When Bad Light Goes Good: Scott Robert Lim Q&A
November 30, 2023
Photographer and educator Scott Robert Lim says, "As long as people keep wanting to hear what I have to say, I’ll still keep the lights on." Lim will be teaching a course on how to make bad light "bad a$$" at WPPI this Spring. (Scroll through to see examples of Lim's work.)
Mastering light is one of the keys to great photography. Scott Robert Lim has made a three-decade career from his relentless pursuit of learning, mastering, and teaching all aspects of photography, including lighting. Last Fall, Lim was in Phoenix at TPM teaching multiple creative lighting setups, and this coming spring, on Tuesday, March 5, he’ll be giving a seminar at WPPI called Turning Bad Light into Bad A$$. You can find his tips for making notoriously difficult dappled light into something stunning here: From “Ugly” to “Wow”: Scott Robert Lim’s Dappled Light Tips.
He recently caught up with host Nikki Closser on The Portrait System Podcast to talk about his career path as a photography educator and give tips on how one can break into that field. In this bonus Q&A, he expands on that theme and shares advice on overcoming fear, his visions for the future, and more.
What has been your biggest breakthrough in business?
When I went on CreativeLive in 2013 with Crazy, Stupid Light, that was a huge success for me. It put me on a world stage, and it was validation for me. I resonated with people from around the world, and they were eager to hear what I had to say. I followed it up 6 months later with “Think like a $10K wedding photographer.” People were telling me they couldn’t stop listening to me and took their iPad into the shower with them because they didn’t want to miss a word I was saying. After hearing that, I knew I had arrived! Originally, I was disappointed that I didn’t get asked to speak on CL earlier. In hindsight, I was perfecting my delivery and techniques for years, so when I finally got my chance at a world platform, I was ready. Every lecture and technique was tested hundreds of times. Sometimes it takes a decade to be an overnight success.
Most artists had a point in their life when they knew this was meant for them. Do you have that moment?
The first time I shot a wedding, I was the lead photographer. Although I was so unsure of my photography abilities and I made tons of mistakes, I knew I finally found it — a career that fit me like a glove. I was 38 years old; that’s when my life began to thrive. Everything started to come together. I could live my passion and exercise my giftedness while developing a rewarding career.
How did you push past fear when building your business?
I think of fear as risk, and I’ve always been a risk taker all my life. Having an artistic career is one of the hardest ways to earn a living. We always think if we could get our business to a certain amount of success, we can relax and enjoy the ride. Little do we realize the ride is a rollercoaster! One thing that helped me early in my career was to run to my fears. Every year I would evaluate what I was afraid of. Then, I would try to conquer where I was lacking.
Build a solid foundation of skills and then reach out and try different things that interest you. Where there is fear, there is the opportunity for growth. We all make mistakes, but if we are learning from our setbacks, we are growing stronger and that’s our most important asset — the ability to grow in the midst of disappointment and heartbreak and to never give up.
For someone starting out on their photography journey what advice would you have for them?
Besides mastering your craft, seek out mentors who can take you to the next level. They can teach you shortcuts. For example, they may have worked on a lighting technique for years and then they can teach you how to do it in 15 minutes. But a great mentor can teach you not only technical things but also life lessons and creating balance in your life. Secondly, they can introduce you to industry leaders that have taken them years to develop. They can instantly open doors for you when you’re ready. This is how you fast track your career.
Where do you see your business in the next 5 years?
This world is changing so fast who knows where I’ll be. But one thing is certain, I base my whole career and life principle on trying to help people. It’s a constant search on how your skill set can fit in the marketplace and help others. The more value you give them, the more successful you will be. I still love to physically interact with people. I believe we were built for and crave social interaction.
I think one day I would love to put on my own boutique photography convention. I’ve been speaking at them for over a decade, so I have a good base of knowledge I can build on. I’m currently 60 years old and from a practical point of view, I’m sure my career has to wind down at some point. But for now, I absolutely love what I do. I still have a passion for helping and interacting with others and as long as people keep wanting to hear what I have to say, I’ll still keep the lights on. I feel so blessed getting to travel around the world practically every other week, meeting new and old friends who love creating and appreciating beauty of all forms — it’s infinite. I’m going to enjoy the ride every second of the way, and it’s an amazing feeling getting asked to be a part of some pretty amazing events, it never gets old.
See Scott Robert Lim teach in person at WPPI on Tuesday, March 7 in his seminar, “Turning Bad Light into Bad A$$.”