Hindsight is always 20/20, which is why if you’re a photography student or about to launch your photo business, you should turn to those who have already completed the right of passage for a little first-hand, grade-A advice on how to go about the whole thing.
With experience comes great wisdom, so we asked seven professional photographers what advice they would give to the graduating class of 2015 photographers, and what they would have done differently if they had known what they know now. From business and gear advice to staying true to your inner artist, and just simply being nice – take notes, cause these nuggets of wisdom are pure gold.
One major thing I wish school had taught more about the language of contracts, copyright law, and knowing how to navigate through the business side of things. Having talent and working hard is one side of being a photographer but you must also be a decent business person to continue the craft.
Another really significant thing is the importance of working on a personal project. It’s the kind of thing that you have to do for yourself only. Don’t think about whether an editor or audience is going to like it. Do you care about it? Thats what keeps creativity and inspiration flowing. It also attracts the kind of clients you want to be working for in the future.
When I finished graduate school, I really thought I was aware of the amount of “business” work I had to do outside of making photographs – whether in the editorial capacity or my own work. However, I really was not mentally prepared for the true amount of hustle that is required of a photographer. Whether it be sending out promotional materials, keeping invoices and receipts in order, facilitating relationships etc. It’s going to take up a lot of your time.
I think the key to being successful is not losing yourself at the cost of trying to be proactive. Staying true to who you are as an artist and human being goes a long way. All the other stuff becomes a lot easier (or as easy as it can be) and it allows you to mentally be in the right mindset to be producing the work you want to be making. When it comes down to it, that’s the most important thing – to constantly challenge yourself and not get complacent. No matter how successful you are, nothing is ever due to you and the experience and learning never stops. You have to constantly remind yourself that you’re very lucky to be doing what you love – take full advantage of that, stay humble, enjoy yourself and remember the importance of having a community of creatives you can bounce things off of. Once it becomes “work” you’re doing something wrong.
While it’s important to experiment with new gear, it’s also important not to get caught into a trap with new gear. I once shot an entire assignment at the wrong flash sync speed simply because I used a brand new camera, and neglected to read the manual. My advice: stick with tried-and-true equipment for important assignments, and experiment on your own with new gear before you use it for something important.
To me, confidence and having a clear vision are the keys to being a successful photographer – you don’t have to know how to do everything, though it’s helpful from a managerial standpoint to understand every aspect of your photography and business so you can better tell people what you want.
Make sure you understand your strengths and weaknesses. Focus on your strengths, and get help from others for your weaknesses. Don’t assist forever, and keep on shooting. The more you shoot, the more you will know what you like/dislike, what works/doesn’t work for your workflow, and it will help you develop your style. If I looked back I would have told myself to quit assisting earlier.
Going into the photography business at this point in time, you need to broaden your horizons, and not just study photography. I think you should have a working knowledge of photography, video, editing, sound, lighting, web design, graphic design, advertising, PR, and it wouldn’t be a bad idea to minor in business either. Moving forward, I think we are all going to have to be renaissance men.
The most important thing to remember is to keep making new work, even if you feel like you’re in a slump. The internet now affords you unlimited free gallery space. You want as many eyes as possible to see your work. Come up with new projects and see them through. Make zines, do print giveaways, keep yourself active on social media, go to openings (and be a nice person!)—jobs can come from the strangest places and it’s all about staying visible and keeping your name floating above the noise.
What I really wished I had learned earlier was that the best stories are the ones that are right under your nose. The stories in your community. The stories that a photographer can shoot over weeks, months or even years.