The Most Important Thing You Can Do To Achieve Success In Commercial Photography Is This…

by Heather on January 13, 2010


Shoot everyday.

Shoot everything.

Shoot all the time.

I talked to John Cullen today who’s having a whole bunch of cheap film sent up from the States because he wants to shoot food with his Diana. Sure, shoot that shit!

Let’s have a quick look at two very different photographers who shoot a lot. And you know what, some of what they shoot likely sucks but it doesn’t matter. They’re shooting and they’re getting better. Shoot that shit!

If you’re not Daniel Peet’s friend on Facebook, I think you should be (and really, there’s no excuse, he’s got over 2,400 of them). Daniel’s got numerous albums and most of the work he finds during regular walks through the streets, alleys and backyards where he lives. I’m guessing his camera is always with him and he is always shooting:

Raggedy © Daniel Peet

Raggedy © Daniel Peet

Removal Meeting © Daniel Peet

Removal Meeting © Daniel Peet

Super important tree? © Daniel Peet

Super important tree? © Daniel Peet

Lee Towndrow also seems to be keeping it fresh with lots of new and varied work. Wicked. This is just a little sample so be sure to go to his site to see the breadth of his talent. I think it’s obvious from the work that he’s majorly into exploring and experimenting with his camera- not his surroundings, like Daniel, but in a conceptual way.

© Lee Towndrow

© Lee Towndrow

© Lee Towndrow

© Lee Towndrow

So just a quick recap: Just keep shooting.

{ 26 comments… read them below or add one }

Ana Schechter January 13, 2010 at 11:45 pm

Thanks for this reminder! SO TRUE. We so often get in our own way… and it’s such an easy fix to stay inspired–keep the damn camera on you at all times. I’m bookmarking this!

Heather Walsh January 14, 2010 at 10:03 am

I live to shoot. Working on my personal projects is the best part of my life as a photographer. If I only shot when I was being paid my work could be a dull collection of other people’s vision, not my true authentic self. It makes all the other “stuff” that comes with being a photographer worth it. It makes you an artist.

Lauren January 14, 2010 at 10:37 am

These pictures are phenomenal! And its a great post. The individual photographers should upload their photos to — a site where artists can upload their work which can then be printed by customers as iphone covers. Some of these pictures are really stunning.

Anthony January 14, 2010 at 10:53 am

It’s good advice, shoot everyday. I’m a studio guy primarily, but have made the effort for the past year to have a camera on me at all times. It’s worked our very nicely and opened up my work a bit. I definitely have been amassing an enormous amount of crap, but there’s great in the crap pile too. I’ve been shooting so much in the past year that I’m 5-6 months backed up in my editing and my website still sits without updates because of it.. Anyone want to intern for me..?

Marien van Os January 14, 2010 at 10:53 am

Exactly the reason why I’ve started my site: . Almost a year ago. Although I’m still learning, my photography skills have made a major leap since I started the site. Practice, practice, practice and I bring my camera everywhere I go! For the coming year I’m going to concentrate on stronger concepts but then at least my technical skills are something I can be comfortable with. Almost reached the point where I’m shooting everything in manual mode ;-)

John January 14, 2010 at 2:48 pm

It’s nice to see other people with similar states of mind going into 2010. During some downtime over the holidays, I was going over some work for a long-overdue website update. And it struck me that the work I have done that is closest to my heart is old, and was shot with film. Polaroid film, neg film, tri-X, whatever I had on hand at the time. So my goal for 2010 is to get back to that method of shooting for personal work. I’ve got a camera on order, with no 3-inch digital display, no polaroid back, and no exposure meter. I too will likely “amass an enormous amount of crap” (so well put Anthony) but it’s going to be fun doing it. I want to see some contact sheets!

On a sad note, I had my assistant (Gary Ogle, awesome guy, drop me a line if you need someone and i’ll pass along his info) drop some sheets of E-6 by Colourgenics today and he came back with them – turns out they stopped developing transparencies a while ago. Oh well, it’s not going to be easy, or cheap, but it will be fun!

