What every photography school student needs to know.
February 21. 2010 14:00
During the last 6 years of teaching workshops promoted through my sites, I have come in contact with hundreds of photo school / college grads that have felt cheated after spending up wards and beyond $160,000 for an education that has left them unprepared and unqualified for working in the real world of commercial photography.
So here is some of what I have come to find, and what they have personally revealed to me, in no specific order.
Unless you absolutely positively can not live a full life with out taking pictures or making images every single day of your life, do not pursue a career in photography.
If you are the type of person that needs emotional, financial, and job stability do not get into photography.
Know your photographic history. you can not move forward without acknowledging the past.
And know whom from the past you can stealthy "barrow" from.
If you believe that by taking photography classes in high school, college, or other will make you a photographer it won't
If after taking photography classes you are under the impression that you will be able to move to a major photo market like New York and become the next Avedon you will not.
Photographers are competing on a world stage and there are thousands of highly skilled over qualified photographers that have worked as assistants, digital techs, lighting techs, and producers for some of the most famous and infamous photographers in the world and you will have to wait your turn behind them as you are competing for the few jobs available.
(Many of those have been doing this for nearly 20 years and have been cultivating business contacts for as long.)
A question to all:
How many of you have the type of personality that allows you to walk into a room and begin introducing yourself to strangers and in 60 minutes have been able to make 20 new contacts?
(After a show of hands)
Those of you that did not raise your hand will probably never make it in commercial photography because networking is as important as being able to push a button and make a great image.
Those of you that did raise your hand probably have a 1 in 250,000 shot at being able to make a living at photography and a 1 in 200 million shot at becoming the next Avedon.
Knowing Photoshop does not make you a photographer, nor does it make you a qualified digital tech.
Big name photographers are looking for highly skilled people to work with. (link is to a job listing for Mark Seliger from last year)
If all you know is digital you are severly under qualified.
If you do not know lighting you do not know photography.
Study sales, marketing, contract law, business, finance, advertising in school. Learn photography from photo assisting.
Professional photographers do it in the camera not in Photoshop.
Becoming a photo assistant is the best way to learn what to do and what not to do in running a photo shoot and the business of a photographer.
As a photo assistant never ever bring your portfolio to a shoot, never pass out your business cards to clients, do not date models or anyone else in the industry, keep your drink and drugs at home, show up on time always, wear clean clothes, shower, shave, ...
When trying to get work as an assistant work for as many photographers as you can and for as many types of photographers as you can.
The best being still life and editorial or corp. portraiture photographers. They will teach you lighting and production skills that you will never learn working for the fashion guys.
If you only speak 1 language start learning another: Spanish, German, French, Japanese, Italian, Portuguese, Chinese.
All photographers are insecure and most are frustrated musicians too.
When you are not working on a shoot you need to be looking for that next job, when your not doing either you need to be working on your portfolio or next series of images.
If your not doing this or something that will drive success to your business you are not serious about becoming a photographer.
Very few photographers have successful marriages or relationships.
Decide early on what your priorities are so that neither you or your potential partners are disappointed.
How ever there are those very rare occasions when you may meet someone that is willing to tolerate playing second to your photography.
When you find them keep them at all costs.
Photography is about communication(s). you need to develop your verbal communication skills as well as you photographic skills.
Clients do not always,...well actually they almost NEVER know what they want and it is sometime up to you to be able to pull their thoughts out of their heads.
If you do not have good communication skills as well as a good vocabulary you may not be able to express yourself adequately to your potential clients and both they and you lose out.
Beginning today,...Do not burn any bridges EVER.
Odds are that someone here to day or in your graduating class will be in a position to advance you or your career in the future.
Piss someone off now and they will only remember that aspect of your personality later.
With that in mind, "Always pay it forward" it costs you nothing and helps down the road.
Have a backup plan, and no, being a rockstar is not a back up plan.
Realize that hundreds of thousands of students graduate every semester believing that they will be on the road to fame and fortune.
What no one has told them is that most of us have spent a great deal of time living with roommates or a small east village apartment, eating Mac & Cheese and tuna out of a can on those none shoot days when there is no catering to take home as our next meal.
If your not working, shoot every day.
Edit Edit Edit. and then edit the crap that you kept as filler.
You must be proactive, make those cold calls, send out promo pieces regardless of the type of jobs you are looking for.
Maintain good credit, pay your bills, pay your freelancers first, and keep your reputation in tact.
Everyone talks in the photo world and everyone knows most of everyone else's business.
Bad news travels very fast in the photo world, so make sure the only thing people have to say about you is positive.
Keep your private life private and your opinions to yourself.
Even after you think that your becoming friends with a photographer your not, your still a freelancer hoping to keep working with them.
Internships are not positions of indentured servitude.
Do not take an internship unless there are clear guide lines as to your responsibilities and clear statement of on the job learning opportunities.
Too many students have ended up walking the dog, picking up dry cleaning, doing house work, parking cars, cleaning up after the dog, baby sitting, taking the kids to ballet or karate class, or picking up after the homeless guy that dumps in front of the photographers studio every morning.
When you get a phone call and the person on th eother end hems and haws on the type of job, terms of payment or other details about the job they are trying to book you for,
the odds are you will never get paid for that job.
Tell then your not available to work that day.
Never tell a photographer that you do not like his work or do not wish to work with them.
Try 1 of the following.
"I'm sorry but I'm booked for the next week, perhaps another time in the future."
"I'm sorry but another photographer has first option on me for that week, if it opens up I can call back."
I'm sorry but I'm out of town on those days."
This is a business and you need to treat it as such.
It's all well and good that we get paid to make pretty pictures but at the end of the day you need to get paid for your work, be it photographer, assistant, catering, hair & make up, stylist, location van driver, location scout,
NO ONE WORKS FOR FREE!
If you can handle the fact that the photo industry operates like the wild west and has no standards or practices, it's the best job in the world.