Learning Photography at Break-Neck Speed [IP73]

In this episode of the podcast, Jim talks with Darin Mellor, a listener of the podcast who took some of Jim’s online photography classes and eventually left his job 7 months ago to pursue photography full-time.

Darin shares what has worked for him to find clients, the techniques he is using to make saleable images, and the gear he has built up to run his business with.

What’s in this episode

  • The steps Darin took to create a sustaining full-time photography business in 7 months
  • The gear that Darin chose to take on an extended photography trip to Europe–including his biggest regret!
  • When a cell phone can give your DSLR a run for its money

Doodads of the week


  • Squarespace – Squarespace is an awesome and SIMPLE way to create a photography portfolio website. ¬†For a free trial and 10% off enter offer code “Improve” at checkout.


  1. Professional Skeptic

    Didn’t you criticize Squarepsace several episodes ago in response to a listener’s question about template-based web hosting providers? It’s amazing how a sponsorship deal changes one’s perception, eh?

    1. Author
      Jim Harmer

      Dear Professional Skeptic,

      First of all, I find it interesting that those who criticize me never dare use their real names or email addresses. Apparently you’re afraid to say what you feel, or you aren’t proud of it.

      Second, I explained the change in the ad itself. I didn’t used to like the Squarespace designs because they didn’t have big pictures. Now they do. I actually sought out THEM as advertisers because I like it.

      Third, we’re all adults here. I clearly state what is an ad and what is not so you know exactly what I think of different brands and products. I read the ads that companies want to give to readers and I think everyone is smart enough to make their own decisions, especially where I’m very clear what is my unbiased opinion, and where I am being paid to advertise. The same is true of ALL media. The only problem is where the advertiser isn’t upfront about when their opinions are paid–and that is obviously not true here. In fact, I even mentioned in the previous two shows that we’re going to be adding advertisements for this very reason. Do you really think Michael Jordan hates Reebok because he wears only Nikes?

      Fourth, I have produced 75 podcast episodes, hundreds of articles, and hours of video content that is available to you at no cost. From my perspective, those who complain about a 45 second advertisement after taking in all that free content have entitlement issues. Serious entitlement issues.

  2. Austin Swenson

    You know Professional Skeptic, I don’t always follow or agree with everything Jim says about photography because we all have our likes/dislikes and personal taste, but I didn’t really consider Squarespace until now because Jim was picky about seeing some options with Squarespace that needed fixing, and I tend to agree with him about website design and flow.

    At least Jim will tell you when something is an ad, my goodness I listen to photo podcasts all the time and I swear it seems like they are one big ad for one product or the next like they have no personal opinion at all.

  3. Wes Turner

    Wow, The internet is filled with so many negative people who feel its their purpose in life to criticize and bring others down. Its a very sad world at times. Jim I have to say that was an awesome response that I am sure you hated to even write. I don’t mind the ads at all, and agree with you wholeheartedly. We are all allowed to change our minds, and we are all allowed to provide for our families. I believe you have done that in everything you have provided on your site/podcast and it is done with the highest integrity. I applaud you for your work, your time, and your shared knowledge. You have in so many ways guided me on my continued path of photography improvement and business knowledge. So basically I just want to say thank you Jim.


  4. Onile

    Hi Jim!

    This was a truly inspiring episode! I have been listening to your podcast for a while, and I’ve gotten some invaluable information from your articles. To hear one of your students taking that leap into pro has lit a fire under me like no other. I have been reminded of why I love this art and i’m even more determined to make it my career.

    Thank you much,


  5. Monica Sisson

    Hi Jim!

    Congratulations on signing your first sponsor! SquareSpace is an awesome company. I used to have a website with them, for another business which I recently closed, and they were always super-helpful and great to work with. I wish I’d realized that they were an option for a photography website, but I’ve already taken a different route for that….

    Also, good response to the heckler. It was very well stated. It’s so true that unfortunately there are many negative people on the internet who feel the need to spread their negativity without taking the time (in this case) to listen to what they are complaining about.

    Cheers and keep up the good work!

  6. Eric

    I listened to this episode the day it aired, and I don’t think a few questions were asked that I was interested in. (I listen when I drive, so I may have missed it. If so, sorry)

    Does he make enough money to support himself, or is he still living off of his savings?

    He seems to not really be sure what type of genre he’s doing… he said he shoots portraits, then landscapes, then took a month of travel pics in Europe. Call me crazy, but its hard enough for someone to master ONE niche of photography enough to become a pro, is he trying to do it all, or just figure it out as he goes?

    Does he have a website? I googled his name but couldn’t find one.

    Has he interned with anyone and learned the business side of photography before quitting his job?

