Dan Carr: Self-Made Pro Outdoor Photographer

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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?

dancarr-1The 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.