I dont know if many of you on the photography forum do it for a living, but I'm about to embark on a professional photography course, which I'm really excited about, and I'm interested in your experiences in the industry, particularly those of you who freelance and maybe combine travelling with your profession.
Would you say it's tough to find regular work doing this? What are the benefits and drawbacks of working this way?
I'd really love to hear anything you might have to say to someone starting down this road.
Thanks a lot!
Where to begin.....
I'm not a professional photographer myself. But I trained and keep in contact with a number of working pros. Quite a few were like you, they did something else before, decided to change careers and went into the field.
First off, if you want to do this to make money. You have to think of it as a money maker, first, foremost, and almost as nothing else. Forget the art and glamour of it. Yes, do spend your time learning the ins and outs of the camera, light, and art. But spend most of your time on things like: Marketing, planning, accounting, customer relations, etc. Smart decisions there will allow you to do the art, which is why most people want to get into the business.
One of the biggest issues these days is digitization. With the new technology everyone thinks they're great artists. So the market for some areas of photography is shrinking. For instance, nobody makes prints anymore. That used to be a place where a lot of pros worked to make money "on the side". Another consequence is that where you'll be making most of your money is in areas that nobody wants to be, or can be. That means weddings are still big business. Willingness to go into a war zone to dodge bullets is a big plus in terms of job security !! A good reliable friendly photographer will get more call backs than the wacko artist on funky chemicals. If you want to get paid jetting around the world to fun sunny destinations to take 3 pictures.....well good luck with that. I do know people who get to travel as part of their photography work. But it's like any other business trip. You're there to work. You're busy scounting locations, planning shoots, filling out permits, etc. etc.
One other aspect is the gear itself. "Pro" gear isn't necessarily the highest quality gear. Despite what the advertisers will sell you. It's what you can use as a tool to get the job done fast and accurately. What doesn't break being tossed in and out of car trunks is most often more important than boken. And I can not stress the planning aspect of it more. Pros plan a shot before hand. Wedding photographers go into a shoot with 20-30 pre-planned shots that will absolutely do. Consistency in style and results is what a long term customer will want. You don't see catalogues looking different every week. There's good reason for that. Pros know every aspect of how the shots are made, and can repeat and repeat. This is what separates a pro from most amateurs.
The work can be very regular. It all depends on your customer base. If you get hired by a supermarket to photograph their weekly sales flier....well you'll most likely be around as long as the supermarket is around and want weekly sales fliers. If you're the only pro within 100km....well..... Again it comes back to the business side of things. This is what people somehow always forget about the photography bizz. What will make it a success or failure is no different than in any other business out there. Get that into your head, and you'll get enough time to enjoy the career, if not you'll either barely make ends meet or fail altogether.
That's really insightful - thanks a lot!
Just let me say how glad I am to hear you're embarking on a trail to become a "real" photographer. It's a wonderful job.
I've been a freelancer for about two years now, started after finishing high school. It's a wierd thing to suddenly be your own boss - while your friends hurry along to their regular jobs in a highly "regular" way. And that's probably the main issue about freelancing, the fact that no one else is around to lead you. You are in all aspects completely alone in your work. This is probably what gets most people to give up on their dream.
I both photograph and write for articles and publications, which gives me a little edge compared to those who only photograph. But nonetheless it's a hard business. You have to constantly email/mail/call or otherwise keep in contact with former clients, to be sure you're on their radar for future assignments. You simply can't ever relax, never. As Q says - it's not just about getting good shots. Actually, it's more about who you are as a person. People want to work with the devoted and business-like side of you - not with your artistic side.
So yes - to answer your questions - it's tough. Real tough. But fully possible.
Considering travelling in your work, there are numerous opportunities for this. I've often taken things into my own hands, and basically traveled somewhere for a week or two to make an article myself. And back home, I've worked my *** off to sell it. And to date, this has worked fine for me. I believe you should try to take on only assignments you truly like to do, because they will turn out better that way. It's hard to turn down well-paying fashion shoots - but important to do so. Because even if they pay well, they sure wont get you out into the world. It's all about a clear will, you've gotta know exactly what you want to do.
Another thing on traveling, is the expenses that always creep up behind you. Even if a company pays for your trip somewhere, there's always lots of unforseen expenses that you have to pay in the end. Some worth the trip, some not. A very hefty start budget can be pretty useful - at least, always calculate things being more expensive than they might seem. So being a traveling photographer doesn't land you with a huge salary in the end.
