Process 088 ☼ How I Started My Career as a Professional Photographer [Pt. 2]
GIVEAWAY: Urth Filter Set + Lens Cleaning Kit
This week’s letter is part two in a series in which I look back at ten years of being a photographer, plus and the lessons I learned.
This week’s PROCESS GIVEAWAY is in partnership with our friends Urth who have made available a filter set and more of their consciously designed creative tools.
I’m opening up a small number of mentoring slots for April. Are you looking to grow, create a portfolio, make a zine or book, or simply want to ask questions? Read more about how it works here and book a session. Below is a recent testimonial from Paris-based photographer Shabnam Ferdowsi.
“My session with Wesley was exactly what I needed to unlock the next immediate steps of my project. He showed me a path forward I had not thought of myself and was encouraging every step of the way. Wesley likes to let you dream big, and that was a really fun way to unleash my creativity. The quick portfolio review was also extremely helpful in seeing my work through experienced eyes. I came out of the session inspired and with more clarity than I had before.”
Leaning Into Travel Photography (2015-16)
Note: This is the second chapter in this series. To read the first chapter go here.
I ended the first chapter of this series around the time when One of Many, my first personal project, led to my first client jobs taking environmental portraits of interesting people while traveling to different cities and countries.
All this traveling around also led to the next adventure in client photography: travel related photography. One of my first clients in this field was legendary US magazine Travel + Leisure. Based on my existing travel schedule they commissioned me to do a photo essay on the Badlands National Park in South Dakota, see below.
A month later I found myself on a last minute road trip in the stunning Big Sur coastal area of California where I shot another photo essay for Travel + Leasure.
During the Big Sur trip I was also able to tie in my first commercial travel client job. Shinola commissioned me to create some images for social media featuring one of their new watches and my friend and fellow photographer Patrick Chin modeled it.
I was spending a lot of time in San Francisco around this time. A bunch of my New York City friends had moved out there so it became my second home. It turned out to be great for my work since I could reach out to tech companies when there and I could shoot almost every day since the light is nearly always perfect.
My First Commercial Video Campaign (2016)
As I was networking more and taking meetings with potential clients I’d often get asked if I also did video. Clients are always trying to simplify their work so hiring one person who can do both is always a plus. Luck would have it that I had experience directing and producing music videos when I was working in the music.
At this point, I was still working in music part of the time while dedicating a full time job’s worth of hours to photography. I didn’t have much of a plan and was mostly following the opportunities that came naturally,
The first client I landed with a hybrid photo/video campaign was Karma. This startup sold an amazing little WiFi hotspot device that you could take anywhere and use to get reception. In 2023 this is normal but in 2016 it was an innovation.
Below is a combined video that shows three short clips I wrote and directed, shot with a drone and edited by videographer Ryan Carl. I also “acted” in these because we didn’t have a budget for an additional person.
We drove around the San Francisco area looking for locations that suited the story we were trying to tell but also allowed us to legally fly a drone. The music we used was by Casey Shea, one of the artists on the record label I was still running as well at the time.
My First Corporate Portrait Shoot (2016)
Going back and forth between New York City and San Francisco and networking in both places helped me get my name out there, but the key was being able to showcase work I had done organically. My project One of Many was the most effective billboard and helped open doors for me with potential clients, which was a big lesson learned. Consistently releasing the kind of work I wanted to do was the best way for potential clients I’d meet to understand what they could hire me for.
Since One of Many was an editorial portrait project it opened the doors for me to approach companies with the idea of making their corporate portraits stand out among all the boring white background ones their competitor use. Below are examples of two such company portraits done in a more creative and interesting way.
On the left we have Jessica, co-founder of a sustainable furniture company, and is Benjamin who is the CEO of a hospitality startup. I have a full portfolio of this kind of creative business portraits and I do this work to this day. Most recently I photographed the executive team over at WeTransfer for a big announcement.
