EMAIL: Hi! I was looking at your work after my neighbor told me about you. I have recently grown to love photography, and according to a few people I have a good eye and some talent. I am thinking of photography as a future career (I’m a sophomore in high school now) and was wondering if you had any tips or advice for a young, aspiring photographer. Thanks!
MY RESPONSE: To be honest with you, it is very difficult to make a career out of photography. The creative life is not an easy road! Also, technology has made photography more accessible for people and recently there has been a boom of professional photographers. With that being said, I firmly believe that anything is possible if you are talented, nice, work hard, make the right connections, and push the creative boundaries. Building a brand and selling yourself is also extremely important. You have to be a salesperson as well, you can’t just be a photographer and survive these days. Marketing, brand management, and running a sustainable business are also necessary. I wish I could tell you to just create great photographs and make good art, and everything will be fine, but I can’t.
I can share with you some things that have worked for me since I moved across the country. First of all, it’s all about connections. You can be the most talented person but you won’t get anywhere without connections, and other people being connected to your work. Your connections are probably the best way to find work and most likely your first job will be through someone you know or a friend of a friend. Surprisingly, I’ve even had former companies I’ve worked for hire me to do contract work. So network as much as possible. Secondly, use social media as much as you can. A lot of my clients have found me and hired me after seeing my work on Vimeo. I have even landed jobs through Facebook. Third, learn as much as you can and become an expert. Malcolm Gladwell wrote in Outliers that it takes 10,000 hours to become an expert at something. Apparently, 10,000 hours was a major factor that set The Beatles, Bill Gates, and Steve Jobs apart from everyone else. So start now while you’re young. Learn all of the technical components and master them such as lighting, composition, exposure, etc. Even learn how to shoot film and develop it in a darkroom (yes, some people still use films these days :). You want to be the best you can be and stand out above the rest. Often I see professionals posting work that is technically poor or has really bad photoshop work. Shoot constantly and create projects for yourself that will challenge you. Understand that you will fail; learn from your mistakes and the mistakes of others. And lastly, always aim to have fun! If you’re not having fun and enjoying it, then something is probably not right.
I used to think that landing a National Geographic assignment would be the holy grail for me. But after following Nat Geo photographers and realizing how dedicated you need to be, I’m not sure I’m cut out for an assignment like that. Those guys shoot an average of 40,000 - 60,000 images per assignment and literally have to live and breath their work. One of my favorite photographers actually told me that he turned down his first National Geographic assignment! So now I’ve had to find other things to aspire to :]
Enjoy the journey and good luck!