How to become a professional photographer?

I’ve been following a few youtube channels on photography, and I realized that one of the question that’s being asked frequently by the audience to the youtuber is “how to become a pro-photographer”. Apparently, a lot of people would like to become “pro” and make photography as a living.

Perhaps it’s all the good things, good life, travelling to remote places, photographing sexy babes sessions and many other things that shared online that makes people think that life as a pro-photog is so great. Well, to a certain extent, some photographers are really living a great life, while most would probably ended up just like any other office worker who do their job day in day out.

The first thing that people failed to realized is perhaps not all pro-photog can live up a life like that, and you never know how much effort was put in by them in order to reach there. You are only seeing all the good things that they shared on social media, but you’ll never know all the hardships behind. To go a step further, some of the things shared online may not even be true, but it’s easy for people to just believe in what they saw.

Well, I’m not saying that you shouldn’t reference these pro-photogs before deciding on whether photography is something you want to pursue. It’s always good to start looking into the background of those photographers that you admire and aspire, see how they move up their career and explore all the possibilities in order to ensure you made a right decision.

There are so much more than just “taking good pictures” in order to become a pro-photog, that’s another aspect where most people failed to see. Besides taking good pictures, you’ll need other skills such as accounting, public relation, marketing, active on social media, networking… the list goes on. Technically you are running a company, so it’s expected that you need to perform all the tasks that are required for a company to run.

A lot of times I can see those youtubers struggled to provide their audience an answer. And I can really understand why. Perhaps people nowadays are only interested in searching for shortcut to success and fame, but the brutal truth is, there’s so much more than that and there was never any shortcut. Some might get lucky and get there faster than the rest, but to stay there and be there requires effort too.

Hopefully people will realize this, or perhaps they should phrase their question better by asking specific things like how to get into some press agencies and what kind of portfolio they are looking for, or how to manage your own photography business and etc. in which I believe will reward them with more helpful insight. Till then.

Sebastiao Salgado

“Do you have a photographer that you look up to?”

This is a question I get asked often. Among my photography friends, those who like to use flash and strobe will probably look up to Joe McNally, yes, he is indeed a master in lighting. Those who like to shoot street photography will probably look up to those famous names such as Henri Cartier-Bresson, Robert Frank, Daido Moriyama and so on, those landscape fanatic will probably name Ansel Adam as their source of inspiration.

For long I had always answer this question by saying this: “I don’t look up to any particular photographer. I only look at the images. If it’s a nice image, it’s a nice image and I will like it, regardless who the photographer is.” Until today, I will still give this answer once the question is posted. However, I do want to mention a photographer who really caught my attention, and if you really want me to pick someone that I wanted to look up to, it’s going to be him, and he is Sebastiao Salgado.

Born in Brazil, Salgado graduated as economist and worked in London for International Coffee Organization in 1971. After trying out his wife’s camera, his life changed thereafter. Salgado started to take photographs seriously while in Africa on various economic missions affiliated with the World Bank. He then decided to stop his job and started to become a photographer.

The photographs gave me 10 times more pleasure than writing economic reports.

Initially he thought he will not make it as a photographer, but soon he realized that to become a good photographer, it’s more than just technique and your equipment. The amazing cameras and equipment are just one part of the equation, he learned that his background and studies turned out to be the most important resource to understand the societies that he was photographing. From there on, he always advise avid photographer that technique is only one part of photography, one should go back to university, study sociology, anthropology, history, economics and geography in order to better understand the society that you were part of.

In documentary photography and reportage, you must link your
life with your pictures. You are not just doing it so you can take pretty pictures.

Perhaps this is the reason why I was attracted by his pictures and feel the connection with them. His works are not “just another pretty picture” that earn him a like on social media. We are being fed with so many pictures everyday, there are good ones among them, but how many pictures really resonate and remembered by you?

Salgado has worked with a few agencies throughout his career, including Magnum. He earned a lot of reputation as a master in black & white photographer during this time, a medium that he believes presents fewer distractions for the viewer than colour. He has published a few books, the one that really caught my eyes are the series titled “Workers” and “Genesis”.

I saw some amazing pictures from some good photographers during my time with the agencies. But some had nothing more to offer than a few great pictures, as they didn’t really have an understanding of the society in which they lived.

Sebastiao Salgado will probably be the one photographer that I will look up to, as his pictures are beyond just a “pretty picture”. For me, my pictures may not carry such weight, they may not get much likes either, but I would certainly try to shoot pictures that will be remembered by my audience. There’re so much to learn, and I will keep it up and continue trying. Till then.