My First Big Commercial Shoots (2016)
Now that I was started to get my foot in the door with some great companies by way of the creative corporate portraits my network was growing and clients started reaching out to me for commercial shoots and marketing campaigns.
One of my first big commercial shoot was for Squarespace. They reached out to me to create images that could be used to showcase a set of 12 new website templates. These templates had been developed specifically for creatives who needed a website so my work was a good fit. I had an existing relationship with Squarespace since they sponsored One of Many a few years previous which meant they knew they could rely on my to not only shoot these images but also cast the right kind of creatives from my network. Below are four of the images that made it into the campaign, showing templates for podcasters, online flowershops, makers, and a company sports team.
One of my other bigger commercial clients around this time was razor company Harrys for who I did an editorial series on barbershops around the world that I talked about in Process 080.
Finding my Passion for Street Portraits (2016)
Around the same time I also discovered my passion for photographing strangers on the street or anywhere else I’d spot someone interesting. It became a bit of an addiction and to this day I still carry a camera almost anywhere.
These kind strangers would frequently end up being cast for my commercial campaigns which I wrote about in Process 035. Below are two portraits I took of friends Fola and Sasha at my local Brooklyn coffee shop. Years later I was able to license Fola’s picture, with her permission and for a fee, to a non-profit client.
My First Non-Profit Shoots
During my time living in San Francisco I got involved in doing pro-bono (unpaid) shoots for non-profits, something I’d like to get back into in Amsterdam as well. My favorite of these shoots was for an organization called the Episcopal Community Services which runs a culinary training program for homeless people. Homelessness is a huge problem in the San Francisco area and this program changed so many lives. Almost 80% of the graduates of this free program would find a job after graduation.
My shoot was supposed to be quick and easy, just some simple graduation portraits of about 12 students, for maybe an hour. However, once I was there I was overcome with inspiration and spent several hours taking portraits of many more students and staff. I ended up pitching these portraits to SF Magazine to get some more attention for the program and they ran it as a full page with some text in their next issue. See below.
That’s it for this chapter! I will pick this series back up again in about six weeks with stories from 2017-2018, including my return to analog photography for the first time since childhood and how that impacted my career.
Next week: A conversation with my friend and fellow street portraitist Sissi Lu.
Keep shooting and take good care of yourselves and others!
Find me on Glass / LinkedIn / Instagram / Twitter / Pocket / YouTube
Shout Out of the Week
Major Shout Out to our friends at MPB.com, the largest global platform to buy, sell and trade used photo and video kit. They have served over 625,000 visual storytellers while recirculating more than 400,000 products annually –– all of which come with a six-month warranty after being carefully inspected by our product specialists.
In Process 087 I got a chance to test a Fujifilm GFX 100s from MPB’s assortment and for the next six months I will be testing a few more special cameras to write about.
This week’s prize is a PRIZE courtesy of the new collaboration with Urth. I am a big fan of their filters and even dedicated Process 079 to my experience with filters. Now you can get some of their amazing filters as part of this Giveaway! More specifically: their CPL Polarising Filter Plus, a UV Filter Plus+, and a Glass Cleaning Kit5.
To enter this Process Giveaway share your thoughts in the comment section for this issue and answer this question:
QUESTION: If you could shoot the portrait of anyone in the world, who would that person be?
My answer, today, would be Michelle Yeoh who just won an Oscar for her role in Everything Everywhere All At Once.
ENTER THIS WEEK’S GIVEAWAY before 11pm EST on March 19th.
The winner will be randomly drawn. This giveaway is for Process subscribers only.
Did you enjoy this issue? Share it with a friend who might love it too.
Can’t get enough? Browse the Process Archives.
I would like to take portraits of my favorite musicians at the moment: Alvaro Diaz and Tyler the creator. It would be so cool because they both have an awesome style and a strong personality
Ohh, that's a tough question. The first person that came to mind was Michaela Coel so I'll stick with her! The person who I would truly love to be able to shoot a portait of is my late grandmother. I have many snaps of her but she died long before I started to take photography seriously.