As a photographer, especially in a large city, you need to donate your time and skill to a charity. At least a year, if not more… The experience is invaluable! You are going to be involved with productions, you are going to learn communication skills, you will get to photograph events and people and animals and lots of stuff. Practice makes perfect, and you can get some amazing practice at a charity event.
I have a friend that has been donating his time and skills to “Now I lay Me Down to Sleep” (http://www.nowilaymedowntosleep.org), an incredible organization with a mission to provide remembrance photography to parents suffering the loss of a baby. (Honestly, I just couldn’t do that.) Find a charity that you feel strongly about and let them know you want to help. Animal shelters, sick kids, homeless, this country has a charity for everything – find where you want to start helping and help yourself along the way.
For the last 10 years, I have been working with The Miracle Party Foundation (https://miracleparty.org/), an wonderful organization that throws a huge gala for kids with cancer. This one night, the kids can forget about hospitals, treatments, and tests, and just be a kid… Before that, I worked with City of Hope out in Los Angeles and gained incredible experience, networked, and provided the charity with great photos from their events.
It is important that you donate your time to a charity you believe in and want to see grow and make a difference. Your photos will play a role in that. The better the images you provide, the better you are going to help them, and the better you are going to feel about working with them.