Taking The Next Step In Your Photography

Besides deciding which camera or lens to buy, the other most often question I get asked is how one can take the next step in their photography career.

To be completely honest with you, it’s no secret why the top dogs are where they are. If you ask them this same question, I’m sure they’ll give you the same answers in some sort of fashion.

1. Intern
…with a professional photographer in the field you aspire to be in. There are a ton of different kinds of photography: sports photography, fashion photography, landscape photography, event photography, etc. One of the biggest reasons why I went to college to get one of those pieces of paper to be hung up on the wall is because your professors get you in touch with different companies and agencies that can further your career. Yeah, you may not make much, but you’ll get your foot in the door and more importantly you’ll learn a ton. The photography field is a bit different – while this job may not require a degree, learning from a mentor is still sage advice.

Want to shoot weddings? Reach out to a local photographer who's work you admire

Want to shoot weddings? Reach out to a local photographer who’s work you admire.

The only caveat being is how you reach out to those said professionals. You can either go the route of telling them how much you want to learn from them (without actually contributing really anything of value to them), or, you can inform them how much you’re willing to do to help their business grow and if they are willing to teach you a little along the way, then that’s icing on the cake. Wether that requires sweeping up, coffee runs, going to local camera shops, whatever – a professional doesn’t want an intern to just come in and learn all of the professional’s photo secrets and not earn it. Big difference. It’s a two way street.

Jack & Lisa engagement shoot. 7 second exposure at dusk.

Jack & Lisa engagement shoot. 7 second exposure at dusk.

2. Take Risks
…even though the rewards may not present themselves right away. What do I mean by that? Well, let me give you an example. Last year the Los Angeles Kings made it to The Stanley Cup finals. Me being not only a huge hockey fan but moreso a LA Kings fan – the photographer side of me immediately kicked in. How could I do a badass photo project revolving around The Kings and their quest for The Stanley Cup?

I finally conjured up an idea of shooting portraits of LA Kings fans in a studio environment – something that I hadn’t seen done in any fanbase of any sport. Even though the project ended up taking 3 long, grueling days, I had many fans that came out to help and donate their time (some of which became my really good friends). The LA Kings went on to win their first Stanley Cup in over 45 years and the project was such a hit that the CH4 news team came out and did a piece on me that aired a day later.


While I didn’t make any money from that project, I did land a few big jobs from some of the fans that I shot in addition to getting the opportunity to also shoot The Stanley Cup. So while I didn’t see any immediate benefits, they did come. Call it fate, call it karma. No matter what I wasn’t afraid to put myself out there. In doing so I was also able to give back to other LA Kings fans and to one Father who had recently lost his son Tanner. I dedicated the project to him, and to my deathbed it’ll remain my most important photo shoot.

I was half submerged in salt water on a sand bar in South Carlsbad to get this shot.

I was half submerged in salt water on a sand bar in South Carlsbad to get this shot.

3. Find Your Own Voice
Any photographer can learn the basics of a DSLR nowadays along with taking a photo, but it’s the photographers who can visualize a shot before it’s taken who end up making it in this industry. Don’t be a button pusher or a so-called photographer who ‘sprays and prays’.

When I was in film school my best teacher was watching films every day. The old stuff, the new stuff. Foreign films. Whatever I could get my hands on that had a good story or had beautiful imagery/cinematography. Believe it or not I get a lot of my ideas from films that help paint me a scene for my photo shoots.

Still frame from a short film I did on skateboarder Kevin Booker. Click here to watch.

Still frame from a short film I did on skateboarder Kevin Booker. Click here to watch.

Along that same note of finding your own voice, don’t forget where your interests lie. For me, as I’ve stated, I love photo and I really love playing hockey. A few years ago I decided to bring my cameras out on the ice (and on the bench) to shoot photos of my friends and I during a pick-up game. With my gear still on, I shot photos from out on the ice. It was definitely a challenge to not only shoot while I was skating but also because I had to make sure I didn’t get hit by the puck or the other players.

I didn’t do it because I was looking to find my voice per say, but it… just happened. The photos I took were extremely different, and taken from a much different perspective than just out beyond the glass of the rink. Next thing I knew I was taking photos for The LA Kings because someone within the organization had seen them, and the rest is history.

 A Motley Crew of ice hockey players skating at Staples Center. Taken while laying on the ice.

Motley Crew playing at Staples Center. Taken while laying on the ice.

4. Learn To Light
Every great photographer or cinematographer will always tell you this, but it’s always true. If you’re not chasing the light, then you’re creating it. You can always improve your lighting skills and that’s what makes a good photographer better.

Off camera lighting. Beautiful bride, amazing sky!

Off camera lighting. Beautiful bride, amazing sky!

5. Shoot As Much As Possible
I’ve always grown up with a camera in my hands. Wherever I went, it went with me. Nowadays I look back on those times and realize how they shaped my education in photography and my passion for it. If you really want to make a living from it, you have to live and breathe it. Always be shooting, not talking about it. Shoot as much as humanely possible. And when you’re all shot out, shoot some more. That’s how you learn.

A lot of my friends and I are in the same boat right now. We’re so immersed and soaked with client gigs for the past months or even years that even we need to get out and shoot more. Yes, that’s right. Even us professionals need to get out and push our ideas on a constant basis! That’s how we grow as photographers and as artists. It’s almost neverending, but there’s something inside of us that pushes us to take that next really good photo.

Cotton Candy Clouds in Yosemite - One of my yearly Winter Wonderland escapades.

Cotton Candy Clouds in Yosemite – One of my yearly Winter Wonderland destinations.

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14 Comments on "Taking The Next Step In Your Photography"

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Love this article! Great ideas for taking the next step!

Andy W
I totally agree with the points that you make. I earned the most from jobs that I did for free. Sounds weird but it really works. I did a lot of Portrait shots for people I new in the beginning without charging. Most of them came back for more and were willing to pay for it. I didn’t intern with any photographers, because it just did not work for me supporting a family. I learned it all the hard way. I think learning photography isn’t too difficult on your own. Just read a lot, look at images of other photographers… Read more »

Love this article! Great ideas for taking the next step

Ginny Newton

Thank you!


wow what a great picture

julian john

Thanks for sharing your wealth of knowledge, some excellent advice and great photos.



Photo Man

Great article and really enjoyed the perspective of your shots – getting in the water and laying on the ice – awesome – thanks for sharing

David Wahlman

Thanks for sharing the article!

DP Upadhyay

Dear Chaz,

A very educating and practical advice. I like this article of yours. It has helped me. Thank you.

Ferdy RK

Thank You Chaz…. well worth article


big thanks to the author. very helpful – Julie Marie McNally

Najwa Abouhassan

Thanks for all the tips!!! Lighting is so important!


Straight to the points. Appreciated it greatly.



Thanks a million for these points. It has helped a lot in providing a sense of what i may need to do next in my pursuit of becoming a photographer

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