Voice of the Artist: How to Have a Second Act as a Photographer

Voice of the Artist: How to Have a Second Act as a Photographer

How April Burns tackled her dream career as a photographer, and how you can too.

When April Burns’ oldest son was two, she hired a photographer to take professional family photos. “They turned out amazing,” she says. She was so impressed with the results that, long after her own photos were delivered, she found herself returning to the photographer’s Facebook page just to look at her work again. 

“I kind of stalked her,” Burns jokes. “And I thought, I’m going to learn how to do this.”

Now, twelve years later, Burns is an Oklahoma-based photographer (and mother of two) who works with families, farm animals, and more. Below, she shares the story of how she launched her dream career—and how you can, too.

1. Learn the Technical Stuff

Boy Holding Bucket Pursue your passion. Image via April Burns.

You may have a natural talent for photography, but if you don’t know how to use professional equipment, a good eye will only take you so far.

“If you’re going to use a big-girl camera, you need to learn to use it,” Burns says. That means understanding how to shoot in manual mode, where you adjust shutter speed, ISO, aperture, and other settings yourself.

“If you’re out on a sunny day and the sun is behind your subject, and that person looks dark, you need to know how to set it so they show up brighter in the frame,” Burns says.

“It takes time to learn. And, it’s frustrating. But eventually, you get to where it’s automatic and you say, ‘Okay, it’s bright outside, my ISO should be at 100.’ Or, ‘It’s really dark in here, it needs to be at 800.’”

The key is to read-up, practice, and repeat. “I just studied and studied,” Burns says. “I read blogs and joined forums and did online workshops.” (She recommends Clickin Moms, a subscription-based community that offers tips and resources to all levels of photographers.)

2. Develop a Point of View 

Do you want to photograph landscapes? Portraits? Weddings? Fashion? “What interests you?” Burns says. “What is important to you?” 

For her, taking beautiful pictures of her family was a priority. “I wanted to photograph all of our memories,” she says.

She also knew from looking at a ton of other artists’ work that she was drawn to open skies, big clouds, and bold colors—and she wanted her own photography to feature those elements as a through-line, as well.

“I love all photography,” she says. “But as far as my own work goes, I’m always trying to make the blues pop a little more.”

Boy at Beach Making the “blues” pop. Image via April Burns.

3. Learn to (Subtly) Stage a Shot

You don’t want a lifestyle photo to appear staged. You want the viewer to feel like they could live in that moment themselves. But, you can’t leave your shot completely to chance either. “A good photograph has to capture your attention right off the bat,” Burns says.

“I try not to direct too much because I want genuine moments. But still, I look around and say to my kids, ‘Hey, go play over there.’”

Among her favorite photos is a picture of her son sitting on a blue barrel, holding a baby goat. “I told him, ‘Just sit right there and let the goats come to you,’” she says.

Baby Goats April likes to shoot for authenticity. Image via April Burns.

She might also ask her subjects to change clothes for a shoot. “When the boys play soccer, they have these neon-color shirts and they are so hard to photograph,” she says. “So, I’ll be like, ‘Can you go put on a blue shirt? Something that’s not going to blow out in the sun.’”  

Boy Eating Ice Cream Color selections are essential in capturing that perfect shot. Image via April Burns.

Even the cows have to be just right.

“I’d rather shoot red or brown cattle than I would black,” Burns says. “Because a lot of the time the black ones end up looking like blobs. I take all of that into account.”

4. Establish a Consistent Editing Style

Another way to prove your aesthetic is through editing.

“I’ve seen photographers, who are starting out, post pictures using five different editing styles for a wedding,” Burns says. “And, you can tell that they don’t have their own style and they’re just throwing every editing preset in there that they can.”

Don’t do that! You’ll attract more clients (and ensure their satisfaction) if you make some intentional choices instead. For instance, do you edit your photos so they have a vintage look, or are bright colors more your thing?

“I think you just need to find who you are, how you want to edit, and be consistent,” Burns says. “And, people change—everybody changes. But, just be consistent in that point in time.”

Little Girl Eating Candy NecklaceFind your own, unique style. Image via April Burns.

5. Charge for Photos When You Can Deliver Professional Results

When loved ones notice that you’ve purchased an expensive camera and are taking better photos than they can by a long shot, they might offer to pay you for your services or refer you to friends in an effort to help you build your business. But, as tempting as it may be to charge for your work right out of the gate, Burns says to hold off.

“If you charge too soon and people don’t like their photos, you might get discouraged and just quit,” she says. “Photographers put so much time and work into their art, it becomes very personal when others do not appreciate it. It’s important to start out shooting for yourself. Find out who you are with your photography first.”

Need a few more inspiring photography tips and advice? Check out these articles:

Voice of the Artist: 5 Expert Tips for Making the Perfect Dog PortraitAbstract Aerial Landscapes We Love (and How to Photograph Them)Van Life in Australia with Photographer Charlie BlackerInspiration from 12 Breathtaking Wildflower LandscapesVideo Tutorial: Learn How to Create Sun Stars with This Quick Tip

Top image via April Burns.

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