HOW TO BECOME A PROFESSIONAL PHOTOGRAPHER
HOW TO BECOME A PROFESSIONAL PHOTOGRAPHER
By Toronto Advertising, Corporate, Commercial & Editorial Photographer John Hryniuk
Unfortunately not everyone will make it in a business that isn’t only very competitive, but rapidly changing due to technology. So what do you need to know before starting out? Well for one, having a passion for the art and also an eye for composition is a start.
I've spoken at many Toronto photography camera clubs and colleges about this exact topic and it's not an easy thing to discuss, especially now a days, as everybody with a smart phone seems to think they're a professional photographer.
There was a time only 15 plus years ago when you had to know a lot more technologically than you do today, to take photos. Imagine losing the first three images from your analog photo shoot for a film test for E6 processing just so you could make sure your exposures were adjusted correctly. That along with the possibility of losing an entire roll of film for any number of reasons, from bad chemical development, x-rays at the airport or the film not rolling through your camera back properly. I also remembering going through boxes of expensive polaroid film, just so I could make sure my composition and exposures were correct. This wasn’t only labour intensive but also time consuming.
I don't miss those days.
So how do you start making money as a corporate, commercial or advertising photographer? Well for starters you find the person who’s work you admire. It shouldn't be say, a wedding photographer, if what you want to specialize in is advertising or architecture photography.
When I was looking to break into the industry as a Toronto commercial photographer, I found someone who's specialty was editorial, advertising and corporate work because that is what I wanted to do. I emailed them and told them how much I admired their photography. ( stroking a photographers ego is always one of the best ways to get your foot in the door ) Unfortunately I didn't get a response right away but that didn't stop me. I waited a week or so and then called him directly. ( note: he didn't answer and I didn't leave a message so as not to clog up his answering system.
Please keep in mind that professional photographers are busy and they have many people contacting them all the time. After doing some detective work I found out who his assistant was and then contacted them.
This opportunity was my foot in the door and even though I didn't get much of a chance to talk to the photographer I was able to impress his first and second assistants enough that I was asked back on a few of his following shoots. Then I networked my way into his studio to eventually work my way to become his first assistant. That first photography job taught me way more than any photo classes at college or university ever would have.
So what would other ways be of entering the business? Well, any types of online photo communities, exhibitions, seminars or even working at a photography store where professionals frequent works well ! You want to be able to find people who work in the photo industry and be able to pick their brains for as much information as possible. Being keen helps as well as always being reliable and showing up for appointments on time possible.
Leave any arrogance or negative energy at the door. Everyone has to struggle a bit to get anywhere in life. The biggest misconception I hear from students is that they think upon graduating they’re going to get a studio and start shooting immediately and not assist. It doesn’t work that way unless you have deep pockets and an incredibly intelligent business sense.
Does college matter? If you want me to be honest? I'd say no, but only because I'm biased because I’m self-taught. I started working at 16 working as a photojournalist and learned much more there than I would have spending 2-4 years in school. Now don't get me wrong, school does have its purpose if you know absolutely nothing about photography, it's a great place to start. Please keep in mind that going to school isn't a golden ticket to becoming a professional. For example in my city of Toronto there are about 5 colleges ( Humber, Sheridan, Centennial and Ryerson ) that pump out approximately 375 graduates each every year and a majority of them end up working in photo retail or leave the industry and eventually move on to something else. Should that stop you from following your passion? NO. If you have the drive and believe in your talents keep moving forward.
Above all else never stop shooting for yourself. Photograph the type of things you want to, even if it costs you some money to work on your own creative. In the end it will pay dividends by having an amazing book. You won’t get far with a college portfolio and a resume in this industry. You will probably have to assist for a few years before you can break out on your own. Above all else? You need to understand how to run a business how to network and be talented at how to network. The more you know the better.
I’m amazed at the amount of emailed student resumes ( some in comic sans font ) I receive every spring. In an industry that’s artistic. I rarely if ever receive something tangible, creative or branded in my inbox. If you want to get noticed then you best start sending more than a resume. Those go straight into the trash sadly. I also don’t care much for the multiple emails with photos of a half-naked women looking like heroin addicts posing in heels while staring sadly into the camera. What I do care about is: what can you do for me? Who you are ? what equipment are you familiar with? and your experience ( if any ).
I’m not hiring you as a photographer, I’m hiring you as an assistant.
Once you start assisting you will learn so much more than you ever did in school. It will be a time to ask questions and absorb everything you can about the industry. How to run a studio, a business and market yourself. Some of the many things you might not have learned in school and things you wouldn't be able to easily learn on your own.