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If I Were Just Going Pro Today – Here's The First Thing I'd Do

with 35 comments

Copyright Bambi Cantrell

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 knew 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.

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 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. More than three 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 – 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.

This post sponsored by WHCC – White House Custom Colour – Get Five Free 8×10 Prints From WHCC


Written by scottbourne

May 28, 2010 at 7:07 am

Posted in Business

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35 Responses

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  1. Very well said Scott!

    Celebrate Life and Capture It!
    Patty Reiser

    Patty Reiser

    May 28, 2010 at 7:40 am

  2. Have fun experimenting a lot with my camera. No pressure, no thinking what others might think of my photography, just feeling free with it in my hands.

    Veronica Salazar

    May 28, 2010 at 7:47 am

  3. I’m going to stop not charging people and set a rate, even it’s low (for now). Great post Scott!

    James Riley

    May 28, 2010 at 7:48 am

  4. Scott – thank you so much for taking time to write this. It seems that many take for granted all you do to help photographers. I want to thank you here and let you know that at least one of us – me – appreciates your candor and direct approach. It’s amazing that you just went for your career the way you did and it’s a sign to me that I need to do the same. Thanks again.

    Tom Tomlinton

    May 28, 2010 at 7:59 am

  5. I’m going to register my business today making it the official start of a new beginning.


    May 28, 2010 at 8:11 am

  6. Great “kick in the pants” Scott! Thanks!

    Karen Taggart

    May 28, 2010 at 9:22 am

  7. i was that person….scared and worried to take that first step. dreaming of being a pro doing what i love. i took that first step got into the art institute of pittsburgh. i was told by many i didnt need to go to school but i wanted to learn as much as i could. we dont have photography workshops here in VA. i have friends ask me to do shoots for them and have offered to be a second shooter at friends’ weddings. my next step-getting a business license and setting a flat rate to start with. thanks scott-very inspiring!


    May 28, 2010 at 9:25 am

  8. Thanks Scott for the inspiring read. I’m tired of running into washed-up photographers who keep telling me I’ll never make it as a pro especially in today’s market.


    May 28, 2010 at 9:45 am

  9. […] I wouldn’t change a thing – and here’s why. via […]

  10. As I read through the above comments I wondered what could be the first thing that I would do, and thats…get over my fear. How? By believing that I CAN do this and I know that I deserve to be successful.

    Thank you so much for sharing Scott!


    May 28, 2010 at 9:50 am

  11. THANK YOU! To know that photography “fell” into someone’s lap who is as successful as you is a HUGE relief to me. That is what happened to me! I was at concerts just photographing them for my own memories, when a few of my friends said “you know Shar your shots are really good, you should go pro” well I kept telling them “yea right, shut up I’m not that good” well one day I said forget it and submitted my work to a management company for a “major label” band just to see if I could get a photo pass for the show. Alot of fellow photogs where I live told me “oh man you’re not going to get it since you don’t work for any type of publishing company” well they ATE their words! Grantid nothing has been published or used by this band BUT I shoot them everytime they are in my area! So I know that’s a start for “Lil ole me” I photog alot of “local” bands here on the sunset strip & it’s alot of fun! Now my major issue is that I NEED to start making $$$ I want to upgrade my camera & lenses but I can’t justify doing it when I’m not making anything! Anyone have any suggestions?


    May 28, 2010 at 9:59 am

  12. Great advice Scott. I spent years reading about photography, admiring other work, shooting down my own stuff. Once I let go of the fear and analysis, I just just started shooting. The opportunities are now becoming endless.

    Aaron Babcock

    May 28, 2010 at 10:17 am

  13. I’ve been taking pictures for years and just started to make the transition to “going pro”. I follow you Scott because of your honesty, bluntness, and expertise. The first thing I’ve done on my list, was to suck it up and start contacting models who want to do TFP or TFCD shoots and booked them. Second on my list is to get a website up and start plastering it all over, and putting my work in peoples faces. Hustling. Just the other day, i see a couple in the grocery store with a baby. I handed them a business card. That’s what i’m talking about. I got a call this morning from that couple and now have a shoot booked. A favorite expression of mine is “closed mouths don’t get fed.” Open your mouths people.

    Kenny D.

    May 28, 2010 at 11:32 am

  14. Thanks Scott for the inspiration, the first thing I’m going to do today is buy a new lens I’ve been putting off getting and then then going on to pursue more of the opportunities that have come my way.


