Life as a freelance photographer is a challenging, often thankless, and very competitive way to make a living. But Paul King (aka @dirlord) has carved out a living in this field, while keeping his own unique, creative style in the process. Read along as we ask our FF ambassador what it takes to be successful in today's photo world.
Alright, let's go ahead and start by addressing this. Your Instagram handle is Dirtlord... how does one come up with that name?
Well... my old name was thedirtfarmer, which came from my years of studying sustainable argiculture in school, but it didn't take long before I started pursuing other things. I think one day I realized that the dirtfarmer wasn't fitting the bill. At that time, I was starting to get into my current unhealthy obession of motorcycles, so Dirtlord seemed more suitable. Also, dirtking was taken, and didn't seem to have the same ring to it.
What are your favorite things to shoot photos of?
Anything, but a wedding! If I had to narrow it down then I would say any type of commercial work is preferred. I love the pressure that is involved with commercial work and the amount of detail that has to be taken into account. It's amazing how quickly you can develop as a photographer, when there's a larger budget associated with the project, designated talent, a strict deadline, and weather that may or may not cooperate. When I'm traveling for personal pleasure, I love photographing old cars, architecture, textures, or anything that just really resonates with me.
Advice to people that want to start being a photographer?
I'd say don't get too caught up with all the gear. I'm not one to talk, because I'm a bit of a gear-head myself, but it's really not necessary. You don't need the latest and greatest mirrorless camera to be a worthy photographer. I spent my first year learning on a hand-me-down Nikon D90, a speedlight flash, and an umbrella. I think it's important to start off on something simple and then progress into more advanced gear.
Also, prepare to spend a lot of time reading tutorials and watching YouTube videos in addition to shooting constanstly. In the beginning, I was photographing everything from golf tournaments to engagements. That's how I learned at least.
I do wish I had someone to mentor me to streamline all of this, but it's nice not having someone else's opinion to tell you what you should and should not be doing. These days there are SO many photographers with the same style and that try not to fall into anything specific.
In the end, just do what looks cool to you and don't be afraid to get a little weird.
Sure some people won't like what you're doing, but you're not shooting to please them in the first place. And, I know it's cliche... but it's true... never stop shooting.
Every time I go out, I aim to learn something new. Whether it's a better lighting technique or just a more interesting way to pose a model. It's easy to get discouraged with all of the crazy talented photographers out there, but you have to remind yourself that everyone is dealing with the same problems. Just keep creating. Wow, when I say that out loud, I feel like this should be on a poster in a dorm room. So inspirational! Haha
How do you like living in Charleston as a photographer?
It can be tough. Once you've photographed old buildings and spartina grass a thousand times it can start to get a little hard. That being said, the community of creatives in Charleston is unheard of. It's nice having a circle of friends that are constantly supporting each other and who are all looking to evolve.
What have been some of the biggest challenges in the photo business?
That's always a touchy subject. These days, I seem to constantly be having the conversation about how the businesses under value the costs of good media work. People think, "Oh, they're just taking pictures. How hard can it be." Or, "My nephew has a camera and he said he would do my whole campaign for $300, so why won't you do it for that price?" The fact that many clients rarely take into consideration is the amount of time and money it takes from the photographer to deliver a set of high quality edited photos. They're a business, I'm a business too with overhead and bills to pay. Why can't all my clients be like Free Fly?! END RANT!
How do you break through creative blocks?
This occurs way too often for me. Usually, I just complain to my friends about it for a few days and then confide them to help me dream up a new idea. This is usually done after a few pitchers of beer. If that doesn't work, then I'll usually look to social media for inspiration. Small things like lighting, interesting angles, or even settings that other photographers are using tend to spark new ideas. The good news though: the creative blocks always go away and you bounce back better than you were.
Where do you draw your inspiration from?
Everywhere! I'm inspired daily through what my friends are doing. I'm lucky enough to have a great group of friends who are always hustling and dreaming up new ideas. This motivates and inspires me.
In addition, it's personally the more established commercial photographers that I'm always drawn to. This is probably because they seem to be at my end goal. They're clean, every detail is thought through, and they come with a vision that is executed perfectly. I tend to shoot more on the fly so it's important for me to remind myself to slow down and think about all aspects of the photo that I'm trying to create. If you're looking for specific names, photographers like Guy Aroch, Jeff Stockwell, Art Streiber, and Kent Hermann, never cease to amaze me.
What's in your camera bag?
It's taken me my whole career until about a month ago to finally narrow it down to this list. My goal is to have a minimal bag to carry around, but with no limitations. Here's what I'm working with...
- Nikon D850
- Nikon D750
- Nikon 70-200 f2.8
- Tamron 24-70 2.8 G2
- Sigma 35mm 1.4 Art
- Outex underwater housing
- Flashpoint Xplor 600
- Flashpoint Evolv 200
What's next for you?
That's the million dollar question. I have a few things cooking at the moment, but let's just say the goal is not to be a scrappy freelance photographer that's constantly checking his email waiting on the next gig.