Pro tip: Do not become a professional photographer

The final design of the book professionally designed by Dirk's wife Sherry Schafer (the ones in the back the "DONT DO" manuscripts, edits and drafts back to 2012)
The final design of the book professionally designed by Dirk’s wife Sherry Schafer. “The ones in the back are the “DONT DO” manuscripts, edits and drafts back to 2012″, Dirk says.

Many aspiring photographers dream to be a professional one day. The thing is, most don’t have any idea exactly what that means.

To be a professional photographer, does one have to acquire the most expensive camera or gear? To fulfill every client’s needs? To learn all the technical and creative aspects? To get thousands of likes on social media?

If your answer to these questions is yes, then you’re about to experience a photographer’s nightmare.

When I first stared shooting, I wanted to rule the world. I thought that owning a camera and knowing the techniques would turn me into a “pro” photographer. I wanted to go to that expensive art school, take those promising courses online and one day become famous.

There is nothing wrong with wanting to learn more, but there was something that no one was telling me. How and when exactly do you become a professional? And what is the value or meaning of the word “pro” anyway?

Thankfully there are people who are willing to help guide amateur photographers without taking advantage of their dreams; who are straight to the point, without sweet-talking and without glibness.

One of those people is S. Dirk Shafer from Ventura, CA. He likes to call himself an “average professional photographer.” What is so fascinating about him is that he plays two characters in one. Stephen, (his first name,) is a well-known architectural photographer while Dirk is the author of a book titled: Don’t Shoot: 66 reasons to not become a professional photographer.

“I’ve written DON’T SHOOT as a brutal, and hopefully funny, book about all the twiddly bits that go into succeeding as a professional photographer,” he said. “The book covers relationships, ethics, gear, contracts, branding, copyrights, working for free, perseverance, portfolios, style & voice, critiques and what to expect from galleries, schools, spouses, clients, assistants, workshops and more.”

The interesting part of this book is that it has a different twist, it’s not your average educational “this is the way to do it” guide.

“It’s all served up in a crunchy shell of parody, sarcasm, and profanity. Wheee!” Shafer says.


Introduction to the book “DONT SHOOT”


Dirk needed support to publish his book and in September created a Kickstarter campaign to bring his project to life. He had a $4,500 goal with a promise of celebrating with an ice cream party if he succeeded. One month later at the end of his campaign, the ice cream party began. He exceeded his goal raising $5,877 with the help of 214 backers.

This is Dirk’s second attempt at crowdfunding. “The other was a wacky idea for a dock weight. Search Dockbloc for a laugh. The first failure gave me much needed insight into getting the second KS for Don’t Shoot to a successful conclusion at 130% funded. I’ve also backed about 20 different projects and that’s very insightful too,” he said.

The book has a unique and satirical perspective and Dirk hopes it will challenge people to be better photographers in this new media generation. He leaves behind the ego, challenging the reader to put their feet on the ground and make them realize they’re not that great, that there’s always more work to be done.

Dirk instead of showing his own photos he replaces them for quotes from distinguished photographers. “No photos, No camera tips, No bullshit,” he said. If you are a fan of dark humor, his witty tittles like: It Gets Worse. Shit Happens. You Suck, No wait, Yes, You Suck,” will definitely hit you like reality bombs and put a smile on your face.




Don’t shoot will be one of those books that is hard to forget. After all, there is nothing more wonderful than to sometimes not take yourself too seriously. “If you’re looking for a book that blows smoke up your ass and promises “Be a pro photographer in 3 easy steps!” then use your “great eye,” and keep on looking. I’m a shitty enabler,” Dirk said.

When asking if he’ll be using crowdfunding again for his future projects, Dirk said, “I would use crowdfunding again, it’s a full-time job on top of your full-time job. It connects to a new audience and it gets some people excited that would never have heard from you.

“The basic advice I give people is that doing a Kickstarter is by no means newsworthy anymore. There are over 8,000 launched every month on KS and IGG and the news media and bloggers don’t care unless you are already over 100% and your product will bring them exposure and notoriety like a story on the coolest cooler not the other way around,” he said.


Dirk also has an awe-inspiring website called ClicKittyCat. He makes fun cartoons with great photography quotes. “The Local 20 is more fun than the Fortune 500 any day. And they pay quicker too” Dirk Says.


Dirk took 3 years to complete Don’t Shoot. Softcover books will be out in December and the hardcover book in January 2016. He already has a couple of ideas for his next project It might be a book on ugly architecture or a magazine about photography with no pictures… we’ll see.” He said.

To know more about Dirk’s book visit this website or to know more about himself visit here. You can follow his illustrations ClicKittyCat on Instagram and Facebook.

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Sophia Montoya
Sophia Montoya is a photographer based in Tijuana, Mexico. She graduated from Universidad Iberoamericana with a B.A in Communications. She currently works as a music photojournalist under the alias of “Zophie Felina” collaborating with bands and documenting the rock and roll music scene. She is Through the Cracks Spanish translator and contributor.