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Monday, May 12, 2014

A Letter to Photography Students and Recent Graduates

Dear Students, 

Graduation time is upon us; do you know what you’re doing after you graduate? With a degree in photography, the world, as they say, is your oyster. Many photography students enter college with the idea that when they come out of school, they’re going to become a world-famous photographer, and that will be true for some, but it’s often a long road to get there. Others, like myself, went to school for that reason, but after a few years, maybe they don’t want to become a professional photographer.

Don’t get me wrong, I love photography! I love learning about the history of photography, discovering new and exciting artists, gawking as the work I see in magazines and galleries, but labeling myself as a professional photographer just didn’t sit right with me. But, I still wasn’t sure, so I wrote my résumé, found a job and moved to New York City. I knew that no matter what career in photography I wanted to pursue, the city would be the best place for me.

The day after I moved to New York, I started working at Foto Care as the Interactive Marketing and Web Coordinator, which I usually shorten to “the Internet person”. I manage the entirety of Foto Care’s Internet presence, from all social media platforms imaginable, to two blogs, and the online store. Sometimes it can seem a little mundane, what with printing signs to stick on the bathroom door or occasionally working the register, but for the first time in my life, I feel like I am truly informed about what is happening in the world of photography. I spend hours of my day reading hundreds of blogs from all over the world, learning about the latest in equipment, gallery shows, trends, etc. and I love that. I love talking with other creatives who are passionate about photography and actually know what or whom they are talking about. And that brings me to the point of this post. I had always thought that after graduation, I would HAVE TO move to New York City and I would HAVE TO intern somewhere or assist a photographer if I wanted to “make it” in this city. As it turns out, that’s not necessarily the case. 

I’ve asked a group of my friends, coworkers and professionals in the photography industry what jobs they’ve had, whether it was their first job or their favorite job. With all of that information, I’ve compiled a list of jobs that a recent graduate could apply for, depending on the experience they’ve gained while in school. My hope is that I can offer some suggestions that you may not have considered before, and potentially help you get on the right track for you, because your dreams and aspirations may not be the same as your classmates’. Enjoy and good luck!

Intern

Interning can be really hit or miss, especially if you can’t afford an unpaid internship. Interning can work the same way as assisting in that you will have a lot of the same responsibilities, though some internships allow you to shoot (events, products, etc.) and edit/process work. You can intern for a photographer, a magazine, a large company; it really varies. Some positions are only 2 or 3 days a week, requiring you to be free 5 days a week. Just educate yourself on what will be expected of you before you commit.

Testing out Impossible Project film so I can
properly Market it to customers.
A word from Corinne: "As an intern, I produced hair, make-up, manicurists and groomers on shoots as well as locations, car services and catering, too. We have a lot of the knowledge without even realizing it just from trying to figure out our own shoots [at school]."

Assist

I know I mentioned earlier that this list was about more than just assisting, which will be true later on, but assisting is a great way to get started in the photography industry. Although the pay isn’t always steady, which is one reason why I passed up some assisting opportunities, freelance assistants can actually earn a lot, especially if you assist for multiple photographers. You will learn A LOT. From booking models, hair and make-up artists, to location scouting, and setting up for shoots, assisting prepares you for the shoots you may have in the future. And, not to mention, you’ll get to meet some very cool people!

A word from Steph: "I was hired as a Freelance Photo Assistant for [a catalogue company] when they brought their photography production in-house, after outsourcing for decades. Soon after, I was brought on staff as a Digital Tech and now I am performing the duties of an Assistant Studio Manager. It's a lot of work and can be stressful working for a company that has been working one way for a while, but change comes with persistence, and even a newb can make a difference in a century old company!"

Tech

Often, the next step after assisting is becoming a digital tech. If you know a lot about software, like Capture One Pro and Adobe Creative Suite, high-end DSLRs and medium format systems, Mac computers and everything in between, teching is definitely for you. And, being a digital tech allows you to work as a freelancer, or for a studio or production company. The experience is invaluable and opens a lot of doors for future work (and the money can be pretty great, too). Teching ties in with our next position…

Rental and Studio

I am grouping these two together, because they often happen at the same place, or at least hand in hand. Many studios have rental equipment facilities in-house as well as assistants and digital techs all in the same location. Places like Industrial Color and Amazon have techs that bring equipment to a shoot and stay there for technical support, while places like Milk Studios and Industria Superstudio have equipment rentals right there for photographers to take advantage of during a shoot. These positions cross paths very often. Studios and rental houses also have positions for messengers, producers, post-production editors, retouchers and more.

[Side Note: Also, many rental houses and studios allow employees to rent equipment and/or studios for free on their own time, so you can easily afford to pursue your own work.]

A word from Carol: "I work as a photo producer [for a studio]. My general responsibilities include castings, location scouting, creating estimates, billing, and dealing with everything and anything associated with the preproduction and postproduction of a photoshoot. Sometimes that even includes processing and retouching. I’m the middle man between artist, client, and vendor. This job definitely requires me to be quick on my feet and creative with solutions, especially since budgets have become more and more tight. Developing strong relationships with vendors and other agencies is critical. That being said, I also have to be pretty good with numbers and money as well. Definitely something that can be achieved right after graduation (as I did) if you really pay attention to keeping your skills well-rounded pre-graduation. Working in the photo industry is so much more than being a good photographer."
That's me! I was attending a special event
for Fujifilm shooters and dealers.