    It seems like one hell of a blind leap into something he may not know a whole bunch about. (I think he said he was going to buy a speed light and learn how to use it? )

    1. Author
      Jim Harmer

      @Eric – I’ll see if I can get Darin over here to answer some of the questions you have, but here’s a little more background that I know from working with him.

      Darin told me that he is making enough money in photography now to meet his expenses.

      He’s mostly shooting commercial photography, but he does like shooting different genres. I’m sure he’ll hone down on one as time goes on.

      His website is http://mempxl.com/

      I don’t believe he interned with anyone, but he did spend a significant amount of time talking with me before making the leap. He took a few classes and we talked and emailed many many times.

      Yep, it’s a blind leap. Nope, I wouldn’t recommend it for everyone. Was it right for him? I don’t know. But it’s his life and he is making it so far. It’s not the approach I recommend for everyone by any means, but I love to see that he’s taking a risk while he’s young and doesn’t have many expenses.

  7. Deb

    Like Eric, this interview left me wondering many of the same questions. While I really applaud the fact that you’re interviewing an IP follower and student, I feel like you could have found someone to interview who hadn’t just jumped off the cliff and hoped for the best to get started as a photographer. While this may be romantic and exciting, it certainly wouldn’t be recommended, especially if you are someone who has any major life responsibilities. I don’t think this is what you would recommend, and by highlighting him, I feel you are giving credibility to his approach. I did find a website for him, and can definitely see improvement in his work, but I personally don’t feel that the path he’s taken and his carefree approach to quitting his job to become a full time photographer is the type of scenario you should be endorsing. That being said, I wish him well and hope he finds his place and becomes successful, however, had I been coaching him, I would certainly have recommended a more conservative path.

    1. Author
      Jim Harmer

      Deb, you CAN’T seriously think that by interviewing Darin I’m telling everyone that they should quit their jobs, not support their families, and head off to Europe to live in a hostel. In fact, I specifically said in the podcast that I don’t recommend that. That would be as silly as thinking I’m telling everyone to shoot Pentax if I interview anyone who shoots Pentax.

      Darin is an adult who made his own choice for his life. Frankly, it’s not your job to judge him for it–especially where you don’t really know anything about him.

    2. Katie

      While I completely understand Deb’s point, listening to Darin made me realize I had forgotten that following your passion usually leads to a great sense of achievement and happiness. When you’re passionate about something, you give 110%. I used to work from home as a freelance web designer and loved it, and I thought about learning to become a programmer because that’s always been my interest. I don’t care for corporate politics (I’ve come to detest it), and as I was driving to work listening to Darin, it made me think twice (again) about my career choice. I have to make a choice by the end of the year when my contract ends, and I have several paths I can take. I know where I want to go. It’s never too late to follow your passion. Thanks, Darin for sharing such an inspirational story. And thanks, Jim for finding him.

  8. Katie

    I came here to look for a link o Darin’s website. I’m glad I found it here! I think you also need to tag or categorize the last few podcasts so they’ll show up under the podcast link. :-)

  9. Deb

    No, Jim, I certainly don’t think you’re recommending that everyone “run off to Europe and live in a hostel”, but It is my opinion that you could have found someone to interview who would better identify with your audience. Granted, that was a choice on your part, and it’s your podcast so you can do what you want. I voiced my opinion (and didn’t hide my identify btw), and you chose to reply with a snarky response. My comments were not about Darin as much as they were about wondering why you would choose him as one of the very few people you take the time to interview, when there are probably many more folks out there that your listeners could more readily identify with…end of story. I said it before and I’ll say it again- even though I don’t agree with Darin’s approach, I wish him the best and hope he finds success in this world of photography that we all love.

  10. J_beg

    you mentioned a website that you can have your photos compared to anothers during this episode… what is the site?

  11. Darin Mellor

    Hello Everyone!

    I am Darin Mellor and I would like to take the opportunity to thank Jim for not only standing behind when there were questions posed about his choice of having me as a guest on the show, but also for allowing me to learn more alongside him as a colleague. Writing this response is probably as unpleasant as Jim having to respond to the negativity that always tries to make its way into the Improve Photography Community where it is very unwelcome.

