Great Advice and Hard Truths

[by Michael Clark]

Starting out in this industry is a daunting task. I struggled quite a bit for a few years before I decided to go full-time and when I did, it felt like I was jumping off a huge cliff to see if I could fly.

Early on in my career, Marc Romanelli, a mentor and fellow photographer, told me, “Keep your overhead as low as possible.”  This gem never stops being good advice. There have certainly been times when I let my overhead get out of control and I paid for it literally. Of all the advice I can give, this is perhaps the most critical for staying in business.

If you come out of photo school with $40,000 to $80,000 in debt, any career in the photo industry is basically over before it even starts. If you’re paying upwards of $20,000 per year for photography school, my advice is to drop out immediately. You can take an incredible array of photo workshops for less.  If you really want to spend money on a degree, get a marketing degree.  That will probably serve you better if your skills are already up to snuff.

It takes serious passion, motivation, thick skin, and hard work to make a career in this industry. The key phrase in that last sentence is hard work. It doesn’t matter how much talent you have or how good your people skills are, if you don’t work your buns off, you aren’t going to make it in this field. If you don’t want a career as a photographer with every fiber of your being, then the bad news is you probably won’t ever make it. I know that won’t be a popular statement, but maybe some other pro photographers can back me up on this in the comments.

Understand, it takes time. Very few photographers have instant success. It usually takes 3 to 5 years to go full time, then 10 years to gain 90% of your skills and start making decent money and 15 years to really make it big. For some it takes longer and for others it is much quicker. I mention this long view of the process of becoming a pro photographer because it is important to understand that you can’t give up in the first few years when it is desperately tough. When it does get tough, I refer you to the previous paragraph.

Another thing to note, when I started out, I thought that in ten years time I would have it made in the shade. Well, I am here to tell you it never really gets easier. Sure, you will make more money down the road, but it is still tough to get assignments and you have to constantly keep updating your work and your marketing while watching your cash flow.

Lastly, you have to be brutal with your own work. If your images or motion content isn’t unique or blowing the socks off the editors you send it to then you are going to have a tough time making a living in this profession. And your work has to be continually amazing if you want to have any longevity in terms of a career.

If this advice resonates with you, I wrote a book that delves deep into the life of a pro photographer, Exposed: Inside the Life and Images of a Pro Photographer, that has garnered a lot of praise for being an honest and helpful book.

So yes, there are lots of issues you will have to overcome, but as always, there is room for those who can create top-notch work and are willing to work extremely hard.

Michael Clark is an internationally published adventure photographer and author. If you are dying for more info check out his Newsletter, which is a quarterly magazine that goes out to over 6,000 photographers and clients. See more of Michael’s work at

By Michael Clark | Posted: July 17th, 2014 | 5 comments


5 Responses to 'Great Advice and Hard Truths'

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  1. This is great Michael, thanks for sharing. Is your book available for ipad?

    By gary compton | Jul 17, 2014


  2. Much candor and brutal truths here…bravo Michael for telling it like it is!

    By Marc Romanelli | Jul 17, 2014


  3. Gary –

    You can get just about any digital version you want of my book Exposed from PeachPit (the Publisher) here:

    Hope this helps.

    Cheers, Michael

    By Michael Clark | Jul 17, 2014


  4. Right on Michael !!! I’d love to share it with some of my workshop participants who are seeking advice on becoming “pro” photographers. Concise and accurate advice. Thanks for writing this little gem :-)


    By Tony Bonanno | Jul 18, 2014


  5. […] Great Advice and Hard Truths by Michael Clark […]



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