Design & Style, Arts & Entertainment

Becoming a Photographer: Jimmy's Story

Jimmy Chin

Lesson time 16:07 min

From his childhood in Mankato, Minnesota to the cover of National Geographic, Jimmy shares his story of becoming a professional photographer and offers advice for finding your own mentors.

Students give MasterClass an average rating of 4.7 out of 5 stars

Topics include: Finding Photography • Meeting Galen Rowell • The Chang Tang Plateau • Help Your Mentors Find You


I grew up in Mankato, Minnesota, which is this little town in South Central Minnesota surrounded by cornfields. My parents were both Chinese immigrants from China. I think they were pretty stereotypical immigrant parents. They want to have their children excel. And they had a vision for me having a better life than they did. So when I told my parents, after college, hey, look, I'm going to just take a year off and go climbing, and skiing, and kind of get it out of my system so that I can pursue a real career, they weren't very happy. As far as I knew, growing up, there were like three jobs. You could be a lawyer, a doctor, or go into finance. And so I kind of veered off the tracks, went off the rails, as you say. And one year of living out of the back of my car turned into two. Two turned into three. Eventually, I basically lived in a little hatchback Subaru for seven years. I spent a lot of time in Yosemite climbing and traveled around to ski in the winters. I was doing odd jobs like waiting tables and shoveling roofs here in Jackson on these big mansions, valet parking, just whatever I could do to make a living, to keep climbing and skiing. I think the biggest risk I ever took was to kind of leap off the tracks, leap out of other people's expectations. There was a lot of pressure from my family to take a very specific path in life. And it just didn't work for me. I felt like I needed to find something that gave my life meaning and purpose. And climbing, for some reason, really took a hold of me. And it was in climbing and spending time in Yosemite where I first picked up a camera. And a good friend of mine was trying to be a professional photographer and bought a camera. And he showed me how to use his camera. And I took a frame with it. And then later on, he was trying to sell some images. And at the time, it was slide transparencies. And he sold one image. And it happened to be the image that I took, which he was really kind of bummed about. But I took the money that I got from selling that photo, and I went and bought a camera with it. And at the time, I never thought about being a photographer. I didn't even think of it as a career. It just happened. And I think they paid me $500, which, now knowing what I should have been paid for the usage, I got kind of ripped off. But it was fine, because I was like, $500. I can live for two months on $500, certainly a month easily on $500. And the logic to becoming a photographer was not like a noble kind of pursuit or a pursuit about art or creativity. It was literally a pragmatic decision where I was thinking, I only have to take one photo a month. And I can basically do this for the rest of my life. And that's the logic of an early 20-year-old. [MUSIC PLAYING] So I saw this story shot by Galen Rowell about Conrad Anker and Peter Croft in this valley called the Charakusa. The pictures were outrageous. And I was like, that is where I want to go. I figured, OK, the only ...

About the Instructor

Jimmy Chin has built his career taking photos at the top of the world, earning him the cover of National Geographic and multiple awards. Now he’s taking you on location to teach you techniques for capturing breathtaking shots. In his photography class, learn different creative approaches for commercial shoots, editorial spreads, and passion projects. Gather the gear—and the perspective—to bring your photography to new heights.

Featured MasterClass Instructor

Jimmy Chin

National Geographic photographer teaches his techniques for planning, capturing, and editing breathtaking photos.

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