May 15, 2023

How Lincoln Barbour Became a Commercial Photographer and One Thing He Wishes He'd Known Before Starting Out - Photo Authentic Podcast #1

12 min read

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Show Notes

  • Introduction to the Photo Authentic podcast and its purpose of helping emerging photographers succeed in their careers.
  • Lincoln shares his journey from a high school black and white photography class to becoming a full-time professional photographer.
  • His early interest in photography and the influence of his father, a wedding and portrait photographer.
  • Transitioning from web and graphic design to merging photography with his design work.
  • Becoming an assistant and retoucher for an architectural photographer, gaining valuable experience and insights.
  • Starting his own photography business, initially focusing on real estate photography.
  • Relocating to Portland, Oregon, and actively pursuing clients through postcards and networking.
  • The importance of marketing, constantly improving skills, and the value of persistence.
  • Reflecting on milestones achieved, including reaching a yearly income of $100,000.
  • Emphasizing the need to learn business skills alongside photography skills for a successful career.
  • Introduction to Lincoln's course, "Path to Pro," which provides guidance for aspiring commercial photographers.
  • Encouragement for listeners to explore the Photo Authentic website and reach out for further assistance.


Welcome to the Photo Authentic podcast. I'm your host, Lincoln Barbour, and this podcast is dedicated to helping emerging photographers like you become successful and have a long lasting career. 

This is episode one. This is gonna be the origin story of how I became a commercial photographer. In this episode, you will hear me , tell you my story and how I transitioned to a full-time pro. And also the one thing I wish I knew when I was just starting out.

If you like what you hear in this episode and wanna learn more, I suggest going to my website,

So I'll start at the beginning. In 1993 believe it or not, I was 16 years old and I took a black and white photography class in high school. At the time I, you know, I was living and working and, you know, not really sure what I wanted to do.

I wanted to, you know, have some kind of art career, but I didn't really know where it would take me or how I would get there. But I did fall in love with photography. I really enjoyed, you know, having the camera. I enjoyed being in the dark room, making prints. I loved having an assignment and completing the assignment, and then also the community that I had. I enjoyed my classmates, my teacher. I just really kind of fell in love with photography in high school.

My dad was a wedding and portrait photographer when I was a kid. And he, he hated it. He, he did it because, you know, he made money at it, but he really didn't like weddings, especially . So his advice was always, you know, you know, don't get into wedding photography.

So I didn't really know how to make a living as a photographer, and so I didn't really pursue that when I was in high school. After high school, I started working at a coffee shop and. You know, this is sort of the early web Era. So it, you know, the first time website sort of became popular. So a friend of mine was telling me that you could make a website using notepad and I, I didn't believe him.

So I went to Barnes and Noble and I picked up a book called HTML 4.0 for Dummies. And the book really laid it out. You could actually make a website using simple code, learning all the commands. And once I learned that, I realized I could make websites.

So I I started doing some graphic design work. Picked up some graphic design programs and I started making websites. I started doing some freelance work and eventually crossed paths with a, with a web design company in Charlottesville where I lived at the time, and they offered me a job. So I went from working as a barista in a coffee shop to a creative director for a web design agency in little under a year. It was a pretty, kind of remarkable time.

But photography was, you know, still on my, on the back of my brain. I, I still loved it. I did it as a hobby and I was always really interested in it. And, you know, being a web designer, one thing we always struggled with was finding photos for websites.

And so I definitely wanted to like, merge the two. I just didn't know how to do it. About two or three years into my career there I met an architectural photographer named Philip Beaurline and we hired him to shoot some photos for us for a client and in trade we did his website. So I got to meet him and learned a little bit about a different type of photographer than I was used to .

Prior to meeting Phillip, I thought all advertising and magazine photographers were employed by those magazines or those companies. You know, when you looked at a Ford ad for a car, I thought Ford had photographers on staff. I just assumed it was some kind of job.

