The American Society of Media Photographers provides this forum to encourage the development of critical skills and to foster new ideas. Our goal is an informed and savvy professional photography community.
[by Francis Zera]
For those just venturing out into the big, crazy world after however long a stint in photography school (or for those intrepid souls diving in to the business without formal training), here are some thoughts from someone who’s been around the block enough times to know what the gutters look like as well as what’s inside those nice houses on the sunny side of the street.
First, it’s not as bad as everyone makes it seem. Second, at times, it’s worse. Just like everything. It’s tough to make it on your own as a plumber or an architect or a graphic designer or a doctor, too. Possessing a good skill set in your chosen profession does not guarantee you an income. A good set of business skills, a drive to succeed, and a stubborn streak as wide as Montana is what it takes. That, coupled with persistence, a thick skin, and a bit of luck. No one said it’d be easy – that part they weren’t lying about.
Fronting is sometimes necessary, lying is never necessary. Learn the difference.
Stop reading so many photo blogs (other than this one, of course). Collectively, they’ll have you thinking it’s raining iPhones, that you’ll never find a client, and that the only way to become a professional photographer is to post everything you can on Instagram and wait to be discovered like a 1940s Hollywood starlet.
Hobbyist/cheap/free/iPhone and similar boogeymen photographers are not a threat – bad business skills are a threat. Find a target client base that matches your skill set and professional goals. Research that market: find out what it needs, what problems it faces, and how to solve those problems. Then go pound the pavement. Make phone calls. Show your book. Make some connections. Get frustrated. Make mistakes. Learn. It just takes some planning and persistence. A lot of persistence.
It’s not all about the gear, it’s about having the right tools for the job and delivering what the client needs when they need it. Good gear will make your life easier and will help you deliver a high-quality product. But gear is not the end game – your photography and business skills are what matter most.
And brush your teeth. No one will ever know if your socks are clean, but they will definitely notice if you haven’t brushed your teeth.
Francis Zera is a Seattle-based architectural and commercial photographer. He currently serves as education chair at ASMP Seattle/NW, teaches the business curriculum in the photography department at the Art Institute of Seattle, and holds an M.A. Ed. in adult education and training. You can check out his work at zeraphoto.com and follow him on twitter and on instagram.
In the coming weeks, countless photography and digital imaging majors will embark on new careers. This week our contributors offer a second week advice for those at the very beginning of this journey. Not surprisingly, there’s plenty of wisdom for those of us who’ve been around the block a few times, too. ~Judy Herrmann, Editor
[by Jenna Close]
School is awesome in so many ways. You have a safe environment to experiment and learn. You work hard and you play hard, all while surrounded by a community of supportive teachers and friends.
It was a little jarring for me to leave the educational environment, even though I felt prepared to strike out on my own. In the classroom I learned all about sound business decisions, marketing and continuing to develop my style. What I hadn’t considered was how different it would feel to be making all those decisions in real life. Failing an assignment is not the same as losing the job that will pay your rent. Mentally I knew that, but emotionally it wasn’t so easy. I felt lost, stressed, lonely and out of my league.
To the class of 2015 (or anyone, really), I humbly suggest you dedicate time and effort to finding your support system. It can be a very powerful tool for survival. Meet local photographers face-to-face, attend events, make involvement in your creative community a part of your business strategy.
Create a network of friends that are at various different stages in their careers. They will provide you with a broad range of advice, they will keep you going when it gets tough, they’ll inspire you and be inspired by you. It’s easy, when sitting alone at a computer, to start comparing yourself to others even though you can’t see the times they’ve struggled. Get out on the town and hang out with people. It’s as integral to your business as a fair contract or a great photograph.
I was lucky enough to find ASMP just after I graduated. For me, this was the answer to much of my stress and loneliness. I felt less overwhelmed once I could call up a local photographer, take them out for lunch and receive warm and thoughtful advice in return. I have been made stronger by this community both in San Diego and across the entire country.
I encourage every photographer to take the opportunity to surround themselves with people who share their passion and care for this industry.
Jenna Close has a lot of people to thank for her survival as a commercial photographer. If you’re ever in San Diego, give her a shout if you want to hang.
[by Irene Owsley]
Offering advice to young graduates is a tricky business, especially for those going into a profession that is particularly fraught with challenges, but here are a few suggestions :
1) Back up: be prepared to devise additional income streams, ideally related to photography. There are diverse opportunities in related fields, such as retouching, CGI, photo editing, styling, and curatorial & archivist positions, to name a few.
2) Be a mentee: intern or find a seasoned photographer who’s willing to give guidance. Many magazines, newspapers, museums, galleries and studios offer internships. Independent photographers also have internship positions, but you’ve got to come with skills, especially technical and administrative!
3) Join a photography community/organization where diverse learning and networking opportunities abound. Here’s where you’re going to find experienced photographers who might become mentors or who will share invaluable information with you. Don’t underestimate the value of hangin’ with these colleagues!
4) Hone your writing and communication skills. You will be cultivating and negotiating with clients, perhaps writing project descriptions or grant proposals to foundations, as well as setting up business paperwork like licensing and contracts.
5) Understand not only technology but the industry-wide trends you must navigate. While you no doubt are graduating with a handle on social media and the technical demands of your craft, you also need to pay attention to what’s trending, what photographers/developers world-wide are responding to, and what might be coming next in the ever-changing world of digital and media.
6) Understand the value of and be prepared to protect your copyright/intellectual property. Your imagery is potentially money in the bank, and you don’t want someone else spending it…. Safeguard that potential. If you’re not familiar with Copyright or registration requirements, ASMP’s copyright tutorial can help.
7) Read, read, read – new ideas will serve you! Whether it’s newspapers, blogs, magazines, the “great books” or contemporary literature, reading keeps your mind sharp and significantly feeds your vision.
8) Borrowing from New York Times columnist David Brooks, “Cultivate your strengths….confront your weaknesses….” Anyone would benefit from this exhortation, but since photography is often a solo endeavor, a reminder for self-improvement is not a bad thing.
9) Give back. Here’s more advice of a universal nature, but contributing your work and vision as a photographer can be enriching and also lead to future opportunities.
10) Celebrate the opportunity to live a creative life. There is nothing so fulfilling as to have choices and to express oneself creatively. Appreciate the wealth of possibility.
Irene Owsley, a photographer based in Santa Fe, NM, never had any training in photography as an undergraduate. Her career benefited most from tip #3 above – getting involved with ASMP. She heartily believes in life-long learning.