3 Things I've Learned in 5 Years as a Photographer / by Christian Hernandez

I started taking my photography seriously in the Summer of 2013 after moving to New York City. With my Canon 7D, I did a lot of portrait and event work at the graduate school I attended. I also roamed NYC photographing the city on my own. That summer is when I began learning the ins and outs of my camera and how to photograph.

Between then and now, I've learned a lot. I've done weddings, engagements, more portraits, some studio work, learned a lot about lighting, filters - you name it. And there's still a lot for me to learn. But I wanted to share 3 things that I've internalized since becoming a photographer that I hope can help an aspiring photographer reading this.

1 - You Will Grow

I started photography like anyone else who starts any new venture - not knowing anything. I took to YouTube to learn, played around with my camera body and lenses, read the manual, and figured out how to make the camera work the way I wanted it to. I soaked in as much information as I could and put it into practice and learned by watching and doing.

For anyone reading this and doubting their skills, my encouragement is this: YOU WILL GROW. Allow yourself some grace. You will grow 1) in your skills as a photographer, and 2) in your confidence as a photographer. You have permission to make mistakes. You have permission to try settings and poses and lighting and figure out what you like and don't like. After all, photography is an art and there is flexibility in the form. If you have a paying client, definitely be sure you can provide professional and high-level results; but my advice and encouragement is to take the risks and learn because you will get better at photographing the more you do it.

2 - It Takes Work

Becoming a photographer takes a LOT more work than you think, and a lot more work than I initially anticipated. Particularly 3 types of effort - administrative, physical, and creative. If you're new to photography and planning on making any income with it, allow this to be your notice.

Administrative: Marketing yourself will take a lot of work. From calls, to making blog posts, to making videos, to advertising your services online, making contracts, networking, figuring out schedules and payment. All of that is work. And work that you don't really get paid for.

Physical: Aside from the administrative side of things, day-of-events also take a lot of work. I was second-shooting a wedding recently for 10 hours and the day really left me exhausted, taking a toll on my feet and back. And mind you - I never have physical complaints. At weddings, I'm standing the majority of those hours with heavy camera bodies and lenses on me, moving, running up and down, and carrying a lot of equipment. It's work.

Creative: And one last sub-category - our creativity is something we constantly have to stay on top of. Knowing what camera settings to use, what poses we want, what lighting, when the best time is - that is also work that may not be obvious when thinking about being a photographer.

In addition, one thing I can say with certainty that I've learned throughout the years is that photographing is the most enjoyable and fulfilling work I've ever done. I get to do what I love while producing content that I'm really proud of. It's taken me a while to internalize that not everyone knows how to do what I do. Not everyone can pick up a camera and adjust what is needed and produce a professional image. So while just about everyone has a powerful camera in their pocket nowadays, photography is still a skill that not everyone has the eye or talent for. With every shoot, I'm amazed at the quality of work I am able to produce and find a great deal of satisfaction from knowing I created some great images for other people. And in a way, when I'm shooting, it doesn't even feel like work most of the time - it's naturally enjoyable to me.

3 - The Value of Community

Lastly, I've learned the value of community. In the time of growing, learning, and expanding my experience, I've found that the photography community has been really supportive and helpful both personally and through social media. I'm part of several photography groups online and I've also made relationships in person with photographers that have really taken a chance on me and devoted of their time and resources to invest in my growth. Through answering questions, educating me, allowing me to accompany them on shoots - collectively, the community has been amazingly understanding and supportive.

When I first entered the various online groups, I thought people would be trading tough criticism on photos, equipment, and I expected to see some level of judgment in the comments. (I'm not sure where that expectation came from - I think I'm harder on myself than others are to each other and I assumed others would be saying the things that I think about my insecurities.) But they have proven me wrong. I haven't seen much judgment, but instead have seen the community be very forgiving of mistakes and constructive in helping others improve the craft.

That, along with other things, all lead up to the most fulfilling "work" for me.