For many photographers, the jump from amateur to professional can seem like a daunting task. In the action sports realm, that game can be even trickier with the fact that there are many talented people vying for a relatively small amount of commercial work (in the grand scheme of things). There are only so many media outlets and commercial opportunities for some very specific niche industries.
But one photographer stands out as a self-made man, turning two newfound passions into a career while quickly making a name for himself as one of the best in his field. It’s hard to believe that when Dan Carr first moved to Whistler, he had neither skied nor shot photos on anything more than a point-and-shoot camera. But his drive for quality and perseverance to deliver an exceptional product vaulted his position from am to pro in just over a year.
We were lucky enough to sit down with Dan in Whistler and discuss his success, hopefully relaying a few morsels of knowledge to pass along the way.
The Clymb: What got you started in your photography career?
Dan Carr: Whistler itself is really the place that got me into photography. Back in the UK where I’m from, a friend invited me to go to Whistler for a season before going to University. At that point I had never skied or snowboarded. I came out here with him and fell in love with the mountain lifestyle and I got a pocket digital camera to take some snaps and really enjoyed it. That’s when I first got into photography.
After the season I went back to England, got my degree in aerospace engineering, and decided to come back to Whistler for another year before getting a desk job. That time though, I picked up my first DSLR. It turned out that I ended up living with some crazy skiers who where much better than I was, and I started taking pictures of them. Eventually local magazines started asking for my photos and as soon as I started to see them in print, I thought that this was something I could see myself getting into this as a job. I started teaching myself photography on things online.
The Clymb: So how did you get the respect of big companies and media outlets to be recognized as someone they could contract out for a shoot?
Dan Carr: One thing that I was very conscious of to start with was — you only get one chance for a first impression. I didn’t rush out there to throw my first one or two awesome photos to the ski mag editors. I realized I needed some kind of online presence so I taught myself how to build websites. And then I spent a whole winter season just shooting, not trying to get paid for it, and just concentrated on building a portfolio that I was really proud of. From that point I started contacting the ski magazines. While everyone wants to get into commercial work, I think it’s good to get your stuff out there first with the media and that’s what I did.
The Clymb: Over the past 10 years of your career, social media has really blown up. How has that affected your business?
Dan Carr: You know it’s funny, I think there are different types of photographers who can benefit from social media. I don’t think someone who is known as a ski or action sports photographer can benefit from it in a way where, say, a wedding photographer might. Those people have a consistently rolling client base where promotion is key to keep the clients coming in. But in a niche industry like skiing, your client pool is actually relatively small. Social media is interesting because it can be a real time-drainer. So you always have to weigh out what you can benefit from the time you put in — how are you recouping that time in income?
The Clymb: What would you say to people who enjoy taking photos, and perhaps want to make a go of it professionally?
Dan Carr: I recently held a seminar in Vancouver with a few other pro photographers and the theme was on making the switch from an amateur to professional. One of the teachers used to be a banker, one was a stand-up comedian, and and I was an aerospace engineer. We were all now professionals in the photography industry, but none of us had actually been to photography school. What we wanted to demonstrate in the seminar was that, it doesn’t matter what you are doing for a job right now, if you have an interest in photography there’s no reason why you can’t make a business out of it. You don’t need to feel like, “well, I wish that 10 years ago I went to photography school.” That’s irrelevant. There are so many ways to learn out there these days, so many free or cheap resources. If you feel like you are stuck at your desk job and only working for the weekends but you’re really into photography, then just bear in mind that it’s always a possibility if you go about it the right way.
The Clymb: So what else are you working on these days?
Dan Carr: Other than shooting and editing my various trips and working on my blog, I recently started up a new site to do a bit more of the educational stuff in Photography. You never really stop learning things as your career develops: you get new gear, you go on trips, you have new clients. So I wanted to have this website where I could push myself to try new things, learn new things, and take people along that journey as well. It covers everything from learning how to shoot landscape photography, to search engine optimization for your website.
Dan can be found at facebook.com/dancarrphoto, and the new educational site he has launched is www.shuttermuse.com. And don’t forget to look in the latest ski magazines and product catalogs to see the fruits of Dan’s labor.