Want To Build a Career in Photography? Stop Saying No!


I’ve learned so much in the past ten years—and even more in the past year. Ever since we set off on this trip around the world, I’m learning new things. The easy way, but also the hard way. When you try to start a career in photography and be your own boss, you need to think differently. It’s not just about executing orders and waiting for something to do. You have to be pro-active and make things happen yourself… all the time.

Munnar, India.

Munnar, India.

A career in photography—where to start

Making photos is just the tip of the iceberg. Underneath surface is marketing, getting exposure, making money with your photos—and sure, I had a budget when I left on this journey but eventually it’s going to run out, so I have to constantly be on the lookout for new opportunities to make money. Occasionally, I get an e-mail with a proposal to publish my work or someone who wants to use my services. Before I set off on this trip, I was always sceptic about any proposal. Is it legit? Is it right for me and my work? Will it help me to get where I want to be?

Well, that’s over. I mean, I don’t accept just any offer or proposal but where I said “no” to 75% in the past, I say “yes” now. “Let’s give it a try!” Even if it makes me nervous or if I’m not sure yet how to handle it. And you know what?, saying ‘yes’ is one of the best things you can do to build a photography career. Every time you say ‘yes’, you make a step in the right direction, even in those occasions when it was the wrong decision.

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You get exposed to new experiences and often, you have to force yourself to learn new things about photography but also the marketing and business side of being a photographer. This is what you need if you want to start a career in photography—learn as much as you possibly can!

Varanasi, India.

Varanasi, India.

Reach out and get stuff done

Besides saying ‘yes’, you also need to create opportunities to say ‘yes’ to. No one is going to make you a proposition or ask you for a photography gig if they don’t know you exist. Let the world wide web know that you’re eager to build your career in photography. I used to wait for mails to arrive in my inbox but that’s just wrong—especially when you’re starting out. You have to connect with people and contact them. Don’t just wait and hope for them to contact you.

And it’s a lot of work, that’s for sure. I’m sending out tons of e-mails just to get one or two responses that might get me something. But don’t spam people, no, send genuine messages and e-mails asking for information or just to introduce yourself. Your name will start to come up more and more and when that happens, surprise e-mails will arrive in your mailbox. Those e-mails, from people who’ve heard about you or saw your work somewhere, really give you a motivational boost. But be ready for a lot of rejection when you start a career in photography.

The days when photographers just had to apply for a job on a newspaper are over. If you want to start a career in photography, you need to do more than just taking photos. The internet has given us a ton of possibilities and opportunities and it’s up to you to grab them. You need to become a modern photographer if you want to start a career in a world where almost everyone has a camera.

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A modern photography career

Being a modern photographer means being creative—and being creative means more ways to start a career in photography. When I say you have to start saying ‘yes’ more often, I also mean saying ‘yes’ to things that are not just about taking photos. What if they ask you to speak at an event?

My first reaction would be: “Ehrm, no thanks!” But that’s what those other hundreds of other photographers say. You’re different, right?! You’re going to be the one that says ‘yes’ and you're going to connect with other people and get your name out there. It doesn’t matter how scary it is. I’ve been asked only once to speak at a photography event and I really had to force myself to say ‘yes’.

Pake, Laos.

Pake, Laos.

And sure, at first it won’t be easy. It surely wasn’t for me, but next time they ask me, I’ll do it again. Think about it. You can make a big difference by just saying “yes” to something most people say “no” to. Next time, when your first reaction is ‘no’, hold it in and try to say ‘yes’. Think of the possibilities. Surprising things might happen and it’s always a positive step for your photography career.

It’s in people’s nature to be scared of change and new things. Only the few brave ones get what they want in life by saying “yes”. Don’t be one of the no-sayers if you want to start a career in photography.

I’m realizing now that I’m sounding a lot like the Jim Carrey movie “Yes, Man” but it doesn’t matter. I really believe there’s truth in that movie. Most of the time, the people who say “yes” will achieve more than the people who say “no”. Its all about taking action and taking your life in your own hands.

That turned out to be quite the motivational speech. Well, let me know what you think. Are you trying to build a career in photography? Do you agree? (You already know what the answer should be, right… ;-)


P.S. If you want to ask me some questions about my work directly, check out my Patreon page where I share behind-the-scenes information about my work. I’d also love to see your photos!