Philip really taught me that that no, most photographers are freelancers and they're contracted on a case by case basis for projects. And this includes not only advertising, but editorial and commercial, catalog jobs, all kinds of work. So it was really eye-opening to meet him and kind of learn that there was a path to being a, a photographer that didn't include weddings and portraits. So around 2001 the, the first dot com bubble burst happened and I was burned out of being a web designer. I didn't really like my boss and I didn't really like my job, and I didn't like the work we were doing.

So I took Philip out to lunch and I picked his brain about, what it's like to be a professional photographer. Like, do you make enough money? Is it, is it a good living? Is it the work hard? What's it like? And, we had a good conversation, but at the end of it, he's like, I'm looking for somebody to be my assistant and retoucher. Do you want to come work for me? I thought about it and said yes. So I went from making $38,000 a year to $10 an hour working for as an assistant for Philip Beaurline. And, back then $10 an hour was not a lot of money. It definitely wasn't enough money to pay for my rent and car payment, all that stuff.

So even though I worked for Phillip, I still had to do some freelance. . So I worked for him, 30, 40 hours a week. And I was super green. He was an architectural photographer shooting film and scanning it on a on a drum scanner. My experience was taking film to the grocery store and getting it processed in to four by six prints.

So I, I was very, very green. Had never seen roll film, never seen four by five film. And definitely had never drum scanned anything. So it was a big learning curve. I knew some basics of Photoshop, but retouching photos is very different than, you know, applying plastic wrap effects to fonts in Photoshop, Anyway, so I started working for him and went on shoots with him, helped him load his gear, learn how to set up the camera, learned how to load film, learned how to handle film.

He shot slide film in this case, you know Ectochrome or Provia or, different types of color transparencies. And we would then, pick the shots that looked the best. We'd put it on the drum scanner the, the drum scanner, always had a little bit of dust. So we would spend a lot of time in each photo, taking out dust, removing any sort of weird objects. And then we would make prints and deliver a CD. So the experience I got for Philip was pretty amazing cuz I got to see how a professional photographer runs his business and a successful one at that.

He was, successful in town, but he was also starting to shoot for, larger ad agencies doing large advertising shoots. He was in a transition point in his career and I was learning a ton. , I worked for him for two years. And then I started picking up my own clients. In the early days I kind of thought I wanted to be a rock and roll photographer. So I shot a lot of bands.

But then Philip had some real estate clients that he had kind of outgrown. And he suggested, having me shoot for them. And, I started off super cheap. I was doing photo shoots for like 200 bucks, 250 bucks. Just shooting houses and exteriors for real estate clients.

So that was kind of how I got started. And it was doing okay. I had some real estate clients keeping me busy. And then I had some web design clients that I still maintained. But then I met my wife. We were just dating at the time and we decided to move to Portland, Oregon.

Charlottesville, the town we were in was kind of like a college town and just both of us knew that it wasn't gonna be where we would get our starts and our, our careers. We moved to Portland, Oregon in 2005, and right when I got there, I sent out postcards to anybody I could get a name for.

And one of them landed up with Portland Monthly, which is the the local magazine. So I got an interview with them. I brought my portfolio, I met the art directors, and that started leading into, photo assignments. Some small stuff in the beginning, like single portraits or photographing a house.

They were kind of testing me out to see what I was good at. So I started shooting for them on a regular basis, and that's when I met my first clients. I would get an interior design feature, and I would go and shoot a house for the magazine, but I was shooting the interior designer's home.

And so then the interior designer would like the experience of working with me at the shoot. And then, they started reaching out to me. This was sort of the key to my initial success was getting these editorial assignments and converting them into commercial clients that pay on a regular basis.

And being in a town like Portland, a larger metro area, there's a lot more opportunity. I don't think if I'd stayed in Charlottesville, I don't think I would've had as much success initially. I think moving to a bigger city really kind of helped me get to that next step.

These small clients, started leading to bigger clients. I started doing some small ad jobs. And then, for the last decade I've been making, six figures or more shooting for, 10 to 15 clients a year, 30 to 40 shoots, and, maybe 80 days of, shooting and traveling.

