A Pro Talks About His Photography Training

Read an insider’s perspective on photography training and careers.

Dan Schrock

Self-Employed Photographer
More than 14 years in the field

What do you like most about the job?

Everything has a beautiful spot, a beautiful shape. One of my favorite jobs was for a golf company. They gave me some golf clubs to shoot but didn’t tell me what the selling points of a golf club are. The shots were very abstract, unconventional, but they loved it for that reason. It’s rare that someone gives you something and says, “Go do whatever you want to do, and we’ll use it.” The images did something different, and they were both criticized and complimented for that, but they were very successful. You can pull anything out that you want, if you’re not told how to look at it.

How did you decide to become a photographer?

It’s the classic story: Someone gave me a camera when I was seven. I loved looking at pictures, loved taking them. I took pictures at night, lights, streets, landscapes, sundown. I just played with the camera and learned how it worked and took classes at the local photo store. I had a fascination with textures and took close shots of surfaces. I started developing in high school and then studied photography and painting for my BFA. I took painting classes to get a better understanding of color theory.

What was your first job after your training?

My first job that was photo-related was as a printer for a woman who did head shots for actors and musicians. But I could only be in the darkroom so much, so I started working as an assistant for photographers—50 bucks a day for 10 or 12 hours of work. I swept floors, greeted clients and went for bagels. Then you have to be on the set, do light meter readings, set up lights, shoot Polaroids, load and download film—just be a competent photographer. You need to know the standard lingo and how all the equipment works.

What is most challenging about the job?

My bread and butter assignments are catalogues. I got into a niche where people would call me to photograph their toy line, from tiny one-person shops to multimillion dollar companies. Right now I’m trying to change the business, get into bigger advertising budgets. The hardest part is getting a client and then building that relationship. Any photographer might see an ad in a magazine or on a billboard and think, “I could do that job,” but hooking up with people who can give you the big-budget project is something else.

What do people starting out need to know?

Arrogance will kill you. The minute you think you know everything is the day you’re done. We still learn from every photo shoot. We learn how to be more efficient, or we learn about a new lighting technique by accident. I want my client to be completely comfortable with my talent, but I’ll listen to them. They could have a better idea—it’s their product. They might know something more about what they’re trying to sell than I do.

What makes a good day for you?

My favorite thing to do is photograph for industrial design firms. They walk in with a prototype that nobody has seen, and they say, “We need to make this look better.” It’s fun to take something that looks mundane and boring and surprise them. Whoever the client is, they always have the same expression the first day when the first film comes back from the lab. They say, “Wow, that looks better than we ever expected.”

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