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Going Pro With David McLain: Walk Before You Fly


“I’m a great believer in luck. I find the harder I work the more of it I have.” -Thomas Jefferson


The career curve of every successful photographer I know represents a slow and steady rise over time that is powered by a combination of passion, perseverance, skill, and luck. The photographers you most admire were not always living a life as glamorous as the one you are watching them lead now. Chances are they started small, ate lots of ramen, and built their careers over time. Usually, over a long time.  

This inconvenient fact is easy to forget in the age of instant gratification and overnight Youtube sensations. On the whole however, you need to remember that fast tracks to success in photography are the exception, not the norm. This is a normal, age old phenomena and not in any way bad news.

Simply put, you get good at something by spending a lot of time doing it. The more time you spend the better you get. The sooner you accept this, roll up your sleeves, and start doing the hard work the better off you will be. Learning how to master something and improve over time is one of the great and lasting joys of life. Photographers are exceedingly lucky this way because like guitar players, our work is never done. You can always get better and break new ground. What a gift!

Put more time into learning to master your craft and less time into trying to find a shortcut to the life you think you deserve right now but probably don’t. You gotta walk before you can fly and sometimes walking is more fun anyway.

I made this fake credential to try and shoot a Neil Young concert when I was in High School. In retrospect, the most amazing thing was my absolute certainty it would work (it didn’t). I shot this cover photo for National Geographic Magazine 21 years later. Never once have I stopped shooting and trying to get better at my craft.