© Michael Lewis
Michael Lewis: To be confident. I’ve been shooting long enough to see current trends in our industry come and go. Although aware of these changing tides; I’ve always tried to continue to refine (and further define) my unique point of view. I’ve seen other photographers try to bend their aesthetic to fit in the mold of the current flavor of the week. For me, part of staying confident (and true to your vision) is standing your ground and doing what feels true to yourself.
Jamie Diamond: Don’t be afraid to take risks or to get it wrong sometimes, your successes and your failures are equally valuable.
Ricky Rhodes: I’m learning more and more to just stay true to yourself. This might sound like common sense, but I think being a good person goes a long way in this industry. Photography is based around relationships, it’s all about who you know and who knows you. People want to work with people they enjoy being around.
Thomas Alleman: As I consider not only my own career, but the successful careers of my friends and colleagues in this field, I find that the greatest resource one has is his or her own character, and the biggest lesson one learns is that that character is the only constant advantage you can wield.
Are you persistent? Are you driven? Do you read novels? Are you a gearhead? Are you empathic? Are you generous? Can you take a punch?
How are you communication skills? Can you write a compelling paragraph about your work for a grant application or a gallery submission? Can you explain yourself to people on the street? Can you persuade someone to let you photograph them, if they’re initially wary?
Can you get on an off a plane with competence, and find a location in a strange town and wrestle a shoot into shape? Can you transmit pictures on deadline? Can you deal with asshole editors? Are you a hothead? Are you a wimp? When the job goes bad, will you blame your assistant? Will you stay up all night for two straight days, to finish a project?
Can you weather the hard times that beset all creative entrepreneurs? Do you have backbone? Are you flexible? Can you make short-term sacrifices for long-term goals? Can you diversify? Can you teach? Can you take assignments? What’s your feeling about money and material possessions? At what point will you begin choosing convenience over excellence, and comfort over accomplishment?
These are character issues. They’re about your skill-set as a grown-up person. The greatest lesson I ever learned was that these are where your power and advantage and success will come from, over time.
Brooke Frederick: Be true to yourself. Take others’ opinions and advice with a grain of salt. Stay true to what you want to do and what is best for you.. People may not understand your vision (at first) and you have to be okay with that.
Carli Davidson: The biggest lesson I’ve learned is that ultimately everything comes back to me. I can’t ever blame anyone else for things being done wrong or poorly because no matter how many people I’m working with, it’s my responsibility to make the final image stunning.
Rania Matar: I learned to never fully put away older negatives, contact sheets or files of projects that I deeply care about. Looking at older work with fresh eyes can lead to surprisingly exciting discoveries, great images that one could have skipped when editing too close to the moment of image making. I have discovered a few images a year or two after I thought I was done with a project and thought they were much better than my original edit.
Cig Harvey: More of an observation. It’s a small world so be nice.
Joan Lobis Brown: To keep on trying and never give up. And, to accept that there will be some critics who never get your work or give you their “blessing.”
Zed Nelson: Aside from the requirements of earning money to keep things going, focus on what fascinates and motivates you. It’s not a job. It’s a way of life, so make sure you’re immersing yourself in subjects that mean something.
Elinor Carucci: Be patient, persistent and stick to your true work/vision/say. Work hard and learn from others, and yet do things my own way.
Chloe Aftel: You always need to try harder, do more, push further. There is no end or finish line. You don’t reach some level and that’s it. There’s always more to strive towards. Also, try to find the humor in the difficult.
Julia Fullerton-Batten: Even if you think that you are talented as a photographer, one needs inspiration and damned hard work to achieve one’s goals.
Natalie Keyssar: I think the single most important trait a photographer can have is being kind and honest. Every aspect of this profession, from the process of photographing itself, understanding your subjects, making pictures of them that really say something unique and important, and also the business side (getting work, forming relationships with editors, getting your footing in a new place), is all founded on needing help from other people and giving it in return. Probably every good frame I’ve ever made has in some way been the result of the kindness of others, friends, colleagues, and strangers, and it really makes me aspire to be as good to others as people have been to me.
Mariette Pathy Allen: I learned that my eyes are more intelligent than my mind, and that I must trust what I see over what I plan to see.
Matt Black: To always follow your own light. No one can tell you what you should do.
Patrick Brown: To keep producing work, but more importantly keep producing my own work. Work on one’s own projects. Note to self for today…