What I Have to Say: Phil Chester


I’ve never considered myself a writer or good with words (maybe that’s why I’m a photographer), or even someone worthy giving “advice,” so bear with me as I try and conjure something worth reading. This will resonate with some and probably will not with others. This is not an essay on how to be a better photographer, but at the same time, it is.

Although I haven’t been in this industry very long (not even two years), I feel like I’ve learned a ridiculous amount in that brief time- mostly about myself, but also about fine-tuning my craft.

When I was first starting out- and damn, I still feel like I am starting out- my biggest hurdle was my own self doubt. It’s still my biggest hurdle. I see inspiring work and think, “Man, there’s no way I can create that, there’s no way I could book those clients, there’s no way. I don’t have the gear, the knowledge, the talent, the vision, etc.”

I thought getting better was achieved by hustling and working crazy hard. It was rough- finding work was hard, I wasn’t shooting what I wanted to be shooting, and I wasn’t making enough money. I even went door to door one weekend leaving promotional cards in ten different neighborhoods thinking that my effort would bring me work. I was fighting against some serious self-doubt, and self-doubt is dangerous because whatever you hold in your mind as truth becomes true because you believe it. But somehow, I stayed positive because I knew there was nothing else in the world I would rather do than shoot photos for a living. I just didn’t know how the hell that was going to happen.

So instead of having narrow, detailed goals for myself, such as shooting for specific, high-end fashion magazines or shooting in specific, exotic locations- goals I couldn’t believe in- I made my goals broad. I had to change my pattern of thought. I started expecting the unexpected. Instead of trying to pinpoint the exact avenue for my photography, I thought, “I simply want to create inspiring work.” Instead of thinking, “I want to make this dollar amount from photography,” I thought, “I just want to be happier.” By broadening my goals I kept from pigeon-holeing myself and avoided the let-down of not reaching the specific dreams I thought I wanted.

It became more and more obvious that the harder I tried to force things to work, the less things actually did, and the more unhappy I became. Once I started relaxing and focusing on simply being a happier human, things started moving pretty quickly. A lot of random people started entering my life- some industry pros and some who had nothing to do with the industry. I started attracting work I never thought I would and I started getting exposure from avenues I could never have dreamed up. Simply put, it was way more exciting and easier to sit back with anticipation and watch how the universe was lining things up for me instead of trying to predict and work towards the specifics. Apparently I’m a pretty crappy fortune teller.

I’ve come up with 3 basic intentions for my life:

  • Continue to always be happier
  • Continue to attract exciting work in unexpected ways
  • Continue to create things which people respond to

That’s it. Of course it’s always harder when starting out to believe in yourself, but if you can bring yourself to a place of relaxation, contentment, excitement, and expectation, the world will line up things/circumstances/people you can’t even imagine. Simply think and believe the thought that, “Things are working out for me,” even if the pace at which you’re moving doesn’t match what you think is normal. If you can see even the smallest amount of progress towards being happier with your life and your work, you’re doing just fine, my friend. Small victories. Anytime you create something you’re super proud of, marinate in that moment as long as you can. Hold that thought that “this is better than what I’ve done before. I’m moving towards greatness.” If you shoot a whole set and are only stoked on one image from it, focus on the one image you love and not how there are a bunch you don’t.

We always measure ourselves to others- it’s hard not to. It’s human nature to judge if you’re on the right track or not by comparing your work to others’. But the only true way to assess if you’re on the right track is to monitor how you’re feeling when you’re creating. If you’re excited and crazy-happy when you’re creating, you know you’re doing what you’re suppose to be doing. And that, literally, is all you need. Everything else will work itself out. If you’re passionate about what you’re doing, people will find you, people will respond, and the momentum will snowball. Stop trying so hard. Just focus on being happy. Keep life simple.

The biggest thing I’ve learned over these past (almost) two years is stay open to any and all opportunities – even those that don’t seem like opportunities. Any conversation you have with another human is an opportunity. Don’t be afraid to just start a conversation with a stranger. Maybe they’ll remember your name, maybe they’ll remember you’re a photographer, maybe they’ll check out your site, maybe they’ll like it and tell someone about it. And maybe they won’t- who cares. Maybe you’ll never see them again. Maybe they’ll end up being one of your best friends. It’s all about potential and possibilities. The point is, absolutely every moment in your life is an opportunity.

People like happy people. It’s addicting. Stay happy, stay positive, stay calm, stay eager, and you’ll be blown away with what you attract.

– Phil | Phil Chester portfolio

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Portrait of Phil by Larissa Victoria.

Our “What I Have to Say” Wednesday series features established photographers and artists with messages they just can’t keep inside. Authentically and honestly, our writers share words of wisdom to challenge, encourage, and inspire.


9 thoughts on “What I Have to Say: Phil Chester

  1. Pingback: Finding Inspiration and Happiness In Your Business | Fstoppers

  2. Phil, we met at a fund raiser for the Audubon Society that Ms. Marti Babcock threw in Columbus, Ohio last year. Meeting you was so much fun–right from the first sarcastic comment.

    I love your article and couldn’t agree more. My whole life, I’ve confused ambition with mentally beating myself up in order to succeed. Today, I just want to truly appreciate who I am and take care of myself and the people I love. And that being happy part doesn’t sound too bad either. 🙂

  3. Great post Phil. Really good of you to share so much in such an honest way. As creatives, self-belief is something we all continually fight for. Am in a relatively similar place though in a different field. Working on thickening my skin!

  4. Great honest and inspiring post. I’ve ventured into making photography my pt job because I was so tired of not enjoying what I actually do 9-5. It’s been hard, so much talent out there, so much to learn, so much thinking I’ve done about pricing that I want to just not even think about it anymore. I just want to do what makes me happy and keep it simple. Which is why I find your essay so inspiring, it reminds me so much of how I feel, felt, and feel again. I’ve been in the photography journey for less than a year and looking forward to what it will evolve into; as long as it keeps me smiling.


  5. Thanks for this. I just recently managed to hit rock bottom and the irony of that is you usually suddenly end up getting given opportunities and see the little things once you’re there if you’re receptive to it.
    You wrote that very well. It is what I needed to “hear” 🙂

    More power to us and the power of happiness. <3

  6. I just recently stumbled upon your work and then this essay, and I have to say “thank you.”
    You expressed what I feel and more to the point what I kind of already know – but it’s always good to hear someone else say it out loud because it gives you a kick up the backside to make a more positive change in your life. So, thank you.

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