Five Tips for Becoming a Professional Photographer
Much of the conventional wisdom on to become an advertising and editorial photographer is wrong, so Iâve written up five tips that counter the common narrative. Itâs exciting to meet young people who are creative and driven, Â nothing would make me happier than to see them thrive as professional shooters.
1. Donât go to College
More and more Iâm meeting emerging photographers who are saddled with over 100K of college debt. My advice to young people â skip photo college. You can learn everything you need through books, mentors and short-term courses.
It will be a more challenging road, requiring openness, experimentation, and plenty of trail and error but the dividends are astronomical. Imagine spending your twenties with the freedom to live and work anywhere you wanted without a crippling debt hanging over you demanding a substantial and regular income.
College is great but spending $150,000 to be a photographer is insane.
2. Donât be a Photo Assistant
Photo assisting is a procrastination tool. One can make amazing money in their mid-twenties as a photo assistant â and have fun and strange experiences on a variety of photo sets – but what you wonât be doing is building a creative foundation that youâll need when itâs time to get serious in your early thirties. The longer one waits to transition out of assisting the harder it will be â one goes from making great money to no money (at least initially).
A better choice would be interning for a great photographer for a season or two, youâll be immersed in the world that you want to be a part of, and have the license to ask lots of questions.
3. Â Donât Move to New York
Iâve met more than one young person who told me that they moved to New York to be inspired and be a part of a creative community only to find themselves feeling isolated and exploited. Â It seems that there are two kinds of people in New York, those with a vision, and those without who work for peanuts for those who do.
New York (and other important cities like Los Angeles and London) is primarily a marketplace â cultivate your vision elsewhere then bring it to market and show us something new. New York welcomes you â but come when you have something to say.
4. Donât be Successful
If youâre any good youâll find yourself at some point as out of line with the culture. Â Your clients will be uninterested or confused by your latest work. Go with it, as it means that youâre onto something special.
Of course one needs to make a living, so hit the sweet spot for your clients too, but keep shooting the less obvious pictures along the way â this will be the work that really makes your name down the road.
5. Â Do be a Hater
Iâve found that I make my most interesting and original work when reacting against a prevalent trend rather than being inspired by some well-achieved work. Â When youâre inspired by a great photographer you tend to make some variation on that personâs work. Â But when you react against something you set the bar higher, âthese folks are getting it wrong, and Iâm going to show them the right way.â Â For me that means digging deep into myself and asking the hard questions about where photography should be going and how I might help bring it there.