I like to look back and think of the transition period. So there was a point in Portland when even though I had a couple of photo clients at the magazine and I was starting to meet people, I still wasn't making enough to support myself just with photography. I had a part-time job at Pro Photo Supply a local camera store there.

I was doing some freelance web design work from my Virginia clients, which I still kept with me. And any job that came in, I would take, random, editorial shoots. Random inquiries. You know, I, I, because I had a web design background, I always had a website that looked good and was probably better than other photographers' websites because I knew how to make a website.

So I had sort of an unfair advantage in the early years where maybe my photo skills weren't as good as some other photographers, but my presentation was much better than the photographers at the time. I actually think I got a lot of work early on because I had looked like a, like a established photographer even though I was super new.

So I wouldn't say it's faking it till you make it, but I would say that you, you always wanna put your best foot forward and go in confident.

In Portland, it took me about three years. I had to start over with clients. And so I had this part-time job, do this freelance web stuff, and then about three years after living there I finally had enough clients where I could go full-time, and to me, full-time meant that I didn't have to make websites to make any money and I didn't have to work a job. At the end of the day I was making, $50 to $75,000 a year. And , maintaining,

After we got married and when we decided to have kids . I knew that I would have to become the breadwinner for our family. And so I doubled down on all my marketing efforts. You know, I made my website better. I started blogging better did email marketing, started doing social media more.

And in 2012, 10 years after I, started my photography career, I finally hit a hundred thousand dollars in profit. It was remarkable experience for me. I never dreamed I could make that much money. Period. And doing it all through photography was, was just sort of mind blowing for me.

It really gave me a lot of confidence going forward for the next 10 years. So now that the flywheel is going, now that I have had good clients, good rapport, I started raising my rates and, started shooting bigger jobs and ultimately working less days, but making more money.

And that was how, how I did it. It's not necessarily gonna be your path. Everybody's journey is different. But I do think this is a common experience where you start off, small and doing whatever you can, but your eyes on the prize of making that mark.

For me, it was a hundred thousand dollars. Like I wanted to get that, that mark, and I wanted to, to know that I could do that. And once I knew I could do that, I pretty much knew I could do anything. I put my mind to.

Looking back, after doing this for 21 years, the one thing I wish I knew when I was starting was that I was so, I was so worried about my photo skills. Like I was so focused on being a really good photographer, knowing how to light anything, being in any situation and being able to figure it. And I was always so focused on that, but I never really focused on how to run a business. I never really focused on, marketing networking or, client relations or, presentation.

Like I, I knew how to make a website and that was probably about it, and that was just outta luck. You know, I didn't really understand the point of marketing or how to market or what kind of marketing how to pick a niche and all these things. I spent 14 years winging it and then finally read a couple business books and it was just mind blowing.

I realized how much I had missed in those first, you know, decade and a half of my career. And if I had read these books when I had started, I probably would've gotten to that a hundred thousand market, five years rather than 10. So, as important is to keep your photo skills going and practicing.

If I had just spent 20% of my time on the learning business skills, I would've been a much more successful photographer, much faster. .

So that's what I wish I had known when I was starting out. Just learn business skills. The basic business skills. You don't need to go deep, you don't need an MBA, you just need to learn the basics.

I talk a lot about this in my course Path to Pro. And I can go over a lot of the things that that I learned when I was starting and I've summed it all up into a really concise eight module course that if you have any questions about what it's like to be a professional commercial photographer, this course will help you so much.

Right now you can go to and you can get 25% off the course by using the code "ORIGIN". That's O R I G I N. And if you have any other questions reach out. Go to Photo Authentic and fill out the contact form and reach out to me that way.

Thanks for listening. I hope this was helpful. If please, if you thought this was interesting, you know, let me know in the comments. Please share this with other people. Really try to help other photographers, become successful quicker and faster and get to that milestone they want to hit.

  I'm here to help and look forward to talking with you.

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