Anthony January 14, 2010 at 5:10 pm

I’m shooting personal work this Saturday and I intend to use film as well as digital. Keep an eye out for some Kodak Brownie Starflex, Holga w/ Ortho film, and TTF shots from a 5D II.

Dustin Parr January 14, 2010 at 8:36 pm

John – TIW still runs an E6 line daily. I know when Colourgenics was still processing E6, they were definitely favored by the film shooters I was assisting, but at this point – TIW is your only option for sheet film (in Toronto, anyway.)

Nice to see people getting excited about shooting personal work (and on film too!)

Clark Patrick January 16, 2010 at 9:49 pm

Ok….. so I’m going to be that person. I actually disagree with this thought. Shooting everyday doesn’t do as much as you might think. The reality is that you need to shoot in a focused way in order to move forward as a professional. The reality is that just about anyone who shoots everyday will be able to get some images that are – good and things they are happy with…. and they might even learn a few things along the way. But, that doesn’t really prove anything. My advice would be to commit yourself to a very specific focused project… something that when potential buyers would look at in the future they would be able to see a level of commitment too…. Because, again anyone, anywhere can take pictures everyday in an unfocused way…

It is much harder now than ever before to have any sort of visual impact with a single photograph. So for that reason you need to actually THINK about what you are shooting and prepare for it…. running around with a camera in my opinion should be left to non professionals.

We all like taking photos – but for what purpose. Sorry Heather but this is crap advice and you should dig deeper yourself for something to say to people who look to you for business/industry advice.

John January 17, 2010 at 1:16 pm

I’ve got to take issue with your post, Clark; Heather’s advice wasn’t ‘crap’ at all. This blog isn’t for the dentist that posts his photographs of ducks on istockphoto and is pleased as punch when he makes $15. If that was the case, then you’d be right: clicking away isn’t going to make that dentist a better photographer.

I think it’s a safe bet to say that people who read this blog with any frequency already THINK about what they are shooting. In fact I would hazard a guess that most of us have thought so much about what we do it has driven us crazy at times. It’s also pretty obvious that the majority of us are into personal projects – after all you don’t get to a decent level of photography without some kind of personal focus.

Photography as a craft is still a muscle. If you flex it, put it to use, you get stronger. Even naturally gifted photographers (whom I believe are a rarity – most of us have to work at it) have to do it – scratch that, WANT to do it. I read somewhere Avedon took tens of thousands of sheets of film for his southwest project. How many did the public see? A hundred? How many are timeless shots synonymous with his name? About a dozen or so?

Heather is passionate about photography and cajoling us to shoot shoot shoot is not only great advice, but a pep-talk for photographers in any phase of their career. It’s applicable to a shooter just starting out, a shooter who might be in a rut, or a seasoned shooter who might be thinking about expanding their client base and doesn’t know where to begin.

You are right: making yourself attractive to potential clients with focused projects is a great idea. But so is developing a personal style, which is what I think Heather was getting at.

Dan January 17, 2010 at 9:18 pm

Amen John! I don’t shoot as much as I should because I’m lazy and really like playing xbox with my studiomates. However I agree it’s soooo important to shoot even when you don’t really feel like it. It can turn an ok day into a pretty good one!

And funny you should mention it cuz everytime I go to my dentist he tells me about the new camera he recently bought and shows me the new pictures he has recently taken. True story and he’s awesome. Unfortunately my only reply is “Awaw tha eh awsoh!!!”

Ben Philabaum January 18, 2010 at 8:12 am

I’ve heard this several times but it didn’t really hit me until this weekend when I went to the Van Gogh museum. He only painted for about 10 years but he produced around 900 paintings! Surely he had some natural talent, but always working and improving is what made him great.

Reena January 18, 2010 at 2:20 pm

I couldn’t agree with you more Heather! Shoot shoot shoot! You never know when inspiration will hit and if you have your camera with you – all the better! Clark – It’s important to focus on the big projects but the mindless snapshots and things we capture (crap or not) that inspire us without any notice are what helps us keep our minds fresh and on top of or game.

