How I was able to shoot influencers with millions of followers at only 18 years old

29th of March 2020

When I was in early high school, like most, I had no idea what I wanted to do with my life. I had always been super creative growing up so I knew I wanted to something where I could express my creative ideas, thoughts and emotions. However I didn't think it was possible to actually make a living by doing that.

I took a photography class out of pure curiosity, and to be quite honest, I hated it...They had us doing photo assignments like "go and take a picture of a tree on campus, using a unique angle". I remember thinking to myself, "who the fuck wants to take a picture of a half-dead tree on a low-income, suburban high school campus?" I wanted to take photos of something interesting, or tell a story through an image. To make things worse, the class never even taught us the technical skills of using a DSLR camera. I passed the class, still not knowing a thing about photography... so I took it into my own hands to learn a few things (With the help of lots and LOTS of Youtube tutorials). 

That summer, I mowed enough of my neighbor's lawns to come up with $500 for a camera. Every day, from morning to evening I was taking pictures, watching tutorials and posting pictures on my instagram. I would go out with my friends and take photos of them skating, or go sneak into abandoned houses and do photoshoots with girls I thought were cute.

To my surprise, people actually seemed to like my pictures, and I even was able to grow my instagram account to 3.5k followers...which felt like 75k to a 17 year old kid from a small town. I started collaborating with the few other photographers and models in Sacramento. One day, I woke up to a DM from this random guy, named Tate. He had like 15,000 followers and seemed to be associated with Magcon (Magcon was essentially a tour of super young "influencer" dudes who were famous online for being good looking and taking they're shirts off). He had asked me to shoot, and after seeing his page I agreed with absolutely zero hesitation.  We did a photoshoot and we actually became pretty good friends. He taught me a lot about how you could actually make money through social media. This motivated me even more, and I spent every minute that I wasn't in school shooting.

He invited me to go as his photographer to Vidcon, which is a convention in LA for YouTubers and their fans. We got a hotel room, threw some parties and I ended up meeting quite a few YouTubers there. So many, that when I got back to Sacramento, I was driving 7 hours to LA LITERALLY every weekend to shoot these influencers for free. I was too shy to ask if I could sleep on their couch so I would sleep in my car. This eventually got a bit draining...physically, mentally and financially.

I entered an incredibly depressive state as I got a part time job at urban outfitters to make money for these LA trips. I then struggled to set aside time to shoot, got side-tracked with applying for colleges, and I had a bit of mental burnout. I had such valuable connections in LA...Managers and influencers with hundereds of thousands of followers wanting to work with me, but I was dead-broke, and couldn't afford anymore trips. I had actually been pretty good with my money, yet somehow I had racked up credit card debt of $1500 at 18 years old. I felt so close to being who I wanted to be, yet the 400 miles from Sacramento to LA had seemingly defeated me. I slowed down on shooting big-time, as I saved up as much money to move to LA as I could.

At this time, I was just entering my senior year of high school. I had somehow managed to keep good grades in school through all of this, so I applied to several prestigious colleges in LA hoping It would give me a ride. I got denied from every school I applied to (Given I had extremely high hopes and only applied to 3 schools, USC, UCLA and Chapman University). This made my mental state even worse and I fell deeper into depression. I ended up saying "fuck it", decided not to go to school and save up and move out to LA.

In 2019, after a year or two of living at my parents house, dealing with hardships, and going through shitty jobs to save up money, I ended up coming out with a little over a thousand dollars. I decided that was enough to move (it definitely wasn't, but I made it work). I moved to LA with my girlfriend, and ended up getting a job as a content creator for BFROW. Slowly but surely, we made a life for ourselves out here, and I began shooting influencers again and doing what I love. 

At 21, I have lived in Hollywood for a year. I work for a brand that I love, and I have even started a clothing line of my own. I am proud to say that I have worked with many of LA's top influencers and brands, and I hope to continue to grow in this community!

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