Dan Carr: Self-Made Outdoor Photographer

In Portfolio, Writing by Steve

Originally published on theclymb.com

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.