Three Simple Daily Routines That Transformed Me From a Wandering Beginner to a Relentless Pro

Three Simple Daily Routines That Transformed Me From a Wandering Beginner to a Relentless Pro

There are endless instructions and formulas out there you can choose to follow when working towards becoming a photographer. To say that it's overwhelming is an understatement. I know all too well how easy it is to let the discouraging cloud of options cause you so much anxiety that you fail to accomplish anything in a day. Our time, money, and attention spans are limited, but you do not have to let this stop you from following your dreams. I know, there's a lot of tutorials to watch and gear to purchase, but it's what you do every single day that will take you farther than anything. So, here's what I do, and I do it obsessively.

1. Be Ready and Take Your Camera Everywhere

Can you even count the number of times you wish you'd been ready? That moment when you exclaim, "Eureka!" "Serendipity!" There are thousands of moments when I suddenly realized that the perfect moment, the perfect memory, would slip through my fingers. Regretfully, I so often have thought, “I wish I had my camera right now!”

There are so many magical moments in our every day lives, seemingly simple, yet perfect at the time. Imagine a woman walking to work in editorial-ready wardrobe, the rush hour sunset setting atop the building just right. See the homeless man with that raw natural emotion in his eyes, the essence that often takes years for a model to emulate.

Cast your net wide. Photograph anything that catches your attention, whether it be the beautiful, the strange, and even the ugly, at all times of your day, indoors and outdoors, in the darkest of nights and the sunniest afternoons. Stay ready. You will end up with a computer full of images. You will then sift through your hard drives full of flowers, dogs, and random city streets. Maybe you will discover treasure. In the end, it doesn't even matter. I assure you that the process of attaining them will lead you to what you are meant to be. Success is not a place, it's a process.

The act of photographing will show you where your strengths and weaknesses lie. Over time, as you wax on and wax off, you will learn how to truly use your camera like a painter who has discovered how to skillfully imbue her work with the essence of creativity.

Portrait Photography By Gabrielle Colton
I took this photo at a local fair in downtown Louisville. I posed the model in a small clown car. The green kick light is being made by a giant disco ball and neon lights behind her.

2. Get Out There and Start Talking

I know. I get it. It’s really awkward starting to talk about your work and to shout to the world that you are a photographer. It isn't easy, but how could it possibly be? Everyone is judging you, friends are telling you “you’ll never make any money," and your family scolds you for dropping out of college to be an artist of all things. Nobody ever tires of the starving artist joke. Seriously. Start a collection jar. Trust me.

Take your scarlet letter everywhere you go, let your camera display who you are for the world to see. Eventually, you will learn that the judgments, critiques, jokes, and insults will fade to a buzzing noise. One day we all hope to hear the gasps of awe, the good natured congratulations and exclamations of joy at a sensational memory, and even the silence followed with tears. Talking and walking as a photographer will forge you into a photographer.

It was only when I came out of my shell and started to photograph random people on the street that I became comfortable talking. To be uncomfortable is a trait that makes us artists in the first place, but you can morph that insecurity into strength. You can overcome that feeling in your chest, that racing heart, that fear of the unknown into a driving force that brings you success. Take a leap of faith.

It’s not about you or your gear, it’s about the faces, the places and the moments in our precious time that you feel drawn to capture for the world to see.

Portrait Photography By Gabrielle Colton, Model: Alex Gaines
I took a few shots of Alex in front of the gate surrounding this ride. They weren't spectacular. We asked the operator nicely if she could pose on the horses and he excitedly agreed. Simply talking to a stranger took this set from a senior photo vibe to a glamorous beauty shot within seconds.

3. Take Risks (Sorry, Mom)

For five years nearly everyone who has crossed my path has advised against the choices I’ve made to become a photographer and all of the risks I had to take to get here. When I was eighteen, I picked up and left Oregon, I left my whole family, my tribe, what some would call a successful, on track after high school life. I moved to Atlanta, my decision was absolutely crazy. I had no money, zero real world experience, no job lined up, and I didn’t know anyone there. I risked everything for a dream I wasn’t even sure was possible at the time. That first journey has led me to so many more over the last few years and now I’m in a place I never imagined I'd find myself, Louisville, Kentucky, where I picked up and moved again last year for a life changing internship with Clay Cook.

Photojournalism By Gabrielle Colton In Standing Rock 2016
I took this image in Standing Rock, North Dakota during a day of peaceful resistance against the Dakota Access Pipeline. I took countless risks being present in Standing Rock. Many journalists were arrested, some even injured, and many had their gear confiscated and kept by law enforcement.

