Four Questions with photographer Adam Barker

I was recently contacted by a friend giving a presentation to a high school on photography as a career. He sent me a number of questions that I responded to by email. I figured it might be of interest to many of you as well. Have a read if you feel so inclined…

1. What area of photography do you specialize in?

I specialize really in three areas of photography, those being Editorial, Commercial and Fine Art work. Within those areas, I focus on several genres of photography, those being active lifestyle (ski, fly fishing, trail running, etc.), destination (resort, architectural, tourism) and scenic landscape.

2. Did you always want to be a photographer? At what age? If not, what did you want to be?

I definitely didn’t know I wanted to be a photographer the minute I picked up a camera. I enjoyed it, but it wasn’t one of those things where I felt I was destined to do it. Skiing has always been a huge part of my life, and I really didn’t know what I wanted to do. I wanted to work in the ski industry. Really, I dreamed of being a pro skier, I guess. Upon returning home from serving a religious mission in Italy, I began to approach photography more seriously.

3. What do you love about your work life? What are its challenges?

I love that I work for myself and that really, the only thing that determines the level of my success is me. Sure, there are many factors that I can’t control, but ultimately, my fate and the well being of myself and my family rests in my hands. It’s a scary thought, but it’s also liberating to know that there is no ceiling for what I can accomplish or what I can earn. Happiness in my personal and professional life is paramount, and making a career out of one of the things I’m most passionate about in life really is a dream come true.

With the sweet comes the bitter, however. There certainly are challenges to running your own business. One of the biggest challenges as a freelance photographer is bringing in consistent income. I may have several really good months where I make a decent amount of money, only to be followed by several dry months where the income is much less consistent. The bills don’t stop coming just because clients aren’t knocking on my door. Fiscal responsibility is huge, and it’s very important to always be aware of how much money you have both in the bank, and in outstanding invoices (money coming in).

Another challenge is balancing work time and time with my family. While most individuals have consistent 9-5 work schedules each day, my schedule is never really set in stone. Much of my work is done very early or very late when I’m out in the field shooting. It definitely puts a strain on family and extracurricular activities. It’s also tough to balance travel and being away from my family. Many photographers are either single or divorced for reasons of which I’m now well aware. It’s hard to turn away work, even if it takes me away from my family, but you have to keep the big picture in mind every day and weight the pros and cons of each job. It’s also super important to maintain open communication with your spouse and to make sure he/she feels like a player in the decision making process.

4. What advice would you give to students interested in pursuing photography as a profession?

This is a question I get asked at least once a week by aspiring photographers around the world. There are a couple of key pieces of advice I always give.

1. You must be ridiculously impassioned with photography. Especially now in this digital age, there are many, many obstacles to achieving success as a full time photographer. It can seem like an utterly thankless and impossible job at times. At the end of every day, it is key to be doing what you do because you love it. In the end, that is what will get you through the hard times and push you to work harder and find greater success.

2. Build your portfolio. Shoot as many images as you possibly can. Study where you succeed, and where you often fail. Understand your weaknesses and find a way to overcome these photographic challenges. Given the relatively low literal cost of shooting digital images, there’s no excuse not to click away. Study the metadata–understand how aperture, shutter speed and different lenses affect your imagery. Shoot everything and anything possible that grabs your interest. Soon, you will begin to establish your own personal style. It’s vital that you find this style and begin to carve your own photographic path.

3. Learn to write. Whether it’s a simple email to a potential client, or a 1,500 word story for Outdoor Photographer,  creative and proper writing is an undeniably legitimate compliment to impressive imagery. It will exude professionalism, and will make it ten times easier to get your work published. From a purely editorial standpoint, delivering a complete package with both stunning imagery and a cohesive story is a grand slam. Editors dream of receiving the whole package, and there are countless exceptional images that are simply overlooked because there’s no story to accompany them. Being a proficient writer will also aid you in your social media endeavors. Believe it or not, many people in the creative arena enjoy engaging words just as much as exceptional imagery.

4. Take business classes. Better yet, study up on the business of photography. There are countless photographers out there who are incredibly skilled behind the lens, yet they are terrible at business. On the flip side, there are many average photographers out there who are very good businessmen (and women). If you can be both, you will have a leg up on 90% of your competition. Understand how and what you should charge. Learn the art of negotiation. Perhaps the most important aspect is to learn the value of effective marketing and PR. Being a successful photographer means running a successful business. Remember that.

5. Commit yourself. If you want it, stick with it. Don’t ever give up. Work harder and smarter than everyone else. Ignore the naysayers and be confident in your ability to produce exceptional work on a consistent basis. This comes with experience, and experience comes with time. You must commit for the long haul. Good luck!