“If I Were Starting Out As A Pro Today”

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Picture© Mark Carrel

Intro by Skip Cohen

This is one of my favorite guest posts from my good buddy Scott Bourne. While it might be out of the archives, the topic couldn’t be more appropriate for so many of you…RIGHT NOW!

When I left Rangefinder/WPPI in 2009 to start my own business, I remember having a long conversation with Sheila. She asked me, “So, what are you afraid of?” There was no hesitation in my answer, “I’m afraid of failing!”

Many of us, me included, spend so much time dealing with our fears, when in reality failure is all part of the process. First, there’s no such thing as failure as long as you take each setback as a speed bump and learn from it. Second, the only time failure truly becomes a reality is when we let it!

I recently read two quotes I want to share with today’s post:


“It is impossible to live without failing at something,
unless you live so cautiously that you might as well not have lived at all,
in which case you have failed by default.”

J.K. Rowling
“Try a thing you haven’t done three times.
Once, to get over the fear of doing it. Twice, to learn how to do it.
And a third time to figure out whether you like it or not.”

Virgil Thomson
Whether you’re new to the business and just starting out or a seasoned pro, it’s a great exercise to take some time and look at your business as of right now. Then, think through everything you’ve learned and consider what you might have done differently.

The best thing about being an artist is your ability to adapt and change at almost any time, but you can’t just talk about it. Nobody ever achieved success on a history of good intentions!


by Scott Bourne

My life as a professional photographer started with a great big bowl of luck. I didn’t plan to be a professional photographer. It just sort of happened. I lived in Indianapolis at the time and I got a chance to photograph the Indy 500. I got lucky and made a photograph that the wire services picked up, and on my first serious shoot, I was published around the world and made $2000 for one picture. That was pretty serious and astounding money in the early 1970s. I spent the next six years photographing motor sports and realized, hey – I guess I’m a professional photographer.

While thinking about ways that I could potentially help emerging professionals, I thought back to those days and wondered – if I knew what I know now – what would I do differently. The answer might surprise you.

But before I tell you what I’d do differently, let me reveal the first thing I’d do as promised in the headline. Ready?

Here’s the first thing I would do:

I would do the first thing.

Nope, it’s not a riddle. It’s sage advice from no less than Mark Twain.

“The secret of getting started is breaking your complex overwhelming tasks into small manageable tasks, and then starting on the first one.”

Since there are many tasks associated with becoming a professional at any craft, why not just pick the first thing and knock it off your list? Pick anything. Do anything. More importantly, stop planning, talking, dreaming, thinking, speculating, worrying, procrastinating, wondering, contemplating and just START DOING. Do something. Do anything. Just do it. If you don’t know what to do first, start with a marketing plan. It’s the most important thing you could do. Think about what you will sell, to who, for how much and using what approach. Start there. Start anywhere, but start.

So many of the people I meet, who want to break into the photography business, are far too wrapped up in the mental side of things. They need to get up off the couch and just go for it.

As for me and what I’d do differently?

I wouldn’t change a thing – and here’s why.

I was too stupid to know I could fail. I was too stupid to even realize that failure was even an option. I was just a boy who had a camera and thought it would be fun to make photographs of race cars and all the trimmings that went with them. I didn’t have any master plan. I ended up after that first big sale living in the back of mechanic’s vans and car haulers, traveling the world – following the race cars and drivers with my camera. I ended up eating with the pit crews, track stewards and occasionally even the drivers, as I scratched out a living making $52.50 a week – after taxes mind you. I did that for six years and looking back at it now – well it looks like it was a bunch of hard work for very little pay. But I don’t remember it as being hard. Back then I thought I was the luckiest kid in the world. Heck I’m still lucky. 🙂

While I didn’t have this in my back pocket then, I do now. It’s a quote from an inspiring book by Julia Cameron - The Artist’s Way:

                                                                       “Leap, and the net will appear.”

I just jumped into professional photography. I took the leap, and everything worked out because I had the passion, the desire, the patience, the drive, the will and the persistence to succeed.

It’s easy to find excuses. Telling yourself you’ll probably fail is the lazy person’s out. It’s harder to actually get out of bed and do SOMETHING. Don’t make excuses. Don’t plan for failure. Just get busy doing that first thing on your list. Then do the next thing. Then do the next thing. Before you know it, you’ll be like me.

Four decades will have passed and people will still be paying you to put a camera in your hand. It’s an amazing, thrilling and rewarding career. No matter how much money you get paid. Your experiences – my experiences along the way – the lives we touch  -  those are priceless.

Now,stop reading this and get busy. Leave a comment if you like telling all of us what that first thing is for you personally – keep it to one sentence. Remember baby steps. You can do it. Skip and I are rooting for you.

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