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The PRO-Files: Three Tips to Kick-Start Your Photo Career

Stan Moniz succeeds at whatever he does. He’s been a professional musician and pro body-boarder and now he makes his living as a professional photographer. As you read this, he’s traveling in Australia as a member of the Sony Alpha Imaging Collective to work with and learn from other talented photographers, including one of the top outdoor photographers in the world, Sony Artisan Colby Brown. They’re spending two weeks down under, focused solely on photography. It’s the kind of thing Moniz does regularly; not the traveling to Australia part, but going the extra mile. Every day he goes the extra mile, sets the bar higher, works harder and ultimately does whatever it takes to better himself as a photographer and push his young career forward. It’s an example we can all learn from.

Moniz has only been a pro photographer for two-and-a-half years, but already he’s had a shot on the cover of Outdoor Photographer magazine as well as sponsorships from the likes of Sony, Slik, Aquatech and more. What’s the mysterious, magical secret to his ongoing success? He works hard, plain and simple. Up early and back late, he won’t stop until he’s reached his goals. He’s regularly asked by younger photographers how he managed to kick-start his career so quickly. Here’s what he tells them.

Over Deliver…Always

Whatever Moniz decides to do, he does full speed. This drive and ambition isn’t easily taught, but the example he sets should serve as inspiration. He treats every job like an audition for a future full of repeat customers. Sure enough, doing more, going farther and faster, it’s all part of his standard operating procedure. In short, his goal is always to over deliver.

“The way I see things,” he says, “I always over deliver. And I always deliver before the time it’s due. That’s one thing I always live by. And once you get known as that guy but you’ve still got to keep doing it. Always over deliver”

Take The First Step

Like many new professionals, Moniz was working a full-time job as he started to get his photography career off the ground. The easy choice would have been to stay with the day job, but stepping out of his comfort zone, facing the fear of the unknown, led to actually living his dream job.

“Don’t be afraid to step out of your box,” Moniz says. “I’ve done it so much and it’s led me to the success I’m having now. If I was afraid and I just stayed in my old job or then just stayed as a part-time surf photographer. But I’m following my heart and I’ve spread my wings. I love astrophotography, I’ve always loved the stars ever since my mom got me into it when Haley’s comet came by. I opened my heart to the desert and the stars and I went out and said hey, I’m gonna go shoot the stars. And I sucked at it for a while, but eventually I got good and now I’m a Samy’s Camera instructor. So take the first step and spread your wings and don’t be afraid.”

Though he may be known first as a surf photographer, Moniz is also dedicated to photographing other things—like astrophotography, as well as video, time-lapse, even weddings. This diversification is key not only to broadening his knowledge about all aspects of photography and video, but it also lets him take on more assignments and meet more clients. Every new job has the potential to lead to another. Work begets work, and you never know the lifetime value of a single client.

“I was approached three years ago to do a wedding video,” he says, “and doing it opened my eyes to video. And lo and behold, that one wedding video changed my whole path. One job will lead you to the next.”

“I have prints, I have motion,” he continues. “I have a little bit of everything. But the tricky thing is, a lot of people will tell you the best thing in the field of photography or video is to be very specific, and I’m not. Yes, you need to show that you are great at something specific, but on the flipside you have to keep growing. And I’m all about growing.”

Invest Time In Yourself

Even in the face of the ever-present, day-to-day challenges of earning a living, Moniz goes the extra mile to do the personal work that will make him a better pro. It’s literally an investment in his future and the growth of his photography business. It means late nights and early mornings working on self-assignments and marketing tasks that won’t pay dividends until months, or even years, down the road.

“People ask me a lot,” he says, “how did you do this? One thing is don’t be afraid to invest in yourself, time-wise. That’s something I’ve done since I left my job to be a 100% professional photographer. Learning new techniques, working to master them and creating images and creating videos...it’s all investing in yourself and making you stronger.”

Moniz says another way he invests in himself is to spend the time to dial in his marketing tools. Make sure your website is on point, he says, and write interesting, pertinent blog posts, as well as sharing work via social media. Eventually, this sometimes tedious investment will pay off.

“Take my website (http://www.stanmoniz.com) for example,” Moniz says. “I put a lot of time into it. It’s very simple to navigate around and I’m learning how people visit my site. I work on my blog posts a lot. I’ve put a whole lot of stuff out that’s relevant. Like where to visit in Iceland, my experiences with the Sony RX0 and a lot about astrophotography. I put a lot of time into all of that and I’m seeing the hard work and the time I’ve invested start to pay off.”

“The web site is kind of my hub,” he continues. “When you see my photos on Instagram, the website is where you can go to learn more about me and my photography and my workshops. I keep the website looking very professional. I have testimonials, I have photos of my workshops, I have a workshop trailer and things like that.”

Any investment that’s expected to bear fruit needs a plan. Moniz suggests laying out a specific set of goal-oriented tasks that will directly lead to progress in the right direction. It doesn’t have to be anything elaborate; just a basic “to-do” list. “I have a chalkboard above my computer that I see every single day when I wake up,” he says. “I used to write down 10 to 15 things to do in a week. And sometimes it was just too much. So now I write five things I want to do each week and I cross them off one by one. By Friday or Saturday they’re all crossed off. And the next week I do it again. You have to keep yourself accountable, and set a goal. But don’t get too discouraged if you don’t complete everything. You might overextend or you might get four things done. But that’s still 80% and it will keep you reaching!”

“And the last thing,” he adds, “is to have fun doing it. Don’t stress yourself out. Because if you can’t have fun, there’s no sense doing it.

Follow Stan Moniz on Instagram @stanmoniz. To see more of his work, blog posts and to learn about Stan’s workshops, visit www.stanmoniz.com.

See more about the Alpha Imaging Collective here and follow their Australia adventure at #AICdoesTheOutback.

About the author:

William Sawalich made his first darkroom print at age ten. He earned a Master's Degree from The Brooks Institute of Photography in Santa Barbara, California. Along with portraiture, still life and assignment photography, Sawalich is an avid writer. He has written hundreds of equipment reviews, how-to articles and profiles of world-class photographers. He heads up the photo department at Barlow Productions in St. Louis.


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