So, the drawbacks add up to quite a few. Uncertain salary on many assignments, long days of working, back pains from all the carrying of equipment - and worst of all the many good pictures you never get to sell due to competition selling it first. BUT - this is nothing compared to the benefits. Once you saddle your camel for a photo shoot in the desert, get on a small plane in the middle of Tanzania to get to the shoot or just drive up the hillsides of your own country to get some early morning landscape shots - that's when it's all worth the hard work. You get there, work all day, and return with a couple of good pictures. And once they're published, you can't help but smile. A big, fat, smile.
Thanks so much for your comments Makini. Both yours and Q's are exactly the kind of balanced information I need to understand what I'm getting into.
I'm sure I might have more questions for you both over the coming months
To be honest, money isn't hugely important to me in my life. Of course, it's nice to have it because it allows me to do and see the things I want to in life, but job satisfaction and not being trapped in an office cubicle from 9-5 is infinitely more important to me. Would you say that you can earn enough from freelancing to live relatively comfortably, or would you say that it's more a case of making ends meet all the time (in your experience)?
No problem Samsara, just ask here or send me an email. I'm very, very happy to help.
Regardless what people say, there's a lot of money to be made as a freelancer. This of course means you've got to work hard. Real hard. And you have to be lucky. And have the right contacts. Yet all of that can be gained from real hard work - roll up your sleeves. But I guess I already stressed that before
Regarding the "earn enough money to be able to see things in life"-issue, I've got an answer to that too. When traveling in your work, (at least as a travel photographer/writer) you get to see so much. Much more than if you went there on a regular vacation. So basically, if you see to it to enjoy yourself while traveling (Carpe Diem!) - you get to see the most interesting places all over. And suddenly, after several trips with large amounts of impressions and sights to cope with - there's no place you feel more comfortable and relaxed in than at home. I believe this is a much better way of life than working nine to five and always long for next year's vacation, always feeling your home is very boring. I believe most people agree with me on that.
As I said, feel free to ask away Do you have a webpage or something yet?
No webpage really - just a frivolous blog that I kept while I was on my RTW trip. But I'm enrolling in a professional photography course here in NYC (just waiting for details and brochure to arrive), plus I have more or less picked out the camera I want, thanks to Sander's help, so at this stage it's just a question of getting stuck in, see how it suits me, and then I would hope to get a decent webpage designed where I can start to build a profile/portfolio, upload my shots, etc.
I'm devouring photography magazines at the moment, and I'm learning an enormous amount from them already. Any of the photos I have posted here on TP are crappy holiday snaps taken over the years, but I've actually taken some pretty good shots in South America and New Zealand that I've never gotten around to posting here. I won an amateur photography comp held locally at home in Ireland with one of my pics, and another was highly recommended in another competition, so I feel that the flair for it might be there, and given some tuition, the right equipment and what's becoming a burning ambition at this stage, I think I could actually make a go of it. The more and more I research it and think about, I feel increasingly sure it's the road I want to go down.
So, what way do you work generally? Do you just decide to head off to a certain place to cover a certain event and then submit your work to as many magazines/journals as possible, or do you just travel and keep building your portfolio all the time, and then just use what you have when you need to?
I love to work hard but not in the kind of jobs I've worked in so far. If it's something I'm passionate about, I can become quite obsessive. Plus, I'm pretty good with people at a professional level (I think ) . My job at the moment is all about networking and building contacts for our company, so I should enjoy that even more if it's building my own contacts
Sorry for all the questions but, in your opinion, do you think it's better to develop a particular style and build a portfolio around that, or do you think it's better to be able to show that you will/can photography almost anything?
And also, if you have your own particular style, what is it?
Thanks again. The answers are much appreciated.
I 'm really interested in this thread and was just wondering how long your course is? Is it full time or something you will do in the evenings while working at the same time?
The one I'm thinking of doing is with the New York Institute of Photography - it's really flexible, so you can just work on it in the evenings at your own pace. You can complete it in one year if you wish, or two, depending on what suits you.
This is great for me because my job is largely 9-5, plus I do a fair bit of travelling with work as well and sometimes my hours can be irregular, so I was worried even about class schedules and so on, but from what I can gather is really something you work on at your own pace. They recommend about 4-6hrs work each week on the course, which is entirely doable.
I'm not even sure of fees yet, as i'm still waiting on the course literature to arrive, but I should have it in a few days.
Is it something you are considering yourself? Are you based in Auckland?
To be honest, money isn't hugely important to me in my life. Of course, it's nice to have it because it allows me to do and see the things I want to in life, but job satisfaction and not being trapped in an office cubicle from 9-5 is infinitely more important to me.
You're more than welcome. In the end, being successful at any career is about knowing yourself and how much work you put into it.