How I Became a Photographer Without Owning A Camera

Photography

Nicole Hill

by

There’s nothing easy about deciding to set out on a brand-new career path (or even stick with one you’ve been on for a while), and it becomes even more complicated when you’re pursuing a particularly competitive profession like photography. Before we know it, we can find ourselves being swept up in a flurry of to-dos, to-buys, and to-makes, convinced that in order to become the photographer we’ve always dreamed of being that we must first have all the highest quality gear and connections to prove that we can do it. But—at the risk of sounding cliché—it’s not the gear that makes the photographer, it’s the photographer who makes the gear.

Believe it or not, when I first decided to become a photographer, I didn’t even own a camera. In fact, it wasn’t until I was just about to graduate from college, and had a few paid photoshoots under my belt, that I was actually able to afford to purchase my very first professional DSLR and lens. So, what did I do in the meantime? How did I manage to start my career without having the most cutting-edge camera-lens combo on the market? Here’s how. 

My relationship with photography first started when I was around 19. My friend Lauren had gotten a little Canon point-and-shoot camera for her birthday, and I was instantly obsessed. I started coming up with any excuse I could think of to convince her to let me take pictures with it. And since she was super photogenic and loved having her photo taken, it was a win-win situation for both of us. 

I loved trying to figure out how to work all the settings, and buttons on the camera and, became super obsessed with learning how to create a blurry background in a photo (every new photographers ultimate fantasy). This basically led to my permanently borrowing her camera while also becoming her personal photographer for the next 2 years.

This was around the time that I officially got hooked on photography, even if I hadn’t fully realized it yet. Lauren and I would go off exploring, running around Oceanside taking tons of photos and having the time of our lives. We would drain every last bit of battery from the camera before anxiously rushing over to the 99 Cent Store to restock. Then, with all of the nickels and pennies we saved up from our jobs at Jamba Juice, we would buy as many new batteries as we could afford. 

I can vividly remember the batteries being so awful that they barely had any charge in them at all to the point where we’d pop in a new one, turn on the camera, shoot one hard-earned photo, and then it would immediately die in our ambition-driven hands. Then we’d laugh hysterically about it and tell ourselves that it was just like shooting with real film because we only had one chance to get the shot. And then it was off to get more batteries.

And even though it was technically just a simple, cheap point-and-shoot camera, I learned and grew so much as a photographer because of it. And I had so much fun doing it.

Once I really started embracing my passion for photography and taking it (and myself!) a bit more seriously, I started to create what ended up being one of my very first portfolios on MySpace, sharing my photos with friends and the world. And it was with these very photographs that I had taken with Lauren’s little point-and-shoot Canon camera that I applied to photography school—and, you guys, I got accepted!

I was absolutely ecstatic! I remember rushing to talk with my parents all about the school that I had been accepted to, about all the programs and classes it offered, and most importantly its student-run camera gear rental house. The rental house had just about every piece of camera gear you could imagine available for students to rent for their class assignments and personal projects. After years of wearing down Lauren’s poor little point-and-shoot, I was finally going to have the opportunity to try out and use any camera gear that I wanted! 

I was literally losing my mind with excitement. And I’m happy to say that I was lucky enough to spend the next three years of my life attending photography school, learning the ins, outs, and upside-downs of photography, and renting different cameras and lenses all along the way. And it’s during this time that I was able to figure out not just what sort of photographer I wanted to become, but which camera I wanted to use to get me there. While trying out all the different types of cameras, I was also saving up as much money as I could so that when I graduated, I’d be able to buy the camera that was truly right for me and my dreams.

And when I was finally ready to graduate, I had—for the first time—my very own professional camera draped across my shoulder, ready to dive head-first into the wild photography career that has led me to where I am today with you all.

I wanted to share this with you all not just to give you a glimpse into my own story, but to remind you of something that I think is super important, but often difficult, to remember: there is no such thing as the “best” gear. Seriously.

It’s really easy to let ourselves make excuses about why we can’t do something, or how we could do it better. The thing is, it really doesn’t matter what kind of camera you have, just that you have the skills to know how to use it. When people ask me what gear they need, or which camera is the best, it’s usually because they think they need it in order to be able to take better photos. But that couldn’t be further from the truth! 

Having the right gear and equipment is absolutely essential to being a successful photographer, but that doesn’t mean you should be trying to find the best gear. When it comes to camera gear, “best” is completely relative – it depends on what you’re trying to shoot, how you’re trying to shoot it, and what your style is. What is best for me might not be best for you! 

My advice to any of you who are trying to figure out which gear is right for you is to first try to make the most out of what you have. Push the camera and gear you have to its limits, learn and love everything you can from it. Once you have, you’ll have a much better idea of what you want from your next camera or lens – and what the “best” looks like for you.

** Update: I got so much feedback after all of this talk about cameras and finding the perfect gear to match your needs, so I went LIVE in our Private Facebook Community Group and took all of the members on a grand tour of the contents of my personal camera bag! And THEN… I answered everyone’s gear related questions at the end of the stream! You can watch the replay by joining me in our Facebook Community right here!

Remember, at the end of the day, it isn’t the camera that’s taking the pictures, it’s you. So let your passion, talent, and personal experience lead you to the gear that is best for you.

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meet the photographer

HI! I'M NICOLE HILL

I've spent the last decade of my life traveling the world as a fashion photographer and I created Horizon Found to give you everything I wish I had when I was starting my career. Here you'll find community, inspiration, and education - to help guide you down the path towards building the photography business of your dreams. My dream is to use this platform to help build a supportive environment in the photography industry.

I'M HERE FOR YOU!

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