So you're trapped in high school, and the life you're dreaming of seems like it's light years away. Perhaps you're in college, thinking you have no choice but to wait until graduation for your life to begin. Maybe you're much older than that, but you're afraid of what might happen if you risk what's comfortable to do what truly makes you happy. Luckily, one of our audience's favorite photographers happens to be only seventeen--and he's here to inspire you to follow your bliss right now. 

You’re creating career-related success for yourself while most of your peers are picking out college majors, picking up shifts at local restaurants, and wondering what they’ll do with the rest of their lives. Can you tell us a little about when you first picked up a camera and realized it was a passion?

I first picked up a camera at the age of 12, I think. My parents bought me a little point and shoot Nikon Coolpix, and it never left my hand. I would bring it on all our family trips, to the store, anywhere I could, really. I didn’t realize it was truly what I wanted to do with my life until about a year or so ago, when I started getting serious about pursuing it as a career. Around that same time was when I really started pushing myself to get out and shoot every day.

Are you planning to go to college? What role do you think formal education plays in the life of a creative person, if any? 

As of right now, my plans for after high school are to take a year off of school and travel around the world with some of my best friends. That being said, I believe college is extremely important to someone like me in a creative field such as photography. You can be talented at taking photos, but that doesn’t necessarily mean you know how to run a business or market yourself to the public. If you can’t sell yourself to someone, how are you going to sell your product or service? I plan on going to college to take some Social Media Marketing, Financial, and Business classes after I return from my time away traveling. 

Many people are afraid to chase after their goals because of their young age or lack of experience. What advice can you give your peers to feel more confident in their abilities?

My best advice to someone who doesn’t have much experience in an industry is to go and get experience. Everyone has to start somewhere. If I had quit photography when I began because I wasn’t getting hired, where would I be? The only way to learn and gain experience in a trade is to throw yourself into it and learn from your own mistakes. Everyone has something they’re passionate about, don’t be afraid to go for it.

Oftentimes, young business owners and freelancers claim that their lack of experience is in fact an asset, not a hindrance—that it propelled them to be more innovative and to do things differently. What other advantages are there to being a young professional in your industry?

Me personally, being so young, I feel that it opens people’s eyes to the world of young talent. Age isn’t always equivalent to talent. I also think that me being only 17 can often make me seem like I have myself perfectly composed, but you’d be surprised. I’m going through the same hormonal imbalances as every other teenager out there.

Having a career while still in high school is a unique position to be in. How do you balance the two commitments? 

Balancing school and work can be really, really tricky sometimes. There have been times when I’ve had to be excused from school because I had an important gig that day during school hours, or times when I’ve had to miss a week of school because I had to leave the state for a project. Most of the time, though, I  schedule myself around my school hours.

You’ve previously described yourself as antisocial. Has the heavy involvement of social media in your profession changed you in any way? How does your social media presence influence your real-life relationships? Have you become more open and outgoing?

I used to be super antisocial, yes. Back in middle school, I was that kid that always had his hoodie pulled over his head, didn’t talk to anyone, and read more books than anyone more you’ve ever met. I started coming out of my shell more in high school, but it wasn’t until recently that I’ve really been comfortable with total strangers. I try not to let my social media influence my friendships, I’m still tight with the people I’ve always been friends with. But I have become more open and outgoing, mainly because I have complete strangers messaging me through the internet asking me to meet up with them and take photos of them! 

What effect do you think social media have on our relationships in general? Is it more positive or negative? 

I think social media can be great for relationships! If you like sharing photos of you and your boyfriend on Instagram, why wouldn’t you? It’s bringing you guys closer together, so why not? That being said, social media can set unrealistic standards for relationships. Not everyone can travel around the world, live on the beach, hang out with celebrities, etc., and that can be damaging when you focus on that and become bitter about wishing you had their life. Live the life you dream of, and if you’re not doing that, then go out and make it happen.  

Do you have trouble explaining your life, profession, and passion to older generations who did not grow up with the internet and a world in which it’s so easy to connect?

Honestly, I don’t really talk to people who don’t understand what I do. It’s hard enough trying to teach my parents what a “like” is, much less a total stranger. There is a definite generational gap, though. It’s so convenient to live in a world where any and all information you could ever need or want is right at your fingertips. I think it’s a really difficult concept for older generations to understand because they grew up in a time where this kind of tech wasn’t even imaginable. Look at where the iPhone was ten years ago: the camera quality was unheard of for its time, but now, it’s considered ridiculous how awful it is. Technology is changing so fast that it’s hard for even younger generations to keep up. I feel that because of how easy it is for people to communicate now, we’re not really afraid of strangers anymore. Everyone is just another profile on a social media app now.

What is your cultural background, and what do you love about it? 

I’m about as Caucasian as they come, but I grew up in Southern California, so I was constantly surrounded by different cultures as a kid. Not to mention, I’m number 9 out of 10 kids, 8 of which were adopted--myself included--so I’ve grown up being surrounded by diversity and acceptance. 

What is a culture different from your own that you have a lot of appreciation and respect for? 

I have so much respect for African culture. I think everything about what they believe and how they live their lives to the fullest is absolutely inspiring. And don’t even get me started on their clothing, I could write a novel about their textiles. 

What is your dream location to shoot in and why?

My dream location would have to be Milan, Italy. My brother traveled there for two years to study abroad, and he would send me photos of the architecture. It’s genuinely one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever seen, and it’s my dream to visit there while I’m traveling the world.

You can find Nik's online portfolio here and his Instagram account here