mclark_apple_retinaIt is always an honor to work with Apple. They are one of the most prestigious companies anywhere on Earth and they drive trends in a way few companies can. They have used a few of my images in the past, but to have my image used to promote the latest Retina 5K displays on the brand new iMacs is quite thrilling. I can’t wait to see one of these monitors in person. At 5K these are now the highest resolution monitors ever made and the iMac itself seems quite powerful – at least as powerful or perhaps more powerful than the current Quad-core Mac Pros.

In the image above, pro surfer Kohl Christensen is riding a huge wave at Pipeline on the north shore of Oahu. This day was a wild and crazy day for the surfers as the winds were raging, making for many unridable waves, but Kohl caught this monster and tamed it which allowed me to capture this stunning image.

My thanks to the team at Apple for tracking me down and choosing a few of my images for the latest marketing campaigns and to Kohl Christensen for helping to create such a stunning moment.

I get on average three to six emails a week asking basically the same question: “I want to be a pro photographer and travel the world shooting adventurous assignments. How can I do what you do?” I get so many of these emails I even have a standard “email” response drafted so that I can copy and paste it into a reply email. [Note: I do tweak this email for each person but the drafted email answers 97% of their questions.]

It’s an honor to get these emails, to see people reach out and ask for advice, and to hear from young photographers who are passionate about their craft and want to make a career of it. I was one of those young guns once myself. I wouldn’t be where I am today without the great advice several mentors gave me when I was starting out, so I thought I would write a blog post to make this advice more readily available. Hopefully this blog post will pay it forward.

Photography is up there with farming in terms of professions that are difficult for making a living. If you are looking to get rich then I would advise finding another career path. That isn’t to say that some photographers haven’t done very well for themselves; some have become millionaires, but they are few and far between. Those that can actually make a decent living in this profession are in the minority. According to the United States Bureau of Labor, the average photographer in 2013 made $29,280. That equates to an hourly wage of roughly $14/hour. Photographers making over $66,000 per year in 2013 are in the top 10% of their field in terms of income.

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 get very far. 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 really happen. 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 that it takes time to get established and actually make a living as a freelance photographer. 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. Holding a long-view for success in becoming a pro photographer is important, especially in the first few years when it is desperately tough. You can’t give up.

The reality of working as a pro photographer is that shooting is a small part of the job. No photographer, no matter how well known or highly paid, shoots all the time. I’d say a good 80% of my work is sitting in front of a computer or on the phone setting up the next gig. The actual photography is the fun part of the job, though assignments can be extremely stressful. On high paying advertising gigs, where I have to somehow make it all work with the weather, the athletes and the client’s wishes, it feels like walking a tightrope over Niagara Falls. One misstep and it all falls apart. See my book Exposed: Inside the Life and Images of a Pro Photographer, listed below, for a lot more on this topic and many others. Below is a graphic I created for Exposed showing the reality for a pro photographer compared to the perception (click on the image for a larger and more readable version).

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I realize that here in this blog post I have barely even scratched the surface of this topic. I also know that those who make it as pro photographers are voracious when it comes to researching “how to make it” and they read everything they can get their hands on. I know I did when I started out and I still do. When I meet other pro photographers I recognize a similar intensity about their work — a drive they have to create incredible images, which is hard to explain. This drive is a mixture of ambition, passion and dedication to the craft of photography. If you don’t feel that drive, take a step back and seriously consider if this career is for you. I am not trying to persuade any one here to give up on a dream but to give a real accounting of what it will cost to make a career of that dream. As always, there is room in this profession for those who can create top-notch work and are willing to work extremely hard.

Instead of giving little tidbits of advice, I tend to recommend books because they contain so much more information than I can possibly give in a quick email. This blog post is just an introduction of sorts. Hence, below are links to other great blog posts and books that will offer way more information and inspiration than can be contained here. I have found these books and blog posts to be dead-on accurate and must-reads for anyone looking to launch into a freelance career as a photographer.

Links to check out and read before launching into a career as a photographer:

The following blog posts and articles are available online for free. They offer excellent advice to anyone considering photography as a career path. If you are considering photography as a career, I highly recommend reading every single one of these blog posts.

