3 Steps In Turning Your Dreams Into a Creative Career

When I bought my first camera and started taking pictures, I did not know it was going to get serious for me. I also didn’t know what I wanted to shoot, I just knew I was hooked and wanted to shoot everything!

My first collections of photos could be described as “kitty-macro-sunset”, as we jokingly call amateur “portfolios” with my photographer-buddy Aleksey Dovgulya. Which meant I had no plans, no artistic goals and, thus, no direction for improvement.

It was perfectly fine at the time, but after about a year from then I secretly dreamt of leaving my full-time job in the financial industry, and becoming a real, professional, full-time photographer. And in another year from then, I found myself needing my “portfolio” to work for me, but my mindset and approach to it had not changed, so to the outside world it was still an amateur-looking collection of photos. Needless to say, it was not attracting well-paying clients.

I didn’t know how I could change that and had no idea where to begin. Even though we were taught about our portfolios in my photography course, it was all quite generic, while I needed (and I didn’t even know it at the time) someone to break it down to me and tell me that it was, actually, quite simple.

This blog post is something I wish I could send to my past self. Something I wish someone told me then, so I could get to where I wanted to be faster.


1. Evaluate Your Interests & Define Your Artistic Career Goals

First thing’s first: figure out what it is that you would absolutely love to do “when you grow up” as an artist.

Do you love natural and soft portraits with very little makeup and photographed outdoors? Or do you enjoy shooting fashion or edgy editorial makeup with a large creative team in studio. Would you love to see your editorial work in Beauty and Fashion magazines or would you rather shoot for commercial clients?


There are so many things that you can do within Beauty, Fashion & Portrait photography, and your personal artistic preferences will define what kind of team you need, what type of studio, if any, and what kind of lenses and lighting equipment you need to acquire.

But the most important part is – once you know what you want to do and where you want to do it, you can start training your eye and visual taste by researching and analyzing the existing imagery in the area you’re attracted to. And of course, practice shooting for that specific style, for that dream client of yours or the magazine you want to see your work in.

Nadia Mejia, NextModel, Los Angeles

Nadia Mejia, NextModel, Los Angeles for Elizabeth Ulloa


2. Build Your Smashing Creative Team

I was naive for a very long time thinking that I could do it all alone. I thought all I needed to be able to create beautiful images was just a model. And yes, it is totally possible to do that, but the results that you can get when there’s a whole creative team involved are so much more substantial.

It sure depends on your creative goals, but if you’re aiming for high-profile commercial clients or major Fashion magazine, you better start building your creative team and practice leading it now. There’s so much more that goes into a proper shoot with a team than just blocking out a day on your calendar and getting together to take pictures.

Francesco Riva and Selene Gnavolini by Marianna Santoni, Italy

Francesco Riva and Selene Gnavolini by Marianna Santoni, Italy

When you know what you will be shooting, find your ideal team.

Depending on your financial situation, experience and the work that you have produced up to this point, you will be looking for creatives to hire or to collaborate with. You can search through the local talent agencies, on social media, or Model Mayhem – that’s up to you and your preferences, but the main piece of advice I want to give is:

Search for creative professionals who are better than you, who have been in this field much longer than you. Find those who have strong portfolios with the type of work that you are planning to shoot with them. With an experienced team you will be forced to raise to their level and you will also learn a lot along the way.

Makeup Artists, Hairstylists, experienced Models, Fashion and Set Designers, Wardrobe Stylists – we photographers often can’t do much in Beauty and Fashion Photography without these guys. You think your current portfolio is too “young” to be able to get pros to shoot with you? Hire them! Treat the shoot that you organize as an investment into your hands-on real-world photography education. Plus, if you end up not getting great shots for their books – they won’t be terribly disappointed because they were paid for their time and skills and didn’t waste a day on you. Further more, if they liked your personality and enjoyed working with you, it won’t be difficult for you to hire them again when you’re ready, or maybe even get together for a creative collaboration and testing.


