How Do You Become A Successful Photographer?

Visual Stories: A little behind the scenes thoughts, knowledge and stories from the photoshoots ACRONYM does - because sometimes it's pretty damn interesting.

And more importantly, the fact that only YOU can prevent 'bando fires. 



While taking in the sights of what was a perfect Sunday afternoon in Detroit, Dan and I began cruising for different locations to shoot some photos, while I taught him the basic functions of his Canon SLR on Manual Mode. 

I've been working with people here and there as a service to teach photography in different ways when it comes to photographing, but I am very picky about who I teach, and especially where I take them. Dan, I had no concerns with, and after my success working with my friend Ricky, I figured I was fit enough to teach Dan the same principals. 

As we were driving down the freeway toward a specific spot, he asked me a very strange question - one that wasn't super hard to answer, but the question that everyone seems to ask at some point while learning photography. 

How do you become a successful photographer? 

After my first obvious answer of "If I knew, don't you think I'd be there by now?" and laughing maniacally, I began to try to express this answer. And for many people who might be reading this that do photography in the Detroit scene, you'll know this to be true: 

There are two ways to be a "successful photographer": 

1. You have a steady clientele, and you gain money based on the multiple projects you take on. 

2. You are put on by the right people to become elevated into the views of the right people and become "hood famous."

Neither of these things are digs, and neither of these things are wrong, but to elaborate a little bit more on what I mean, read further. 

The Steady Photographer

A photographer that is business savvy can be a successful photographer. This could be freelancing, running out of your house or a studio, taking on portraiture of all types, and working between businesses and being published with financial gain. This means you can take work that you aren't particularly fond of - including stuff like family portraiture, shooting maternity or newborns, senior photos, and weddings. Some photographers, like myself, actually do enjoy these a lot of the time, but sometimes they do take a toll on your creative flow.

A lot of the time when you begin to do projects like these, you feel a little drained, and you feel like you're shooting the same products over and over again. Especially when family portrait season is concerned, it's very hard to not fall into a generic pattern. Then, when I do things I actually like to do - more creative projects, thought out projects which consider fashion, design, cosplay, or Detroit-esque ideas, that's where I feel like I thrive the most. 

Now - let me preface this by saying that I am still not what I consider to be a "professional." People yell at me for saying this all the time, but I always find that I am still learning. Even though I photograph people for money, I do take this job very seriously, and I attempt to give everyone my most creative work when I can. But when it comes to what people consider a "professional photographer," you know, the one with all the gear and tech they need, all the tools they need at the drop of a hat, and all the skill set they believe they need, that is what I consider to fall into that category. I could be wrong, but that's what I see. 

The "Hood Famous" Photographer

Before I start this paragraph, I want to make sure I'm loud and clear when I say "I AM NOT PUTTING ANYONE ON BLAST." Everyone tends to be very sensitive around here. 

There are photographers in major markets like mine, of Detroit, as well as other places, I'm sure, that are well known by name, and do produce great work. I can think of about five off the top of my head (mostly males) that are up in the ranks of well-known photographers. And one of the major things that got them there, other than their work, is that they were put on by someone or a brand of note. Some have their in's with concerts, some have their in's with clothing lines. And some just caught a stream of viral luck. That being said, this does not devalue their work in the slightest. Anyone who I can think of, despite their character (some can be assholes), for the most part, everyone who is out there deserves to be out there. They create major works, photograph celebrities, bands, and more, and they worked hard to get there, but it took someone SEEING them to become who they are today. And if the right person had not "put them on," they'd be like the rest of us. 

Other Classifications Of Photographers

We're not Pokemon by any means, but there are a few of us out here that have different set ups: 

The one who does it for the art:
They just like shooting for fun. It's a passion, it's not a job. 

The one who bought their Instagram Followers: 
They shoot mediocre stuff, and have a massive, enforcer classification following, and believe they are a celebrity. 

The ones who obsess over when to post and how to post it: 
The slaves to the algorithm, I like to call them. 

The ones on the "come up":
Successful people who continue to create art and have it as a business, but if put on by the right people, could potentially be "hood famous," or actually famous in the future. 

It's hard to know where everyone stands, but I'm sure if you are a photographer in the Detroit Art Scene, or are friends with someone who is, chances are, some names came to mind with all the classifications. 

In Reality... 

There is no general formula in becoming a well-known photographer in your area - or a "famous photographer." Everyone has a different story, and everyone has different levels of desire on where they want to rank. Many stress over trying to "make it," but many of them don't know where they are trying to make it. It also becomes a matter of finding out that while you elevate, and when you start to leave others behind in your successes, your support seems to thin in jealousy. Or that's at least how the Detroit Scene works.

The bottom line is this: If you are a photographer, figure out WHAT you are trying to accomplish, WHERE you want to be in the next five years, and WHO you want to represent. And among other things - don't let other people's successes dampen yours in your mind. With talent, practice, and desire to learn, as well as being well rounded, you will conquer the goals you put in mind. 

And now, for the Fire Safety Lesson, brought to you by Amy and Dan

Hazards: Dan's pants caught fire, and were smoking for a good couple minutes, as well as Dan inhaling so much smoke from the bomb that he was hacking for the next half hour. (Photo: ACRONYM)

Hazards: Dan's pants caught fire, and were smoking for a good couple minutes, as well as Dan inhaling so much smoke from the bomb that he was hacking for the next half hour. (Photo: ACRONYM)

Right up there with playing on train tracks is playing with fire. And whether you're a fire spinner, or you like playing with smoke bombs, there's always room for error, and you should be as cautious as possible when performing some of these acts. Especially when fireworks are involved. 

While conducting an impromptu photoshoot, I chose to instruct Dan to move the smoke bomb closer, as our first photo attempt with a smoke bomb generated smoke blowing the opposite direction of where we wanted it. Being a daredevil himself, he agreed to move it closer, not thinking of what could happen. 

Once we began shooting, I got 2 to 3 clicks in - which some of you know how fast I shoot, and the smoke bomb stick exploded, catching Dan's pants on fire, as well as breaking off an ember onto the floor. We were able to extinguish the bomb, but Dan's pants caught fire in an... shall we say, an intimate area, AKA his balls. 


Luckily, everything went smoothly, and it became very funny as a whole, but it could have gone a lot worse if we had caught anything on fire (other than Dan), and if the fire would have been worse, Dan could have been severely injured. Lesson learned - but what a great story. At least the photos turned out sick. 



Our previous shots that did not result in any injuries also turned out great. Just be aware that if you use Smoke Bombs or Fireworks in any shoot, that you should consider what your action plan will be in the event that something goes wrong.