The Definitive Guide to Starting a Successful Photography Business
by Robert Seale

Robert Seale offers an excellent primer on how to start a career in Photography in this post. Do yourself a favor and check it out.

The Photography Business and the American Dream
by Laurence Kim

Laurence Kim gives a very sobering assessment of photography as a career path in this revealing blog post, which is like a knife to the gut. Read it and learn from it. It isn’t a “fun” read, but is dead-on solid advice from a business professional.

The 8 Keys to Success: An Essay And Thoughts on What It Takes To Reach Your True Potential
by David H. Lyman

This is perhaps the best article I have ever read on what it takes to become a successful pro photographer, or for that matter, to make it in any artistic endeavor. David wrote this article for digitaljournalist.org many years ago and it is just as valid now as it was when he wrote it back in 2004. I read this blog post at least once a year.

9 Things to Think About Before You Become a Professional Photographer
by Jay Goodrich

Jay’s advice here is direct, honest and to the point. He pulls no punches. His advice is not far off from Laurence’s blog post.

Great Advice and Hard Truths
by Michael Clark

I wrote this blog post for the ASMP Strictly Business blog earlier this year and it is a quick read packed with good advice. This blog post isn’t anywhere as comprehensive as those listed above but gives a good overview.

Recommended Books

While the above blog posts and links are easily browsed for free, there is nothing like an in-depth book to really get into a topic and discuss it thoroughly. The following books are ones that I have found incredibly valuable.

Visionmongers: Making a Life and a Living in Photography
by David duChemin

David really outdid himself with this book. I read it after nearly 14 years as a working pro and still learned a lot from it. David is a phenomenal writer and lays out everything from starting out and dealing with cash flow issues, to marketing your work and much, much more. I highly recommend this book when you get serious about launching your career.

The Real Business of Photography
by Richard Weisgrau

This is the most straightforward, no-nonsense book on how to actually make money as a photographer that I have seen anywhere. Richard knows his stuff and lays out the complicated process of licensing your work and making a profit in this industry in great detail.

Best Business Practices for Photographers, 2nd Edition
by John Harrington

While this book isn’t a scintillating page-turner, it does give an incredible amount of information on the workings of a photography business and it will explain just about anything a photographer might need to figure out on the business side of things. This is often considered the “bible” for running a photography business.

Negotiating Stock Photo Prices
by Jim and Cheryl Pickerell

This book is out of print so you will have to find a used copy. There seem to be plenty of used copies available on Amazon. This book has more details about how to price your work than any other book I have seen. The last half of this book details standard pricing for licensing your images for just about any use. Also, the first half of the book is hands-down the best explanation of how to price your work and how to negotiate with clients. Do not think of starting a career in photography without reading this book. Trust me, you will pay for the book on your first assignment or licensing deal.

Note: The pricing figures in this book are generally higher than what you can normally get now but are still good starting points. With the current economy and the massive influx of photographers in this digital age, the supply and demand curves have not worked in our favor. Nevertheless, I cannot recommend this book highly enough.

The Photographer’s Guide to Negotiating
by Richard Weisgrau

This is another great book on how to negotiate with clients. It is a bit more basic than Negotiating Stock Photo Prices, but it is still a great read and will help to improve your skills in this area. If you haven’t figured it out yet, having good negotiating skills is a huge part of making a decent living as a pro photographer.

Exposed: Inside the life and Images of a Pro Photographer
by Michael Clark

This book is a very open and honest look at the reality of working as a pro photographer. In it, I tell my complete story of how I got started, the difficulties I faced to get work and the challenges that I deal with on assignments. I don’t know of any other books available that give such an open and detailed accounting of the life of a pro photographer. I highly recommend Exposed to anyone looking to turn pro. I am not recommending it just to make money—I won’t really ever see another dime off this book. This book will give you a good idea of what you are in for.

