Lessons Learned: Top Lifestyle Photographers Share What They’d Tell Their Younger Selves

Lessons Learned: Top Lifestyle Photographers Share What They’d Tell Their Younger Selves

On one hand, the nature of a career in photography can be daunting — the freelance life and learning on your own in a rapidly changing industry. But we also know photographers to be generous in offering help and advice. It’s one of the things we love about working with photographers and why we asked this group of lifestyle photographers from The List about some of the career lessons they’ve learned. 

Read what they’d tell their younger selves about being a photographer. Whether you’re a pro or just starting out, there are valuable pieces of wisdom for anyone.

Feature photo by Audra Oden

Jay Watson

Primary location: San Francisco, California
Instagram | Twitter

“San Francisco editorial and lifestyle photographer Jay Watson shoots advertising, entertainment, automotive, apparel, corporate, and action sports assignments. His clients range from Bay Area companies in Silicon Valley to international magazines. Aside from commercial jobs, much of Jay’s personal work is inspired by California culture. Jay is a featured Nikon photographer and has published several tutorials on photography for Lexar.”

What’s something you’d tell your younger self?
1.
Don’t hang on to the same old gear for too long. The photo world is obsessed with new tech and new gear. However it never inspired me, and it was never a catalyst behind my love of making images. For years I was too devoted to the ethos of “making due with what you have.” This forced me to save money, but I was also being lazy. Knowing there is always something new and better, I ignored adding some basic tools that could have helped me visually, and I overlooked modern conveniences that could have made life easier as a photographer. Instead of regretting the gear I did purchase, I regret some of the things that I didn’t purchase sooner. Be smart about saving or reusing versus updating and replacing. It’s a balance.

2. Invest in Apple stock.

3. Be the director. When I started out I wouldn’t charge overtime. I would shoot nearly any idea a client asked because… well they were the client. At one point in my career I noticed the shift from me asking clients what was next on the shot list, to them asking me what are we doing next? This was a turning point in my career. It coincided with bigger jobs, more input, more rewarding assignments, more trust from the people around me, and more fun. I still hustle, but I’m more vocal about saying which ideas are not worth pursuing. Be the fly on the wall to understand your visual options and the personalities involved with the job. Be a director to make things happen and to allow the best ideas to come forward.

4. Don’t put too much faith in the advice from the photo industry. Usually the advice is good, but it may not work for everyone. We are all different as well as our regions, clients, styles, and rates. We are hardly ever in the same exact situations. So take in the advice and store the info in your mental database. Keep the parts that apply to you and ignore the negativity. There are no reps, agents, or art directors with bottled magic. At some point in time we have stop looking to others for the answers, and we have to be responsible for ourselves. If you think you know what to do — it’s time to start doing it.

It’s easy to have regrets, or to think how I could have done things differently. On the other hand, it’s also nice to acknowledge there are a few things that I would do exactly the same way. Cameras, images, and life are always changing. I still have a lot to figure out along the way.

Photo by Jay Watson
Photo by Jay Watson

Bill Miles

Primary location: Woodstock, New York
Instagram

“In shooting lifestyle, I may draw from portraiture or fashion or reportage influences, yet I strive to make every image, video or campaign about a story. Not my story, but yours — I want to trigger an emotion inside you, the viewer, that makes you smile or take pause, or provokes a deeper thought. If I can make you feel something, then I’ve done my job.”

What’s something you’d tell your younger self?
I’d tell my younger business-self to be wary of putting too many eggs in one basket. I’ve been there – and it never lasts. Personnel change, creative direction for a brand changes – no good ride lasts forever, so continue to promote, diversify, seek a steady stream of new clients.

Photo by Bill Miles
Photo by Bill Miles

Nash Co. Photography

Primary location: Portland, Oregon
Instagram | Twitter

“Leah Nash and Christopher Onstott are an award-winning photography and videography duo based in Portland, Oregon. They specialize in commercial, editorial, corporate, education, portrait and travel photography.

Both originally photojournalists, Leah and Christopher take a moment-driven approach, capturing authentic imagery whether in life, at work, or on set. The result is graphic, storytelling photography that is full of color, light and intimacy. Not averse to dancing (her), telling bad jokes (him) or listening intently (both), their goal is to leave their subjects a little bit better than they found them. All the while creating a wealth of images that look and feel spontaneous.”

What’s something you’d tell your younger self?
Remember to have fun and relax…you are living your dream, and you don’t want to miss it. Make pictures that you desperately want to be making, nonstop. Then figure out how to do that differently than it’s been done before. Always have a personal project going. Network. Join professional organizations. Find a mentor. Remember that this is a business and no one owes you anything.

Photo by Nash Co. Photography
Photo by Nash Co. Photography

Audra Oden

Primary location: Houston, Texas
Instagram | Twitter | Facebook

“I am a professional, commercial and editorial photographer based in Houston, Texas specializing in fitness, athletes, and lifestyle photography. I am an exceptional listener, imaginer, and executioner. I listen to my clients, give them my full attention, and figure out the best way to kill it. I live and love photography, and fitness and sports have my heart. I’m blessed to be able to do what I do.”

Photo by Audra Oden
Photo by Audra Oden

Robert Zaleski

Primary location: Southern California
Instagram

“I have 15+ years of experience as a creative director, photo editor, photographer and videographer. I’ve worked as an art director and photographer for small and large ad agencies. I now own and operate a creative studio that produces photo and video content for a wide and growing list of clients.”

Photo by Robert Zaleski
Photo by Robert Zaleski

  

Check out our Instagram for more beautiful shots from these photographers and the blog for more highlights from other members of The List.

   

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