Clark Patrick January 18, 2010 at 4:30 pm


Of course. But, seriously… if you’re the type of shooter who requires any set-up for your work… you may spend as much as 3 months preparing production for a shoot. Or a whole day in the studio building a set… or three weeks casting the perfect person.

Shooting everyday doesn’t do anything if it doesn’t make sense for the type of work you do. It is actually a waste of time.

Plus, I challenge Heather to come up with better advice than that… how many times have you heard that one. How about some advice you’ve never heard before, but is still a really important thought??

Taking 10,000 photos for a specific focused project is fine… but how many days or years do you think Avedon spent getting ready for that project… (plus he traveled with 3 full time assistants…) it wasn’t just shooting everyday…

Weak advice for professionals.

Jaime Hogge January 18, 2010 at 5:33 pm

Clark, you’ve really lost me on this one. If you’re spending 3 months preparing a shoot and during that time aren’t actively shooting, then how are you going to be on top of your game when it comes time for that big shoot? I really cannot see how shooting can ever be considered a waste of time.

Maybe it’s just me because I prefer to learn in a hands on kind of way, but I absolutely don’t understand how you expect to get better at what you’re doing without actually doing it – especially when it comes to photography.

peter January 18, 2010 at 6:00 pm

You get better at what you’re doing by focusing and planning. An athlete has a specific training regime & coaches. He/she does not just go willy-nilly and do just anything they want. They also don’t compete each day.
What Clark is saying is that it’s important to have a plan, a direction in mind. He’s saying it’s essentially a waste of time to shoot just for shooting sake.
You get better by making better pictures. Period. And not by the number of times you press the shutter. Better pictures come with better planning & production, sketching your ideas down, and bouncing ideas of others – this hones your skill and your style so you’ll be on your game when the time comes.
Shoot often, and keep shooting – but shoot with purpose. And take a break once in a while to avoid burn-out.

My 2 cents worth…..

Heather January 18, 2010 at 11:59 pm

Nothing wrong with a focused project that is planned out. But shooting (for any sake) is a waste of time? What, are you afraid of straining your photography muscle?

Clark, if you feel you are at the point in your career that you don’t need to experiment or to explore out of your comfort level, then good luck to you. Exploration and curiosity is not for everyone (Peter Schafrick is pretty heavy into a liquids thing and when you’re that niche, maybe random exploration is superfluous- hard for me to concede, but nevertheless…).

And, I don’t even want to acknowledge the idea that I am denigrating my blog by giving advice that is “crap” and only fit for starry-eyed junior shooters. I don’t want to acknowledge it but I will. While I’m flattered that you hold this blog in such high regard that it actually ticks you off when I apparently slip up and post some schlocky advice; as I’ve made painfully clear, I do this because I want to, not because it’s my job or because I owe anybody anything.

For the love of Pete, all I’m suggesting is that you go out and shoot!

I stand by my original post and thank the serious shooters who have come to my defense. For further discussion on this topic, see tonight’s blog post.

Kenneth January 19, 2010 at 9:00 am

I wonder if a professional musician only picks up his instrument to play when it’s gig time? NO! He plays constantly, he plays for fun, he plays to advance his chops. He discovers new ways to play riffs, tries out different chord changes, faster/slower tempos etc. If he only played when it was time to perform he would ALWAYS play the same way and not discover any new techniques. He plays…he plays some more…then after all is said and done…he plays some more!

Chris January 19, 2010 at 9:59 am

I think it depends on what your professional aspiration are. Are you content shooting 9-5 on the job? Or do you live it 24/7?

When I was starting out, an established New York shooter gave me two pieces of advice. Always have a camera with you and never stop looking. 25 years later, it’s still the best career advice I’d every had.

John January 19, 2010 at 10:21 am

Clark: It’s not weak advice for professionals, it’s weak advice for you. Which is fine.

As for planning and casting and all that, each photographer has a different approach to how they set up their shoots. If that is your MO, then great, I’m sure it works well for you, otherwise you wouldn’t do it that way.

