Lately, I’ve noticed a trend of stories popping up about a lucky break from a friend, a relative, a previous connection, and those lucky breaks launching a career. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with that (I am kind of jealous!), but I also notice how people keep asking for a story of how work and perseverance paid off instead. As a shy introvert with cheap gear, I thought my story might be something worth sharing with other Photography Life readers – I’ve relied entirely on my work to get where I am today.
I consider myself successful. I’m a concert photographer that’s shot my favorite musicians, multiple times, all with my own outlet I created back in high school (I’m a college sophomore now). If you consider cash to be how you measure success, I’m a failure. Shooting for my own outlet doesn’t pay for … anything. But in terms of being able to do what I love, I’m successful. As a former musician, and someone that lives and breaths music, this is success. I get to see rock stars up close, capturing the moments that makes them famous. It’s awesome.
I started with no connections and no idea of how to approach this venture. Being in a high school band in a small mountain town opened zero doors. So I relied heavily on Social Media and great pictures; social media to contact bands, and great pictures to prove myself and get contacts. As I mentioned, I’m a shy introvert, so I preferred to shoot and send over the images. That’s horrible networking, I know, but I just thought if I was good enough, it wouldn’t matter in the end. And it worked.
After my first show, I knew I wanted to pursue this. I had a Canon T2i and a nifty fifty lens, but I didn’t care. I started my own outlet, Bluestribute.net, to give me an excuse to shoot local bands. And I did all of this using online networking and good enough pictures (“good enough” compared to what I know I can take now). I did this for a while, always shooting a band 2-3 times before actually approaching them, telling them I was the guy taking those “cool, sick” photos. I was content hiding behind a computer: it was easy and I still got to go take pictures.
Doing any sort of networking this way makes it a slow process, and I knew that. But it was a comfortable way for me to do my business, and that’s what mattered. It did take a while of shooting local bands, multiple times, until I got local connections, but it was worth it. I got lots of practice in very harsh conditions, and I got lots of confidence in my abilities.
Now, I use my website to shoot and interview some of the biggest bands in rock and metal, from Papa Roach to Rob Zombie. I used only my portfolio to land a spot shooting concerts for my local radio stations, from Journey to Skrillex to Cage The Elephant. My website, and photography, didn’t grow because I shared it; in fact, it grew because other people shared it; other people impressed with the product it was delivering. As someone that prefers to do things quickly, cleanly, and anonymously, I knew my strength had to be in quality photos. At 19, I’ve been shooting for around a year or two, always using my trusty Canon T2i. I can’t boost my ISO to compensate for low lighting, my best lens is a worn Sigma 17-70, yet use this gear to capture all my work. And I love it.
If someone using an outdated camera and a hundred dollar lens could become successful based solely on their work, there’s no excuse to not try. Being a photographer that’s always willing to learn and improve will come with success eventually, one way or another.
P.S. Sharif previously wrote a great piece called “Which to Upgrade? Gear or Skill?“, which I highly recommend to read. It touches on the same topic and highlights the importance of developing your skill as a photographer, rather than concentrating on buying more gear.
This guest post has been contributed by Curt Dennis. Been awarded the prestigious E-Days Scholarship, Curt currently studies mechanical engineering at the Colorado School of Mines. Curt began his journey by trying to make it as a musician, but after realizing that being on stage playing wasn’t going to work, he went towards being on stage filming instead. Using his passion for cinema and photography to capture perfect moments, he eventually used his learned skills to move into other fields of photography, including portrait photography, action sports, advertising and more. You can find more of his work at his website and his Facebook page.