How to take photography from a hobby to a meaningful career

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The age of tripods, shattering light bulbs, changing films, closing one eye to look through the tiny lens and after all that, waiting a couple weeks to finally see how the photos turn out, well, that’s long gone.

In this digital age, everyone’s a photographer and fleeting but priceless moments such as a sleeping TTC worker or an Olympian winning gold are quickly captured using cell phones and digital cameras.

But despite cameras becoming widely available and very user-friendly, photography still remains a skilled art and professional equipment and experience are necessary to snap praise-worthy portraits.

I spoke with Sai-Kit Chu, a Ryerson University information technology management (ITM) grad and photographer, to get the lowdown on photography as a rather serious hobby.

Q. What attracted you to photography?

A. I got my first point and shoot camera in the second year of university and started taking a lot of shots as it did not require film, so cost was not a factor. When I went on trips with family and friends, I saw people with professional equipment and the kind of shots they could create. That was the motivating factor for me in taking photography seriously and buying a better camera.

Self portrait on a flight of stairs by Sai-Kit Chu (www.saikit.ca)

Q. What did you need to learn after getting the serious camera?

A. Some things to consider once you have the gear:

  • Location – what and where to shoot, requires planning
  • Timing – when to shoot, dusk and dawn are golden times as the sun is not directly on top, allows more creativity
  • Knowledge – how to shoot, you need to know your lenses and equipment in order to change the settings to get the best effect

Q. What are some of the challenges new photographers face and what are your solutions?

A. Getting the gear is rather cheap and getting a decent professional camera is not as expensive as it used to be. Hence, distinguishing yourself from the next person requires dedication. Initially, money and recognition should not be a big concern so don’t copyright or watermark your pictures. Instead do the opposite, share them with other photographers and online to get feedback on your work.

Q. For students and recent grads who are interested in becoming photographers, what kind of education and training is out there?

A. Formal training at post-secondary institutions: Ryerson, Sheridan, Seneca and George Brown, etc. Workshops offered by commercial and  individual photographers. Photography retailers such as Henry’s, Black’s and Vistek offer information and educational material. Online communities – photography forums, Flickr, Meetup and Facebook. There are many video tutorials on YouTube. You can also take advantage of books and videos at your local public library.

The beautiful city of Toronto at night by Sai-Kit Chu (www.saikit.ca)

Q. What career opportunities exist for young photographers?

A. There are a lot of niche markets: e.g., weddings, corporate, sports, nature and portraits. But no one will hire you if it’s your first time doing it. You first need to build your portfolio and gain experience by volunteering and shooting behind the main photographer. The opportunity to volunteer with established photographers can also be a challenge as there is a lot of competition, so networking is key.

Q. Tips for beginners?

A. Courses and training can provide you with the technical know-how, but photography is very subjective, so follow a few basic guidelines to find your inner photographer:

  • Practice makes perfect – shoot more often
  • Always carry your camera – have a small and convenient camera handy
  • Equipment does matter – after some experience get a better camera if you can afford it
  • Post-process – going this extra step is very important, edit your pictures
  • Quality over quantity – be selective, don’t post all your 200 photos from a weekend trip to the beach, rather know your best shots
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