The Photographer’s Survival Guide
by Amanda Sosa Stone and Suzanne Sease

While this book is quite basic for the seasoned pro, for someone looking to launch into a freelance editorial and advertising photography career, it outlines the basic strategies for marketing yourself and your work. It provides excellent information by two of the top photography consultants in the business

Wrapping Up

Finally, there is a ridiculous amount of information on my website about a wide variety of topics and most of it is free. Take a look at my Newsletters, the Press page (including links to talks I have given), and the Behind the Scenes articles. I have ten years of Newsletters, which are free downloadable PDFs, and are basically 20 to 40-page magazines that chronicle much of my career. There are a lot of nuggets in those Newsletters.

  • Jay Goodrich - Thanks for linking into my post Michael! Totally appreciate it!

  • Susan Crittenden - Great info to share with all.

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A few months ago Elinchrom sent me a couple of their brand new strobes, the ELC Pro HD 1,000 Watt-second (Ws) monoblocs. As I have been traveling quite a bit this past summer I didn’t get around to shooting with these new strobes until last month. Because the Elinchrom ELC Pro HD strobes are designed for the studio I set up a studio space to shoot with them and invited a wide variety of athletes to come over and help me test them out. Over the course of two days, I shot with a boxer, a Kung Fu martial artist, a yogi, a skateboarder, several cross-fit athletes, an Aikido club, and an ex-pro MMA fighter. For the shoot, I used a variety of strobes, including several Elinchrom battery-powered strobes, a ring flash and of course the new ELC Pro HD units. During these two days, I wanted to play with new lighting techniques I hadn’t tried out before and I also wanted to give the ELC Pro HD strobes a good workout and see what they were capable of.

As many of you might have guessed from my adventure sports images, I tend to work with battery-powered strobes like the Elinchrom Ranger and Quadra systems. It is extremely rare that I use mono bloc style strobes on location because that would require a generator and many of my location shoots are fairly remote. In the case of the ELC Pro HD though, it has some very advanced features that are making me rethink how I use strobes on location – or at least for locations that are somewhat close to the car. As an example, the ELC strobes can fire at up to 20 frames per second. At one point I shot with my Nikon D4 at 8 frames per second for 346 shots and the strobes never missed a beat or hesitated for a second! The shot at the top of this blog post was created from this series of fast actions shots and later put together in Photoshop to create a composite. Because the strobe can fire at such a fast frame rate (at low power settings) it also allows me to capture the height of the action, as in the image below.

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The ELC Pro HDs also have a stroboscopic setting, which is very interesting and allows the flash to fire at up to 20 flashes per second. To test out this mode, I had an ex-pro MMA fighter come in and punch the air while moving side to side (see images below). To create these images, we dimmed the lighting in the studio, and I set up the two ELC strobes to fire at 10 Hz (10 times per second). I set the camera’s shutter speed to 1/2th second, which resulted in 5 flashes while the shutter was open. This resulted in an image that looks like a multiple exposure, and in reality it is a multiple exposure that was created with the strobe instead of multiple shots. You can also see that there is a motion blur of the fighters arms, which was created by the modeling lights that were on during the exposure. I don’t know of any other flash that can actually achieve this look.

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I also shot quite a few “standard” type portraits as well as action shots with the boxer and an Aikido club. For these shots, since the athletes where in motion, the fast flash duration of the ELCs came in handy to freeze the motion. The fastest flash duration of the ELCs is 1/5260th second (t0.5), which is more than enough to stop most motion. The other nice thing about the fast flash duration of the ELCs is that this fast flash duration is not at the lowest power setting but up at around 80 Ws, giving you a bit more power to play with. At full power, the ELCs still have a decently fast flash duration as well. The ELCs also have a 300 Watt modeling lamp that can be used in a variety of ways: video lighting, showing the motion in a still shot, etc.

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All in all, these new mono blocs from Elinchrom are incredibly powerful and wicked fast. The recycle speed at full power (1,000 Ws) is 1.2 seconds, at lower power settings it is pretty much instantaneous as already discussed. Add to that the integrated OLED screen on the back of the unit, several other customizable modes and the compact nature of these mono blocs and you have a top-end strobe, comparable to any other mono bloc on the market. If you compare specs on 1,000 Ws mono blocs from Profoto, Broncolor, and several other manufacturers, the new ELCs are at the top of the pack or at least on par for most specs.

