound familiar: you spend an afternoon wandering about with your camera, searching for things to shoot, only to end up frustrated because you feel like you’re repeating yourself. All of the compositions you come up with are similar to other compositions you’ve made before, and all of the subject matter that you notice is similar to other things you frequently photograph. While this kind of photographic rut can be very frustrating, it’s also evidence that seeing is a skill that can be learned, because what has led you to this rut is repetition, and while feeling like you’re in a rut can be demoralizing, it’s also a valuable step toward developing something that all photographers need.

More about how to build a photograph

In Chapter 9 of Complete Digital Photography I wrote about how an aesthetic for light is critical to the photographic process and how all photographs begin with an impulse, sometimes slight, which the photographer must tune into and explore to make the best photo. No matter how you do it, occasionally, you will “solve” a photograph in a very satisfying, successful way. Perhaps that compositional solution also requires specific exposure ideas—dropping shadows into black, for example, or depending on shallow depth of field for subject isolation. When you find those satisfying solutions you will remember them and, because they were successful, you will probably find yourself deploying the same solutions in other situations.

Read more »

Photo Practice: Creating a Project

There are a number of psychological battles that you face as a photographer (or anyone pursuing a creative endeavor). If you’re like most people, then you’ll likely find yourself fighting, at one time or another, doubt as to whether you’re a good photographer, or whether a particular photo is clichéd or obvious, or whether there was a better shot to be had. Over the last few years, one of the annoying questions I’ve found myself facing while shooting is “why am I taking this photo?”

For years, I was quite content to simply wander about, looking for good light or interesting subject matter. When people asked me what I like to shoot, I was fine with answering “interesting light” because that was, for the most part, all that guided my shooting. But then something started to change. I began to question the point of an image that was simply a well-crafted photograph. I found myself looking through the camera, building a shot, and then thinking “so what?”

From the photographer Keith Carter I learned that one answer to that question is “Because why not?” which is a pretty good answer, and it can sometimes get me to take the shot anyway, in spite of any existential photo dilemma. But there’s another way to tend to this question, if you’re finding yourself regularly facing it, and that is to engage yourself in a photographic project of some kind.

In Chapter 9 of Complete Digital Photography I offer the suggestion of simple photo projects, and the ideas there are good starting points as well as good exercises to take on, even if you’re not finding yourself plagued by questions of whether stand-alone photos are worth shooting. The idea of a project can be intimidating because it sounds so portentous, but a project does not have to be something of National Geographic caliber. You don’t have to go make first contact with a rainforest tribe, or pursue an endangered species or stumble onto a lost civilization to have a worthwhile project. A project can start with anything that you find interesting or compelling. Read more »

Fall Moab workshop with Hudson Henry

canyonlands sunset

I’ll be helping my good friend and ace landscape/adventurer photographer Hudson Henry in late September for a five-day workshop in scenic Moab, Utah.

Moab is one of the most spectacular places on the planet, home to the magnificent Arches and Canyonlands national parks—and Utah’s own Dead Horse Point—and centered around a delightful small town with tons of charm and great food.

It’s hard to beat the sweeping vistas, magnificent rock formations and rivers in Moab, and this workshop will exercise your photographic passion in this beautiful place. As Hudson notes:

There’s no place like Moab, Utah. This location has something for every photographic style and taste. In this small (10 person) workshop we’ll split time between exploring this epic location and honing your photographic skills and creative vision through classroom training, shooting, editing and critiques.

Workshops are a fantastic way to immerse yourself in all types of landscape photography, and Hudson is one of the most amazing guides you’ll ever encounter. Hudson has a unique understanding of the landscape as subject and place, and Moab is one of his favorite locations (as it is mine), so come along with us to celebrate this special land.

I have helped Hudson on workshops to the Oregon Coast, Death Valley, and the Palouse, and I can guarantee that you will find yourself exhausted, energized and exhilarated at the end of one of his workshops. (I learn something new every time I tag along on one.) You won’t look through the viewfinder the same way ever again, nor will you want to.

The Moab workshop, which goes from September 27 to October 1, is the only one of Hudson’s remaining 2019 workshops with spaces available, so, if you’re thinking about diving in, sign up today!

Do You Really Need New Gear?

If you’ve been with us for a while, you’ll know that we stay away from the rough-and-tumble world of “Which camera should I buy?” While we’re happy to talk about the plusses and minuses of specific cameras with people, it’s not our focus on the website. We strongly believe that it’s not the camera that makes you a better photographer—it’s you.

In that vein, I recorded a short video with Hudson Henry last week, as part of his Approaching the Scene series on YouTube. We had a lively—and short—conversation on the topic, focusing on the things you can do to develop your photographic vision that don’t involve buying new gear. Along the way, we talk about understanding the gear that you have, knowing the principles of composition and exposure in the field, and looking at other photographers’ work as a way to inform your your own work.

Below are links to the CDP articles referred to in the video:

Taking Better Pictures Doesn’t Mean a New Camera
Overviews of Photographic History

If you’re interested in Hudson’s Moab workshop this fall, you can find more information on his Workshops page. I’ll be helping him in the field on that one.

And, if you have comments or questions on this topic (or anything else), we would love to hear from you. Drop us a line via our Contact Us page.