Shoot


There are a ton options for shooting right out of school, but I'll only list a few. You can become an in-house photographer for an ecommerce site, photograph weddings (either a first or second shooter) or even photograph events or concerts. Being an in-house shooter is a steady position, though you may be looking at a pretty monotonous job, depending on the store/business/site. There are difficulties with shooting weddings, including the fact that weddings don’t really happen year-round; you’re looking at a busy summer, somewhat active spring and fall, and a nearly dead winter season. And, you have to know what you’re doing, because there is no do-over. If you miss the kiss, you’re in hot water. It’s best to find wedding photographers in your area and ask them if they need an assistant or second shooter, that way you learn from a pro and learn the business of wedding photography. Photographing events and concerts can definitely be fun, but be careful about where those photographs are posted. You hear horror stories about photographers whose images are distributed without permission, attribution or compensation, and you do not want this to happen to you (click here for some tips). Ask a local bar if you can shoot an event, talk to a new restaurant about shooting some interiors or menu items, get access to shoot concerts and have fun with it!

A word from Maria: "I started out second shooting for several awesome wedding photographers in Cleveland last summer. In the fall, I was hired as an associate shooter for one of the photographers I 2nded for. As an associate shooter, people hire me through the main [photographer] and I shoot for his company. I also just landed a job as an office manager for another wedding photographer in Cleveland. I'll be culling and editing as well as managing social media, prepping blog posts and client relations, etc. On top of all of that, I'm working on getting my own business up and runningIf people are interested in getting into wedding photography, the easiest way I went about it was to go on sites like Wedding Wire and The Knot and email everyone I wanted to learn from. Once I was involved enough, I joined a networking group of most of the wedding photographers in Cleveland and have found a lot of the jobs through their Facebook Group."

Photo Editing

This position is not often an entry-level position, unless it is an assistant (to the) photo editor. Many times, becoming a photo editor requires a lot of time in the industry working for larger organizations under a lot of different people.

A word from Kathryn, after having worked as an intern and assistant for a number of magazines and photographers: "My advice to college students is to use interning as an opportunity to find out what you like and what you're good at, and to make connections. Stay in touch with everyone you work with in the industries you want to be in, because the photo industry is a small world and you'll continue to cross paths with the same people throughout your career. I'm constantly emailing friends I graduated with for studio, photographer, hair & makeup suggestions and technical questions, so it's good to keep in touch and not burn any bridges."

Social Media

Are you a twenty-something? Do you use Twitter, Facebook or Instagram? Do you know what # and @ are? If you answered “yes” to any of these questions, you can work in social media. The possibilities are truly endless. Galleries, brands, museums, agencies, online magazines, etc. etc. They all need someone to engage with their community. It’s fun, it’s steady, and you’re always in-the-know.

Agency

Photography Agencies help photographers land the job, and these agencies need your help. Working for an agency can mean a lot of different things. As an assistant, you may be asked to create lookbooks, maintain photographers’ portfolios, manage social media, communicate with clients (and photographers producers and anyone else involved in a job), book a location, book a model, and more. It can be a lot of work, but the photographers you’ll meet and the people you’ll work with are well worth the hard work. Representatives and Agencies, big and small, are always looking for someone that is enthusiastic and knows at least a little bit about the photography industry. I found a huge list of reps and agents in New York City here.

Museums and Galleries

The jobs at a museum or gallery really vary, but chances are you’re qualified for at least a few of them. In school, I learned how to scan film, and at my first internship I learn how to catalog and organize files. Both museums and galleries look for people who can do these things well, with positions working as an archivist, digital asset manager or general assistant. Check out these lists of museums and galleries in New York City.

Printing and Film Processing

If you had to print your photos in school or process your own film, you could potentially find a job doing just that. Printing houses like Color Resource Center and Duggal hire people that know how to print, make books and work with film.

Write

My first PhotoPlus Expo! Walking around,
learning about the newest and greatest to
share with the world!
If you’re like me and you enjoy writing, you can write for a number of different blogs and tech sites, like Phoblographer, Fstoppers, Engadget, PetaPixel, PDN and Feature Shoot. All of these sites are great places to look for photography and technical news, discover what trends are popular, find new photographers to follow, watch behind-the-scenes videos and tutorials, and much, much more. As I mentioned before, I read a lot of blog posts everyday, because I follow a couple hundred blogs. Find a site that informs and inspires you and ask if they need contributors, moderators or community managers.

Sales

Although I am the Internet person, I am also in charge of online sales. Some people are more interested in the equipment part of photography. What new gear is coming out? What is this new gear capable of? What competitors are currently on the market? If you identify with these kinds of questions, you may be interested in working for a photography store of some sort. There are tons of photography stores all over the country, as well as company-specific stores, like the ones Leica has opened all over the world. Often, you’ll get to attend trade shows and expos so that you can stay up-to-date with the latest and greatest, and really get your hands on some pretty awesome stuff before everyone else.

Corporate

If you aren’t interested in working for a store, you may be interested in working for a specific brand. Plenty of recent graduates go to work for big brand names doing big things, because they believe in that company. Whether you’re involved in promoting a product, shooting in-house or teaching clients and student how to use gear, these companies want you to work for them because you’re their target market. You’re the next generation of photographers, and consumers, so you’re an extremely valuable asset to them. Visit the websites of your favorite brands and see if they have any openings!

A word from Chris: "I was a customer support specialist. I answered phones, replied to emails, as well as tested firmware for new products, aided in voicing the customer needs and complaints to engineers, and also did in-house photography and asset creation for the marketing department."

 So, as you can see, there are a million possibilities for you out there. If becoming a professional photographer is your dream, go for it! Work hard, make connections, learn a lot and do what you want to do. Even if that's not your dream, having a love for photography already enables you do so much, so take advantage of that passion.


We wish you all the very best in your endeavors, 
Kane from Foto Care