Mailbag: Getting Started

Here’s another reader question from the mail bag.. one I get quite frequently.

I enjoy both food and travel and love flicking through cook books and magazines. Your photos are exactly the kind of photography I could look at for hours!!

Do you have any advice as to how I could build up a good portfolio and gain some experience? I’m doing an intensive course in photography but don’t know much about how I could go about creating a specific portfolio.

My main piece of advise is just to practice, practice, practice. Take your camera with you everywhere and try to take the kinds of photos that you like to look at. If you are more interested in travel, start looking at your own city as a tourist might… imagine the kind of article you’d want to photograph for. If you are more interested in food, start cooking & shooting… or just buy easily transportable stuff (bakeries or candy shops are best) and shoot it at home. (notice I didn’t say start shooting in restaurants… you’ll be at a disadvantage because you can’t control the lighting).

Once you are ready, start finding folks to give you feedback on your work. Flickr is a great place for this… look for groups that specialize in food & travel and offer critiques. And, don’t be afraid to add a note on your description asking for feedback. you’ll get a lot that isn’t very helpful (ie, the “great shot” type stuff which makes you feel good, but doesn’t help you get any better), but you’ll also get some nuggets of wisdom.

Also, simply because it helps you shoot and get your work seen, I think everyone should have a blog and try to publish on a regular schedule. Even if you don’t want to write much, you can post photos. It’s a good exercise in delivering something on a regular basis, and you never know… you could be discovered. It’s free to do, so why not!

Of course, if you want to go pro, schooling is a good choice. If you can afford it. Personally, I think both culinary and photography schools are outrageously expensive. But, you will learn to deal with all kinds of situation and build a solid foundation of skills.

Finally, again if you want to go pro, find a pro photographer in your area, and ask to take them for lunch or coffee and get to know them. Maybe they can give you a portfolio critique. See if they have internships. Watching others work is a great way to gain experience.

How about you? What did you do to get started?