Look for a full and more complete review of these new mono blocs in the Fall 2014 issue of the Newsletter coming out later this year when I have had more time to test them out and shoot with them .

  • Mark Astmann - Thanks for the terrific overview of Elinchrom’s new ELC Pro compacts.

    I have one correction to make on this article. The modeling lights are actually 300 watts, not 600watts.

    I can’t wait to see what you do with them next.

  • Michael Clark - Thanks for the correction Mark. I have corrected that in the blog post. As always you are a great resource!

Just a note here that I have created a whole new page here on the blog that details all of the equipment that I use. You can find that new page by clicking on the Gear link at the top of this page. Below is a screenshot of that new page to give you a feel for what the Gear page looks like. There is a ton of gear featured on this page so keep scrolling down to see everything. I will be adding quick links to each section shortly.

This page details everything from the cameras and lenses I use all the way down to the computers, hard drives and even the small accessory straps that I use for my cords. Every item is linked to B&H Photo & Video. At the tope of each section is a little blurb about some of the gear items in that section. I hope this is a good resource for those that are looking to expand their kit. I will update this section as I update my gear.

Also, note that the Camera Bag section on my website, under the Behind the Scenes menu, has been updated as well with similar links to B&H. My thanks to B&H for providing the banner that will feature special offers on Nikon equipment.

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manfrotto_interview_081314Manfrotto recently posted an interview I did with them on the School of Xcellence website. I have worked with Manfrotto for quite some time now and in this interview they asked some very interesting questions about my career, a few specific images, and about my workshops and upcoming projects. You can find the interview via the link above.

My thanks to Lisa Furgison and the Manfrotto School of Xcellence for tracking me down and the interview. If you would like to see the Manfrotto gear I use check out the Camera Bag page on my website, which has links to each piece of gear. 

 

summer_2014_smThe Summer 2014 issue of the Michael Clark Photography Newsletter is now available for download. If you’d like to sign up for the Newsletter just drop me an email and I’ll add you to the mailing list.

This issue includes an editorial about why there was no Spring 2014 Newsletter, a review of the SmallHD DP4-EVF external video monitor, an article my recent expedition in the Amazon with the CauseCentric Production crew for the documentary film Tribes on the Edge, an interview with Peter Dennen of Pedro + Jackie photo consultants, a book review of “The Rise of Superman,” an editorial entitled “Great Advice and Hard Truths,” and much more.

The Michael Clark Photography Newsletter goes out to over 6,000 thousand photo editors, photographers and photo enthusiasts around the world. You can download the Summer 2014 issue on my website at:

http://www.michaelclarkphoto.com/summer_2014.pdf

If you’d like to check out back issues of the newsletter they are available here.

Please note that the newsletter is best viewed in the latest Adobe Acrobat reader which is available for free at www.adobe.com.

A few months ago, the popular photography website Phoblographer.com posted an interview with yours truly entitled, “Getting into the Action with Sports Photographer Michael Clark.” I was traveling non-stop for five weeks when this interview went live but here it is just in case you missed it. To read the entire interview head on over to the Phoblographer.com website.

This interview covers a variety of topics including: how I got started, how shooting adventure sports is different than shooting “normal” sports, how I prepare for shoots, my favorite sports to shoot, what gear I use and also how I work with video. The interview starts out with the following:

“In sports and action photography, it’s almost always the subject themselves – the athletes – that get all the glory. Rarely do the men behind lens, who in actuality get into the action themselves, get any recognition for the exhilerating shots they capture. So for this month, we here at the Phoblographer are seeking to give the floor to the sports photographers, without whom the best and greatest moments in sports would never be documented.

We recently chatted with sports photographer Michael Clark, whose work has been featured in several photography magazines including Outdoor Photographer and Digital Photo Pro, to get  insights on what it’s like to be an adventure photographer.”

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My thanks to Phoblographer and Michelle Rae Uy for the interview and for featuring me on the website.

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