3. Prepare Thoroughly & Execute Flawlessly

Take charge. Sit down and do your home work before each photo shoot. Think of what it is that your dream client could request you to shoot. Take a peek at your favorite magazines’s Submissions page on its website and imagine you’re hired to shoot for one of their upcoming issues. Read the brief carefully and put together an inspiration board for this shoot.

I had to learn to prepare thoroughly for my photo shoots. Taking the decision-making time out of the actual shoot saves a lot of time on the day of the shoot and spares the team inevitable mistakes.

When I’m preparing for a shoot, I browse through a lot of images on the web and my collections on Pinterest. I put together a new inspiration board specifically for the shoot, make notes on framing, posing, the sequence variations and even jot down a shot-list. I sometimes make notes under the pinned pictures for my team and then send out the reference board’s link to the team members, so they can prepare mentally as well as pack the necessary products and tools for the shoot.

This way we all come prepared, knowing exactly what we’re after, and confidently execute our plans. I cannot stress enough how much thorough preparation affects the results.


Preparing for the Go Pro: Studio Beauty shoots

There’s of course room for unplanned shoots when you just get together with your team and experiment, improvise or try new things, whether it is a new lighting setup or a new style, makeup, new technique. Sometimes great images are created when the whole team decides what to shoot on the spot. Just keep in mind that it’s only acceptable when you and your team are all on the same page and everyone is willing to invest a day into a test shoot for practice and not expect anything portfolio-worthy from it.

Preparing and executing one photo shoot after another, you will become more confident, update or build your portfolio, improve your skills and increase your chances of landing a job with your dream client or getting published in your favorite magazine. Yes, it is not easy and it does take time, but everything worth having don’t come easy.

Good luck!

Note from Julia:

Thank you for visiting my new website and blog! I have created it, so I could write more often and share my journey towards my creative career goals. If you’d like to learn and improve along with me, feel free to subscribe to the blog below or in the side bar. Or join my mailing list on the front page of this website – I have cool plans for the Push Challenge that I want to put myself and you through, so we grow and become better artists together.

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Showing 14 comments
  • Navin Saeed

    Thank you so much for this article.

    • Julia McKim

      It is my pleasure, Navin!

  • Carlos

    One of THE most important things I did for my photography was to purchase Julia’s Creative Retouching Essentials in a Day! Took my skills to a new level! Julia is an awesome instructor and I recommend anyone interested in learning the art of retouch….

    • Julia McKim

      Thank you so much, Carlos! That means a lot!
      I am so excited to have this new blog, so I can write and share more cool things 🙂

  • Rajneesh

    Julia McKim, You are best.

    I am waiting for 10 week push challenge and thanks for this article.

    • Julia McKim

      Thank you Rajneesh 🙂
      I’ve already almost got the first week assignment ready to send out. I think it’ll come out this weekend 🙂

  • Sanita

    Excellent article! Thank you for sharing and looking forward to the future posts!

  • Ari Labadi

    Real information here. Thanks for sharing Julia. Sometimes planning like this is even more difficult in a country like mine.

  • Nanaresh

    awesome! i am very much amazed, i thought i have to forever practice with friends till i land a job sometime. but i now see that people better than me possibly have more links in the industry to push me and challenge me on projects

  • Thad

    This is very helpful! Thank You!

  • Krishnan

    Hi Julia,I am big fan of your work. I simply impressed d way you treat beauty and fashion. Specially the colors and details. Thanks for this article. I am following your footsteps towards retouching. Hope to be like you in near future. Keep up the amazing work and always inspire us.

    • Julia Kuzmenko McKim

      Thank you so much Krishman! I’m very happy to hear that! Keep in touch 🙂

  • Jose

    Awesome as always Julia. You’ve been a reference and an inspiration for me for 3 years now!
    Keep going with this amazing work.

    • Julia Kuzmenko McKim

      Oh thank you so much Jose! It’s so great to hear 🙂

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