Become the Photographer You Want to Be: My Story - Part 1


It seems like a lot of people want to become a travel photographer or any type of photographer for that matter. There’s one important mistake that most people make when they want something in life: Being all over the place and not focusing.

It’s a problem I still have sometimes. Lots of photographers have the same issue: Not focusing their photography. I’m trying hard and I think I’m getting there but it took me a long time to find out...

One of my earliest travel photography shots. Thailand, 2007.

One of my earliest travel photography shots. Thailand, 2007.

Here’s the story of how long it took to me focus my photography and become a the photographer I wanted to be—To really find out what I wanted in life and what stories I wanted to tell with my photos.

Let’s study photography, shall we?

Let’s go back around fifteen years. I had no clue I wanted to become a travel photographer or find anything close to a job in the field of photography. I had just graduated as a Bachelor in Computer Science. Yep, that’s right, computer science! What the hell was I thinking? A career in photography wasn’t anywhere close. How did that happen, you ask?

I liked websites and computers so I thought: “Why not?”. Well, big mistake. By the end of those four years of computer science, I was sick and tired of it. I just managed to get my degree so that it wasn’t a complete waste of time but in no way I wanted to sit behind a desk programming websites all day.

In a way, I studied something for four years to learn what I absolutely didn’t want in life. Until then, I hadn’t even touched a camera apart from the odd snapshots at family get-togethers. Nothing, no interest at all. Until… a friend of mine graduated from photography college.

It never occurred to me until then but somehow I thought: “I like movies, I like images and visual stuff. That seems really interesting… Let’s become a photographer!” Crazy, right?

A few days before my first photography class, I got a camera. This is the first photo I ever made. 2005.

A few days before my first photography class, I got a camera. This is the first photo I ever made. 2005.

My mom and dad said: “OK, go for it.” And there I was, registering to study photography in Antwerp. Never touched a decent camera in my life. Photography was getting popular because of the digitalization and student amounts had doubled compared to the year before. It literally was a step in the dark but boy, did I like it. I was one tiny step closer to becoming a freelance travel photographer.

Three years later, I graduated top of the class and at that point I was really into photography. Ready to start looking for photography jobs, start my career and become a real photographer.

The problem? I liked all kinds of photography. Publicity, documentary, street photography, photojournalism, travel photography… I was all over the place. I knew photography was what I wanted to do but the problem now was: What kind of photography?

LIFE LESSON 1: Still don’t know what you want to do in your life? Don’t worry, lots of people don’t and there’s no shame in finding out by making mistakes. I’m still not sure what the future will bring for me as a photographer but I know I’ll decide what happens next.

Trying all genres of photography

There I was again, graduated from college as a photographer in 2009. Working in the field of computer science was officially out of the question. Photography was what I wanted. I wanted to become a photographer and get tons of freelance photography jobs.

Another early travel photo. Antelope Canyon, USA.

Another early travel photo. Antelope Canyon, USA.

I decided to look for a job that had any form of photography involved because photography jobs were scarce. I ended up in a wholesale company for pet products. My task? Product photography, publicity and… graphic design. I didn’t know anything about graphic design. I told the guy who was interviewing me that I’m a quick learner and he said: “OK, you start tomorrow!” Wait, what!?

The next day, I started figuring out what graphic design was all about. On the side, I photographed products and made photos for publicity. I learned a shitload of new things and after a few years, graphic design was no problem. Hey, everything I learned in that company, I used to set up this website!

Life Lesson 2: If you have an opportunity to learn other useful skill besides photography, take it! The more you know, the more you can take advantage of new skills in the future.

There was another problem, though. I started to forget about what I really wanted. In a way, I had a photography job but it was missing something: Photography. I mean, the kind of photography I like.

Eventually, photography became just a small part of my job description and while it felt OK in the beginning, it started to eat me after a while. I needed photography in my life again. And not taking photos of products. I was bored to death with that.

A parking lot scene somewhere on the way to work back in 2012.

A parking lot scene somewhere on the way to work back in 2012.

So, I needed to make a change, fast. I needed to focus on photography again. I felt like taking photos of other things other than pet products. This is when I decided to take my camera every day to photograph what I saw on the way to work.

LIFE LESSON 3: Don’t forget your dreams. Get any job to pay the bills if you have to but never forget what you really want to do. Always allow time to do what you really want to do. Forgetting this will inevitably make you unhappy.

Related read • Exploring Will Inspire You Not Only to Take Better Photos

Take more photos to become a better photographer

I started to take photos every day. No pressure, no goal. I just wanted to take photos and the more I took, the more it became clear that I needed to do everything I could to become the photographer I wanted to be. I didn’t just improve my photography but I also started to focus on what I really wanted in life.

Taking as many photos as you can is one of the most important tips I can give you if you want to improve your skills. It’s difficult to stand out as a photographer today so you have to work hard.

Do you want to become a photographer?
Be a photographer every minute of the day.

I started to focus on photography in every way. I took my camera everywhere. I browsed the internet looking for the work of other photographers. New photographers and photographers with a long career. I spent weeks and months looking at photography. I was determined to find out what path I wanted to follow.

Another shot from SMALL WORLD.

Another shot from SMALL WORLD.

I set up a small blog with the photos I took on the way to work everyday and I called it ‘SMALL WORLD’.

One day, I received an e-mail and that changed everything. I think it was three years after I started working as a graphic designer/photographer in the pet product company.

I’ll tell you all about it in Part 2…

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