I needed the extreme to truly find myself. You could even say that this journey was my vision quest, my own personal awakening. Find your own inspiration. Traverse the mountain. Become the photographer you are meant to be.

Log in or register to post comments
Jerome Courtial's picture

Great article Gabrielle!

Gabrielle Colton's picture

Thank you so much!

Patrick Hall's picture

Did you ever publish your Dakota Pipeline series? I remember you leaving for that in Nov....I bet that was a cold trip to make!

Gabrielle Colton's picture

I posted images and writing to my social media accounts, and had amazing response but never really had a platform to publish it further. I will definitely write an article about it, there is so much to share. It was the hardest thing I have ever done both as a photographer and as a Native. I have a small portion of the images I took on my site here: I also created a studio shoot with emotional BTS video here:

It's emotional for me to even view all my content now, but I can't wait to share it here.

Dave Hayford's picture

Thank You

Dr. Dominik Muench's picture

couldn't agree more with point 1.
one of the reasons I bought a Gh5, my other camera gear is way too big but you can't capture if you dont carry ^^

Deleted Account's picture

Anytime I read business advices from photographers, I wonder how much is their net income...
Just a thought.

Gabrielle Colton's picture

I sometimes wonder the same thing. I personally do not value money or possessions, I love being able to just pick up and leave wherever I want to go. Above all else the most important accomplishments are in yourself, your craft and your progress, the money will come.

Deleted Account's picture

If one is calling him/herself a "pro", the money is something that need to be considered. The money will not come by itself. People like to repeat that, but it is just not true. Yes, one may travel the world and be paid here and there, and experience some adventures. However, if one is thinking about providing for his/her family, maybe buy a house, car, save for retainment, one need solid plan.
The craft is just a product that need to be sold. Unless you are not a pro. Then you can make just an art without worrying about selling it ;)

Gabrielle Colton's picture

I completely respect your opinion. This depends on an individuals end goals. If I wanted a house or a new car I would definitely place more value on the income side of photography, but I don't want that.

Yes, I do what I have to to pay the bills with photography, for example shooting weddings even though my end goal isn't to be a wedding photographer.

But I would never sacrifice my end goals to dive completely into wedding photography because I may be able to buy a buy a house with the money I make. Unfortunately in this industry you've got to "struggle" monetarily for a while until you gain the clientele in the areas of photography you want to be in.

The money factor in the early years of shooting full time is also effected by your local market, where I'm at in Kentucky it's a small market and hard to get your foot in the door.

But in the end, my cultures's a lot different than the typical American one and that's why I'll never place the institution of the American dollar above anything, nothing. It's just not in my blood. Native Americans place fresh value on the land, comunity progress, togetherness, family and spirituality.

I don't place value on possessions. I don't have many, not because I can't afford them but because it's an incredible freedom to not feel stuck in one place because you have a house filled with heavy things. If I wanted to I could throw everything in my car and move across the country tomorrow, its one of the best feelings.

When you feel so passionately about Photograohy, when you use it not for attention or dollars but for progress, to uplift others and change, you see the genuine good it brings to people, how beautiful a woman now feels because of your photos, the memories in images that people will hold on to forever. That my friend ,is more valuable than any amount of money.

Ps, when you work diligently every single day and ALWAYS have good intentions and helpful energy towards the world, the money does come to you. It's the way of the world. When I need it, it's placed in my life. If you chase it, you will be chasing it the rest of your life, a piece of paper, a number on a screen that somehow gives you affirmation of your life.

People don't have to live for money, it's just what we've been taught it's the symbol of a " successful American "

And here is the definition of "Proffessional" has little to do with money, and is not in any way specific to a certain amount of money that alllows you to buy a house.

Dr. Dominik Muench's picture

I dont think net income should be the bar to measure with. success comes in many forms, for some its the platinum Amex, for others its the freedom not to be chained to a desk 9-5 monday to friday. I know a lot of photographers and filmmakers who dont make a lot of money or can afford to buy thousands of dollars of gear every month BUT they're happy and they enjoy what they're doing and thats what matters. Too many people stuck in dull, menial 9-5 jobs that make decent money but are depressed.

Jimmy Barber's picture

Great article! Thank you for sharing your experiences ... You have some amazingly beautiful photographs!

Gabrielle Colton's picture

Thank you so much for reading, look forward to sharing it all with you guys!