    May 28, 2010 at 12:02 pm

  15. thank you for this 🙂


    May 28, 2010 at 12:24 pm

  16. This is a great post. I Have been a snapshot mom / teacher for a long time. Now I am making the transition to photographer. This reminds me to continue to learn & practice every day. thx!

    julie renner

    May 28, 2010 at 12:37 pm

  17. Great post I am going to grab my camera and make money. I did what you said before tis post “JUST START DOING”

    Keith Charles

    May 28, 2010 at 12:43 pm

  18. Sound advice and containing one of the best entrepreneurial quotes I’ve ever seen – “Leap, and the net will appear”. It says so much. Thank you.


    Allen Ross Thomas

    May 28, 2010 at 12:50 pm

  19. Thanks so much! Very encouraging!


    May 28, 2010 at 1:05 pm

  20. YES!! This is EXACTLY what I tell people who tell me I’m moving too fast and should “wait a while” before taking any steps toward success.

    My first thing: Stop letting other people’s fear of failure scare me into being idle!

    Brooke Borton

    May 28, 2010 at 1:38 pm

  21. Truly inspiring…. Thanks Scot…


    May 28, 2010 at 1:48 pm

  22. I’ve got to just stop doubting myself and shoot. The more pressure, the better I’ll do (hopefully).


    May 28, 2010 at 1:52 pm

  23. Hey Scott…what do you do if you are busy being a stay at home mom with a 2 year old….I guess I could hone my skills while I’m at home huh?


    Crystal Griffin

    May 28, 2010 at 2:10 pm

  24. @Crystal obviously I am NOT a stay at home mom. However, hopefully someone in our audience can share some tips. I do think that you can do SOMETHING. You can read your camera manual. You can practice making images of your child. You can read photo blogs, listen to podcasts, etc. Do something that moves you toward your goal – no matter how small the step – if it’s in the right direction, you’re making progress.


    May 28, 2010 at 2:54 pm

  25. Not just an excellent post but this is a truly a valuable site – thanks, Scott and Skip!

    Tamara Lackey

    May 28, 2010 at 3:43 pm

  26. I’ve tried to follow a quote I heard a long time ago…and forgot what said it…..’Procrastination is the thief of time’. Thank you Scott Bourne for re-establishing that! =)

    Jeff Almquist

    May 28, 2010 at 4:09 pm

  27. Going down to the coffee house so they can evaluate my pictures and display them for possible sale.

    David Langdon

    May 28, 2010 at 5:23 pm

  28. Getting my name out, selling myself better :). Thanks for your inspiration!!


    May 28, 2010 at 8:08 pm

  29. This was a wonderful post to read, nice way to keep it kicked in the butt. Thanks Tamara for the post on your FB led me here and thanks Scott and Skip for the wonderful post,


    Daniel J Pesta

    May 28, 2010 at 9:59 pm

  30. […] If I Were Just Going Pro Today – Here’s The First Thing I’d Do- Going Pro 2010 […]

  31. I am going to officially register my business on June 1 and start calling everyone I know to offer portrait services to build up my portfolio.


    May 30, 2010 at 6:20 pm

  32. Scott, I’ve been following you for years, a little shy, but I must thank you for this post! I am a designer making the leap to fine art. So, even at my age, I need to hear inspirational posts like this! Cheers!


    May 30, 2010 at 10:09 pm

  33. What a GREAT post! I SO needed this one! I’m a Stay At Home Mom to a 10 month old and I’ve been reading, practicing on my baby girl, but I tend to get stuck in the mind side of it all. I want to go pro. After reading your response to Crystal, I realized that I am doing little bits each day…but I do let fear and excuses stand in my way.

    I want more education…so I just looked up an art institute in New Orleans (hubs and I are moving there this summer) and asked for information!

    Thank you for this kick in the pants!! SO needed!! 🙂 I wrote it all out on my notebook so I can keep reading it over and over!


    May 31, 2010 at 9:18 am

  34. Thanks Scott. Saw your webcast today via creativelive. Excellent lesson especially about the video within a slide show!

    Scott Mills

    May 31, 2010 at 10:59 pm

  35. Thanks Scott. I started 5 years ago after 2.5 decades of”… What the hell makes you think you can be a pro photgrapher?” from my now ex-wife. I started out documenting my travels in the Navy, then on to weddings to support my camera habit. Now I try to make art from whatever I find interesting. A recent shot of a banyon tree limb may now hang next to 3 Salvador Dali prints in someone’s office! I just sold his company 30 photographic artworks for a new office. My wife now is saying “I told you . . .”

    Dan Zeis

    June 1, 2010 at 3:44 pm

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