Samuel Elkins is a lifestyle and portrait photographer based in Salt Lake City, Utah. Not only is Sam an amazingly talented photographer, but an incredibly down to earth and genuine human. He's inspired a new generation of photographers through social media, amassing over a million followers across platforms - and he's only 20.
At what age did you start photography?
I started at 15, but I’ve been supporting myself off it for almost 2 years now. I got a summer internship working with non-profits. They gave me a camera to take photos for the summer and I fell in love with it. It was a Nikon D3100 and I ended up buying the same one myself. It wasn’t a great camera, but I saved up the entire summer for it so I was stoked. And I just started shooting photos all the time.
How are you such a successful photographer at such a young age?
This market used to be really dominated by older people, but the internet has really allowed younger people the opportunity to take over. It all comes down to commitment. If you want to do something, you need to fully commit. Ask yourself if this is something you really want to do, and if it is, go all in. It’s not going to be easy. There are going to be a lot of bumps and you need to be okay with not being successful for even the first year or two. Just put your head down, grind, make connections, and focus on taking photos.
A lot of people think that having a lot of followers equals success, but make sure that you’re doing this because you love it. Instagram is the popular thing to do right now, but focusing on taking great photos will help you such much more in the long run than your follower count. The followers will come when your work is at that level.
Why did you make the decision not to go to college?
I originally brought it up to my parents and they were pretty supportive. They told me that I’d need to be able to support myself, and I totally understood that. I was going to go to art school in Seattle at the Seattle Creative Academy, which is just a small art school in Seattle; but I impulsively decided that I should try it on my own and see what real-world experience would do for me.
I didn’t have much money in the bank but I was working really hard. I started shooting every single day and setting daily goals for myself. I knew good things would come if I kept up that mentality and they did. I just went for it and never looked back.
Where are your favorite places to shoot?
My favorite place I’ve been is New Zealand. It’s purely gorgeous, and so far out there. Not many people visit because it’s so expensive to get out there, which makes it more rewarding for me.
Growing up in Washington influenced my style so much. It’s such an amazing state and the scenery is so incredible. I love shooting in the Olympic Peninsula and Northern Cascades. Those are the main two that I stick to, but Mt. Baker is also really cool.
What are your favorite lenses?
What was the craziest experience you’ve had while traveling?
My buddy Griffin Lamb and I went to Norway for this client like a year ago and we were on this 16 day road trip. We flew into the southern-most part of Norway and drove to the northern-most part, the Lofoten Islands. So we drove up there and it’s this amazing, crazy place - and we had planned out the first 14 days, but didn’t plan out the last 2. So anyway, the trip is coming to an end and we thought we were going to miss our flight; so we literally drove 26 hours non-stop, just taking turns sleeping and stuff. We finally got to the airport with 2 hours to spare, and we realized that we were actually 2 days early. We only planned out the first 14 days, so when those were over, we assumed our flight was the next day - but really we had 2 more days in Norway. So we just booked a hotel and slept for 24 hours straight, then ordered room service and hung out.
What’s the best country to visit on your first international trip?
I’d try to go somewhere familiar. Paris and London are amazing. Australia and Canada are both super easy. Asia is honestly pretty tough, nobody speaks English. So yeah, I’d try to go somewhere where things are familiar, just so you don’t feel too overwhelmed to enjoy the trip.
Where do you pull inspiration from?
Good question. I get a lot of inspiration from Tumblr and Pinterest. Instagram isn’t very inspiring to me anymore, to be honest. I use it to promote my work, but it’s really just a business tool for me now. I pull a lot of inspiration from where I’m shooting and who I’m shooting if it’s with a model. I love doing things that are different and finding unique perspectives that I’ve never seen before. If I had to recommend one person, it’d be Jared Chambers.
In a saturated market, how would you encourage photographers with smaller followings to break through to more consistently paying work?
Dang, that’s a tough question. First of all, you can’t be doing the same thing everyone else is doing. If that’s the case, you won’t be able to separate yourself from everyone else; especially if you don’t have a big following. Find something that’s different. Focus on one thing you do really well. Don’t try to be the best at everything, that’s something I learned early on. I could try to do all different kinds of portraits but I really just focus on outdoors. Just decide what you want to pursue and stick with it.
What would you tell photographers with smaller followings who want to make a living out of it?
If you do good work, the followers will come, it just takes time. Relying on influencer deals is tough. You have a handful of photographers who get most of the big deals. It’s hard to stand out follower-wise, so your work needs to speak for itself. I’d say focus more on the actual photography and less on the social media aspect.
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