The image library I shot a few days ago involved six weeks of planning, location scouting, casting, wardrobe and props, hundreds of emails, phone conferences and client meetings. All for 2 days of shooting. And at the culmination of all this work, right when all the lighting was ready and the wardrobe approved and make-up touched up and it was go time, the client did not want to see me shake off the rust for the first hour because I haven’t picked up my camera in 2 months. They wanted to see me shoot shoot shoot, and that’s what I did.

Kenneth: I was going to go the musical route in my first post. Good analogy. I’m in a band and during our weekly rehearsals we always start with 20 minutes of jamming. Purely reactive playing. And if there is anything in there we liked, we find a way to incorporate it into the songs. If not, then our amps are warm and we’re ready to move on. No big deal, but we play better as a group because of it.

Kristen January 19, 2010 at 6:00 pm

I never understood why anyone would limit their possibilities. I have yet to find that opening my eyes to more/new/unique things has ever done me wrong. But getting stuck in a rut, not changing, evolving and increasing life experiences…. well, I have seen a lot of people left behind from doing that. I don’t think any of us can afford to stop learning and stop growing both as people and artists. Or maybe you can, someone’s gotta make room for the young bright minds who are doing far more creative things (and probably shooting a lot more.)

Clark Patrick January 20, 2010 at 4:18 am

Well, I guess I created a stir.

Ok, to clarify… If you are a professional shooter who is hired by a client for a certain type of work/look – you better already know how to achieve the outcome they need – that is your job. And personally, I feel that photography is a lot like riding a bike. You don’t forget how to ride a bike every time you get on one… and you don’t really get that rusty either. You either know how you need to light a shot to achieve your clients needs or you don’t…. it is not your job to explore on someone else’s dime.

If the look you need to achieve for the project requires you to practice more than you have… great do it. If not, then yes, you can actually do not need to take a single picture for 2 months and you’ll still be able to do it just as you have many times before. You don’t need to shoot everyday to know how to do something you already know how to do.

But, that isn’t what I mean. To go a bit further, what I’m talking about is having a visual vision. Not just walking around with a camera and taking pictures of whatever falls in front of you…. everyone can and does do this. This doesn’t make you a good photographer. Really – it doesn’t mean anything – almost no matter what image you capture won’t have enough of a powerful impact to matter much anymore…. – put yourself in a very creative – CD’s position. I have had creative directors say to me (about my own work) and about the masses of images they look at everyday – SO WHAT?? No really, if it looks like something anyone/many other people could have shot – who cares.

Have you seen Avatar? That film is melting peoples minds – you know why? Because it is a crazy 3D visual fest in the most insanely amazing world… people are actually getting depression from not being able to live in that fake 3D world. Now – think of this in terms of photography – when was the last time you saw a photo that was so powerful that it made you depressed for a week because you couldn’t live in the world that it created for you…. exactly. I have only seen a few photos in my entire life that I’ve thought about for more than a day after I saw them.

But, that is what we are up against. Or rather that is the bar. To this day the best compliment I’ve ever gotten for any of my work was from a person who told me that one of my photos made them instantly cry uncontrollably. That means something, that is important.

Now I know many if not most commercial assignments rarely if ever allow for you to try and create an image that could touch someone in that way. But, it should be the goal for your personal work.

Why are we all doing this?… it sure ain’t for the money. Aren’t you all trying to have some impact. Create images that have impact?

So – if you walk around with a camera and just shot whatever is around…. without actively trying to create an image – trying to make and image that is so powerful it is like a punch in the face… then yes you are wasting your time.

Also, I think way too many people professionals or not get far too hung-up on the tools and the techniques – really great photography has very little to do with the tools – it only has to do with your vision. If you have a vision then find the tools and techniques that will make it so.

Not the other way around. Imagine with me for a min. the future.

Here’s what happens in the future – there is a little chip you stick in your head. That chip is a camera… (a tool) that will take a picture in perfect focus, color, depth, framing, hair, make-up, wardrobe, everything…. everything you can imagine. All you have to do is think about what you want to take a picture of and bam! It’s sent to the printers and ready for the wall.

