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How do I become a successful photographer/filmmaker/creative entrepreneur?

Its the question asked by every aspiring photographer/videographer/creative person: how should they should get started in the business, and what is the key to success? There’s no clear answer, but I was fortunate to be invited on-set to a taping of Chase Jarvis LIVE this week, and the discussions with Chryde from La Blogotheque, and hiphop sensation Macklemore reinforced several principles and philosophies I take to heart. These have proven successful for me over the years, so I thought I’d share a few of the ideas. These can apply to every part of your life too, not just your creativity and business.

1. Call yourself a photographer
When I was first starting out my career in photography, I asked snowboard photographer, Dano Pendygrasse for some advice. He wrote me back a great email full of wisdom. I’ve forgotten (or absorbed) most of what it said, but I’m pretty sure one of the morsels of advice was “call yourself a photographer”. Even if you’re an aspiring photographer working at 7-11 to make ends meet, when you introduce yourself to someone and they ask what you do, tell them you’re a photographer. Whatever it is you want to be, own it!

2. Take advantages of opportunities
This is one of the discussion points from the cjLIVE show yesterday, and it has been a huge key in my life and in the development of Formula Photographic. When a unique opportunity presents itself, grab hold and go along for the ride! The best stories, adventures, and inspiration come from putting yourself in places you wouldn’t normally go. Huge personal and business growth can come from taking an opportunity that others have passed over, or considered unobtainable. Sometimes an opportunity will arise that conflicts with current plans, but if your gut is telling you “this opportunity would be amazing”, and you have that buzzing feeling about it, GO. And, when you accept those amazing opportunities, take full advantage and produce amazing work.

3. Make your own opportunities
This goes along with point #2. You never know unless you ASK. Want to photograph that band you really love and they’re coming to town next week? What’s stopping you from emailing or picking up the phone and contacting their management? If you’re just starting out the answer is often a “no”, but occasionally you’ll get a “yes” and suddenly you have an amazing opportunity in front of you. On a similar note, putting yourself in the right place at the right time can also result in many unexpected chances. Captured a great photo of a team’s racecar on the track? Head over to the pits and show the team your image. They might just be looking for a great image to use in new posters, and you just made the job easy for them. Make things happen for yourself.

4. Keep going until someone says “No”.
This one needs a bit of moral judgement on your part in each different situation, but sometimes if you want something (a better photo location, an interview with someone, etc.) you should just act like you’re supposed to be there, and keep walking. As long as you aren’t hurting anyone or anything, or making life difficult for others, why not try? Walk backstage like you have an interview arranged, or saunter onto pit lane with all your gear on your shoulder and a look of purpose on your face. Be respectful and professional at all times, and be nice to the powers that be. The worst they will do is stop you, and then you’re only back to square one.

5. Live Life.
In his discussion with Chase, Macklemore talked about being a complete person and living life. You can’t create great work by sitting on the couch, feeding your body garbage – both physically and mentally. Great things happen when you get out and actively create something. Interacting with other creative people kick-starts your motivation and inspires you, broadens your perspective, and gives you the mental nourishment you need to create something new and different. So, get out from behind the computer and go to that gallery opening or movie premiere, or just go for a walk with your camera and make images!

If nothing else, trying some of the above ideas might give you a few more fun stories to tell the grandkids! What makes you successful as a creative person and/or business owner? Who do you look up to as a role model? I’d love to hear your stories in the comments below. You can watch the full Chase Jarvis LIVE segment for a limited time below:

Photos from Chase Jarvis LIVE – with Chryde, Macklemore and Ryan Lewis

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3 Awesome Comments So Far

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  1. Fiona
    October 31, 2011 at 5:57 am #

    Thanks for the article – it definitely presented some ideas in a new light. The first idea is one of the most important for me – if you don’t believe in yourself and your abilities then it’s harder to persuade others to. Being a photographer is not (for me anyway) dependent on it being your sole income. That may be what we aspire to but it can be a long road to get there! Which is where ideas 2, 3, 4 and 5 come in pretty handy. It’s going to be a tough journey – might as well make it as creative and fulfilling and productive as you can.

  2. willard d. wells
    November 23, 2011 at 12:03 pm #

    Thanks for the words of incouragement – it give a sense of direction, as im just starting my business and seem to strapped with confusion as to where to start. I will be back in the near future, seeking more answers to my Qs.

  3. Bill
    February 13, 2013 at 5:53 am #

    I enjoyed the read. See you in a couple of weeks.

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