This encouraged him to open his own studio Guarantee Photography within two years and he was immediately successful. "
Van Der Zee was a working photographer who supported himself through portraiture and he devoted time to his professional work before his more artistic compositions. At age fourteen he received his first camera from a magazine promotion.
Among his most famous subjects during this time were Marcus Garvey Bill "Bojangles" Robinson and Countee Cullen. Aside from the artistic merits of his work Van Der Zee produced the most comprehensive documentation of the period.