A little over six years ago, I decided to take a leap and go all-in with photography. For me, it was the realization of a dream that I had been pushing toward for several years. Picking up photoshoots after hours and making good client relationships was all part of my goal to become a full-time photographer.

But with time comes a certain realization, about what worked, and what didn’t. The three lessons below aren’t meant to be strict rules to how you approach your photography, rather they’re moments that I realized made or pushed back my career.

1. Don’t put all your eggs in one basket

This is one that we’re constantly told, yet it’s hard to actually listen to this advice. A couple years back, I was unexpectedly dropped by two clients. One was due to them wanting to work with an all-in-one agency; the other was simply miscommunication after some staff changes.

While I ultimately was able to start working with one of these clients again, it taught me to not just rely on a few clients in order to make ends meet. I had a few long nights trying to figure out how I would fill that income hole, and lucky for me, a few of my clients came through with unexpected shooting opportunities. When the client came back to me later that year and asked me to start photographing again, I was able to take it on and keep pushing myself forward.

2. It’s OK to say no

In the start of my career, I said yes to everything. Weddings. Family photos. Newborn shoots. You name it. I quickly realized that those three genres just weren’t for me. But it took me much, much longer to figure out how to say no, and that it was OK to do so.

You need to be able to enjoy your photography. While this is a job, for most of us it’s a passion, too. By taking jobs you don’t want, you risk losing that passion.

Before the Covid-19 pandemic, I was told by another photographer that “I was the corporate events guy” in Grand Rapids. To this day, that’s been the biggest complement I’ve received as a photographer. By specializing in a few genres you enjoy, you’re putting yourself on the map. You become known for that type of photography, which ultimately presents itself with new opportunities.

3. Keep pushing

When the Covid-19 pandemic hit, there was a ton of uncertainty. For me, I lost several jobs, and had even more postponed. The first few weeks, I didn’t bother going out. I stayed home … after all, Michigan was under a stay-at-home order.

But then I started to get the itch to get back out there, and I had a local magazine client that needed photographs for an upcoming feature. Knowing that news media could be out during the stay-at-home order, I chased being able to photograph for that magazine feature. And sure enough, I had a letter that allowed me to be out, in case I was ever stopped (I wasn’t).

Additionally, I went out and photographed the emptiness around me. I got the OK from the city to photograph from parking garages and caught several surreal scenes. Ultimately I showed one of my clients, and I put together a proposal to photograph for them for the next couple months in a similar manner. It led to me getting (virtual) face time with them and making sure I made a mark. And as the city opened back up, I was first to be called once a sense of normalcy reestablished itself.

Without this internal push, I don’t think I would have been able to make ends meet. I would have eventually had to pick up another job, and possibly give up photography. But by being active and pushing ideas to my clients, I was able to stay afloat and exceed expectations during the early days of the pandemic. I just wish I had done it sooner!