Where do you stand in that future? Do you imagine anything to ‘make’ a picture of. Or are you like Heather says just shooting away whatever happens upon you…. Are you actually creative?

Shooting everyday will help your technical skills, sure, but great photography never had anything to do with that.

That’s my point. So sorry to offend, but I really feel that ‘shooting everyday’ is advice for someone who isn’t working professionally. It is a thought that is focused on the tools rather than the specific vision of the shooter. And it’s a weak point. It’s like telling a plumber, “Make sure you turn a wrench today… you never know when a pipe might break…” Like he doesn’t know how to use a his tools.

Again, Heather, dig deeper.

Chris January 20, 2010 at 10:31 am

It’s like telling a plumber, “Make sure you turn a wrench today… you never know when a pipe might break…” Like he doesn’t know how to use a his tools.

No it’s not.

Liz January 20, 2010 at 2:46 pm

Well Clark, you do present an interesting perspective. It’s just unfortunate that you think anyone else with another perspective may be wrong or weak for thinking or acting otherwise. Because at the end of the day – it’s clear that you don’t see the connection and the necessity to exercise your technical, as well as your creative skills. To imagine that there’s a level of technical ability that you can stop at or that shooting everyday is useless really just shows your own limitations. and that’s too bad.

you’ve chosen to see a limit to what you can learn as a photographer. in one way or another – that will show in your work.

tony fouhse January 20, 2010 at 5:30 pm

There are photographers who mine a very narrow vein, but go WAY deep. Seems to me that this sort of shooter doesn’t really need to shoot every day, doesn’t need to find new “looks”. A natural evolution of/from their existing practice is what’s important.

Then there are those photographers who use a catholic (not the religion) approach, who kind of strip mine (to carry forth the mining analogy) the surface. Perhaps it’s more important for this kind of photographer to be constantly discovering new ways and means to represent the world.

While I like looking at all kinds of photographs, I must admit that I’m mostly drawn to those who go deep, as opposed to those who mine the surface. And, I’m pretty sure that the photographers who I honor and respect don’t find it necessary to be constantly reinventing themselves and their styles.

But that’s just me.

Photography is a practice and, for sure, the more you do it the more you understand it. I’m just not sure that taking a fundamental stand on how best to get “better” at it is the way to go. What’s right, what works for one person, might just be the exact wrong way to proceed for someone else.

Practice is, to me, the operative word. And the definition of “practice” need not be narrowly defined. If you’re smart and have talent and something to say with your work, it will find an audience.

jon-paul mountford June 22, 2010 at 7:12 am

I could type chapters on this subject, Clark has already.

I must say, I largely agree with Clark on this one.
I was given that “gem” of advice at college, to have a camera at all times. Now for me, this culminated in a very worn out beaten up camera and a not a whole lot of decent pictures, this is when film was still in the camera, and a decision was required to press the shutter or not.
I discovered that professional/polished stuff doesn’t just happen in front of the camera, that the perfect synergy of events never appears. Adding into that lighting, styling, props, locations, etc..etc.. and the scattergun approach was never going to cut it (for me).
I still don’t shoot terabytes of images, a recently used the 5th frame, the blast and edit approach is just unsuitable for me. I would rather craft a considered image (or series ) into a fine piece of work rather than shoot everything, everyday, all-the-time.
I consider this one of the essential things that makes a professional, a professional. After all, aren’t we trying to say that we have honed ourselves into a sharper tool than the masses of shoot-like-crazy camera owners. As Clark points out Vision is a key element of what we do, tools and techniques are just that, it’s the person (and what they bring to it ) that makes the picture.
Music is a good comparison I play guitar (badly), I can make noises, even hold a tune together, however I would never claim to be a musician, therein is the key part of that comparison. Similarly buying a pencil ( a very cheap tool ) will not turn you Rembrandt, the analogy could run on forever.
But my general feelings are the “shoot tones of stuff” can work in certain disciplines, for me without planning , thought, deeper insight?, research, this never get me anything I would consider the folio worthy.

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