I get quite a lot of questions from aspiring photographers and photography students on how to get in to the industry. Whether they’re looking for work experience or just advice, unfortunately, it’s not uncommon that reaching out to a professional photographer can leave you with crickets. Believe me, I know.
So, I thought I’d outline some of the things that I tell the people who contact me in the hope it gives you a realistic idea of what to do and where to go if you want to work as a professional photographer.
Degrees & Courses
There is many a degree or course to take on photography. I did my degree at Nottingham Trent University which has one of the best photography BAs in the country. I loved my time there, but a uni course doesn’t always prepare you for the professional world. However, a degree, HND or other course is always a brilliant way to expand your technical know-how, challenge yourself, try all the cameras, formats and techniques and make great connections for your future, including colleagues, galleries and media.
Many people start out as a photographer’s assistant and it’s a great way to make connections in the industry, learn lots and progress your career. If you’re serious about getting in to photography & working in the industry, I would advise trying to assist as much as you can, particularly while you’re studying. You’ll gain insider knowledge and will often get to work on some cool shoots!
Think about what kind of photography interests you and try to find a photographer working in that field. The experience will look great on your CV.
Build Your Portfolio
Your portfolio is one of the most important things to have as a photographer, particularly when applying for jobs. Even if you’re not studying or assisting, building your portfolio is imperative. It might be a case of setting up a few shoots, or just carrying your camera with you to get the perfect shot, but shooting, shooting and shooting is the best way to define your interests and to develop your style, all of which will be seen in your portfolio.
Your portfolio can be physical prints of your work, a PDF, or an online page or website to which you can send the link to anyone interested.
Going it Alone
Many photographers are self-taught and some have successful careers, but the industry is a tough one. Companies and corporations are often looking for experienced, permanent photographers, but the turnover of work can be quite demanding.
Many, therefore, opt to work freelance or self employed. There can be more variety and creativeness by doing it this way, and you’ll get to set your own working terms. However, building up your client list can take time and a lot of hard work. Depending on the type of work you want to pursue, joining an agency may be a good step towards autonomy.
It's hard work, and with the technological world constantly 'upgrading', you'll need to move with the times and be constantly expanding your knowledge. But, the list of opportunities and careers a degree or interest in photography can give you is almost endless. Newspapers, galleries, online stores, auctioneers, brides, families all need and want photographers with enthusiasm, skill and a great eye.
Whichever genre you want to go in to, though, experience and a portfolio is key. Unfortunately, you can‘t tell people you take great photos and not show them anything to prove it. So, if you’re serious, start shooting now. You don’t need expensive equipment; even an old 35mm manual SLR is a great choice as it will give you a basic knowledge of things like the exposure triangle, perhaps more so than a digital camera.
As a final note, I know how hard it is to enter into the photographic world and how disheartening it can be when you reach out for help and advice from those in the know, only to get nothing in return.
I will always answer an email from a student or aspiring photographer. I take on assistants when I can and am always here to lend advice.
I’d love to know if you have any questions about working as a photographer? Let me know!