    When Jim opens the show he says we are joined by thousands of photographers across the world and makes it clear we do not discriminate against anyone as long as they are into photography. No I do not know as much as Jim in respect to photography, but like him I do find it is a challenge to explore the many genres of photography. While it may be advised to find one niche and master it I do not believe it is good/bad or right/wrong to want to explore them all before settling on one or a few. If you have been following along over the past few years you have probably seen Jim and Dustin shoot everything including, but not limited to wildlife, portraits, action sports, and more. No one questioned this because Improve Photography is about learning how to stay motivated and trying new things. We need to table our egos and say any guest who has interest in photography is worthy of being on the show. Someone who has looked at a DSLR the same way for years is going to have a different impression than someone who is bright-eyed and busy-tailed after picking up their first DSLR and hast not become jaded by an ego or a need to have high dollar equipment. From what I have found to date is that we need to do whatever we can to help inspire, teach, network, and assist others with their photography. Why do you think people wielding an economy priced DSLR tell me they are grateful to talk to my father and me when we are out shooting our full-frame cameras and big telephoto lenses? The answer is they have come across too many standoffish, egotistical, and flat out rude professionals. So how can we remove this stigma that all professional photographers are not approachable? – Table the ego and see where that takes us.

    A little bit about my backstory and what I talked about on the podcast. Yes, I made a decision that many people found to be irresponsible, silly, a blind leap, or whatever phrasing that would describe a whimsical choice. However, in one podcast I couldn’t begin to tell you how much I loathed going to my previous job as I loathed corporate politics, hypocrisy, ethical issues, etc. What I will tell you is that we all are individuals with different personal situations, outlooks, beliefs, etc. My situation allowed me to travel around and figure things out as I went. I took Jim’s courses and found I learned pretty quickly. Yes, I just bought a couple YN560iii speed lights and I am learning how to use them. Don’t we all buy a new piece of gear every now and then to learn something new or to pull off a shot we could not make before? I cannot stress enough that this site is not about egos and is more about learning. I am very disappointed in the negativity seen in these comments and I thought I.P. members could rise above this pettiness.

    Yes, my choice to leave my company and travel the world in the first few months was a good fit for me. It is probably a bad fit for 99.99% of the world, but it worked for me. That is what matters, and both Jim and I believe it is not a good move for everyone. It was risky, but riskier decisions have lead to great things like starting a computer company in California called Apple Computer. Some of the sharks on ABC’s Shark Tank have taken similar risks and look where it got them. Risks have two sets of consequences both good and bad, but you will never know the outcome if you do not try.

    Due to being a one man organization as as far as posting my photos to social media and to my website I will link you to both my site and my Facebook Page. Please keep in mind for those who said I have much room for improvement, we all have room for improvement. 50% of the photos on Facebook are from my father who is my business partner. He only picked up a DSLR in February after shooting Film SLR and point-and-shoot digital cameras for over forty years. I do not feel it is appropriate to criticize my father’s work unless it is constructive; and I take that belief when looking at any other photos posted by any other photographer. Lastly, I challenge you to take a look at my Facebook Page and see how by my father and I have improved thanks to Jim and Improve Photography LLC.


    Best Regards,

    Darin Mellor

  12. Deb


    I really appreciate your response to the comments and the opportunity to hear a bit more about your backstory. Unfortunately, much of that didn’t make its way into the original podcast, which is why I questioned the logic of highlighting your particular story, given the fact that there hadn’t been a history of listener interviews that had highlighted other, more typical paths. However, after hearing the podcast this week, it all makes a little more sense, since it appears that you are going to be working with Jim on a more regular basis. As I mentioned previously, I would still advocate for a more conservative approach, but since you had the means to pull it off without going that route, kudos to you. I wish you the best and look forward to hearing more about your journey. I am of the opinion that if you think you know everything there is to know about photography (or anything else for that matter), you might as well hang it up, so I also enjoy the challenge of learning, and appreciate this community for the many opportunities to do so. Best of Luck!

  13. Charlene

    Although I noted my interest in this particular podcast when it was first released, I didn’t have an opportunity to listen to it unless yesterday. I was initially shocked at the negativity that it generated, but after some thought realized that many of the comments are a reflection of the unhappiness that many working people experience in their jobs. I believe that there is a real possibility that those who are criticizing Darin’s career choices are just a bit envious of the fact that he was in a position to make those choices. From what I have heard and read, his decisions were neither hasty nor ill-informed but rather the result of his hard work and thoughtful planning and preparation. He has found his place in the world, and I heartily congratulate him on his decision to become “joyfully jobless”, as author and self-employment guru Barbara Winter advocates for those like Darin who are independent, creative, energetic, willing and enthusiastic learners and more interested in collaboration than competition.

    I also applaud Jim for not only teaching us about photography and sharing virtually everything he has learned about photography and business with his students but for having the courage to feature Darin’s story despite the fact that it may feature a path not desired or attainable by all. I personally found this story wonderfully positive and positively inspirational!

    I am happily retired and always looking for opportunities to get out and shoot. Every time I do so, I learn something—whether by success or by failure. Photographers like Jim and Darin inspire me to continue to learn and to shoot.

    I look forward to more podcasts and hope that Improve Photography will continue to provide inspiration for photographers at every level and in all kinds of life circumstances! Thanks, Jim and Darin!!

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