Photographer Robert MacNeil on how to get started in the industry

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I would ask all of you before reading this article, to close your eyes and try to remember the first few weeks you held your new camera. You stood there like a deer in the headlights, wanting to be Annie Leibovitz or Ansel Adams but had no idea how to make the most of this wonderful camera in your hands. Many of you are die hard readers and will do lots of research while the rest of us are explorers are trying to figure out how to become a decent photographer by listening to others, playing with the dials and just shooting nonstop.

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Don’t get me wrong, I am no expert as I am always learning everyday as well but after millions of images shot I have started to figure out how to take decent photographs.  What words of advice can I share that I have been told or discovered on my own?

There is no such thing as a bad photograph, hear me out. Yes we have all seen those overexposed, out of focus, crooked and poorly framed images and yes you probably took your fair share of them…admit it. I say these are all good photographs because you are out shooting, developing your skills and comfort level with the camera. In 6 months you will look back and say out loud, oh my god these are horrible but you can see a difference in your skills. Time and practice is a photographer’s greatest friend.

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Don’t be afraid to try anything or being accused of copying another photographer’s style. Let me share something with you, we are all thieves. All the greats saw something that inspired them to try to emulate, to make their own but ultimately every photographer will borrow ideas from each other. There is no crime in it, own it but never forget who inspired you. I started shooting nature then transitioned to abstract as I was inspired by my love of art. Over time Boudoir led to fashion/art photography which is my love. I have a very ethereal shooting style that is a mix of inspiration of several photographers, taking elements I loved from each. Never let anyone stop your journey, which leads to point # 3.

Surround yourself with creatives, people who are more open minded about creating visuals. I see many photographers who venture out on their own, afraid to go to galleries, won’t read art magazines and are afraid to talk to others about photography. Photography is art, yes even taking photographs of flowers and kittens. You are capturing a moment in time through your eyes. Now imagine surrounding yourself with artists, photographers and painters who see the world differently with a powerful passion to create. Their inspiration will change you, as you will see that flower in a new light, with different angles, powerful or muted colours: Yours but better.

Take your camera with you everywhere and shoot anything and everything. There is a saying that it takes any artist 40,000 hours to master his/her craft. How will you master your camera if it is sitting at home waiting for that special event? In these 40,000 hours you will learn what captivates your creative spirit and help you master your camera.

Karma, yes I said Karma. Always be kind and give back. As I explore areas on photo adventures I am always looking for exciting subjects and locations to shoot. Frequently during these trips I always stumble across other photographers, seasoned, new and everything in between. Talk to them, tell them what you saw and inspire them to go and shoot there as well. They will hopefully in turn share what treasures they have stumbled across. Ultimately creating a positive environment, one of help and kindness in our field.

As much as visuals are a form of communication, when planning a photoshoot with more than just yourself the written and spoken word are even more important. As you develop your skills, you may decide to plan a photoshoot with a group of people. Trust me when I say this, continually communicate to every member what the goal of the shoot is, the date, time, details, what you expect of everyone. Always be positive as these people are on their own journey as well. I find that some people are very responsive while others may tend to be slower. This is why follow up is also key. The days before a shoot follow up again, have clear and concise directions, times and phone numbers in case of an issue (and yes there are always issues, be flexible and have a backup plan always). As a fashion photographer that shoots outside something always happens, from weather issues, late or missing team members to technical issues. Breathe, and default to your backup plans and remember you are doing what you enjoy.

Lastly, yes I can come up with many more but let’s be realistic, life is too short to be burdened with directions. Grab your camera, get out and shoot with others but don’t forget to enjoy yourself.


Robert MacNeil

Author: Robert MacNeil

Published in over 400 magazines worldwide, Robert MacNeil in continually on the search for that perfect image that encapsulates his search for beauty, colour and fluidity.