Ferina Santos is part of the team behind Open Colleges, Australia's provider of photography courses. A feisty nerd at heart with an obsession for media and vanity, she captures all her random musings with daily photographs in her blog, A Pink Banana.
“Sorry, but you just don’t have enough experience.”
As a photographer just starting out, you’ll probably hear that kind of thing a lot – I know I did! The problem is that art galleries and publishers are afraid of wasting their time with someone who’s not ready, and regular people who would hire a photographer are doing so for things like weddings and other special one-time events, so they really need to believe you can get it right the first time.
What you need is to start building a reputation and finding people who will recommend your work. But how can you even get to that point? How do you start to make a name for yourself if no one will give you a chance?
There’s no one way to make it in photography, because no two photographers are the same. Do you want to go the more artistic route and try to make it into galleries and publish books of your work? Or are you more interested in just providing quality professional shots and making a few bucks?
Either way, what I learned the hard way is that there are several common things that every budding photographer needs. And by the way, if you’re having a problem with people dismissing you because you’re too young, there’s a way around that, too.
Figure out who you are as a photographer. This is one of those things that sounds super simple and incredibly hard at the same time, but it’s important to decide (to a certain degree, at least) if you’re going to have a focus or just shoot whatever interests you. Having a focus (say, you shoot events like weddings) can help when you’re trying to get hired by people because you should have the specific kind of photos they are looking for and that will help them to see that you can do what they need. Speaking of which …
Build a portfolio. If there’s one way to “prove” to people that you can do it, it’s by actually doing it. Don’t be afraid to take chances, and never give up on a particular kind of shot or subject just because one shoot doesn’t go well. Unless you just know that you’re going to be a wedding photographer and that’s it, the best thing to do is take a wide variety of shots (of anything that interests you) so that you can show your range.
The nice thing about this, too, is that you can pick and choose what you show different people. Up for that wedding job? Here are your photos of people and events.
Be an apprentice. Want to learn a lot and make a great relationship that can potentially help you a lot? See if there are any working photographers who would be willing to show you the ropes in exchange for you essentially being their intern. If you find the right person and they like your work, this can be a fantastic way to start getting jobs and building your reputation if they throw a few jobs your way.
Work for free. No one wants to do work and not get paid for it, but when you’re starting out, unfortunately that’s often the reality. Instead of thinking about it like you’re not getting money you deserve, looking at it as training and getting your name out there. Doing a few free jobs is one of the best ways to get portfolio-ready photographs – and meet people who may actually want to hire you for pay in the future!
Take a class. Just like becoming someone’s apprentice, deciding to take a class can help you to improve your skills, learn new techniques, and forge helpful relationships. Not only will you be meeting other people who share your interests and might know about jobs or other opportunities, instructors can often be great resources. Much of the time, they are photographers themselves, and may be able to take you under their wing or introduce you to other professionals who can help.
Let your work speak for you. So now we come to that whole age thing. If you’re fresh out of college – or even younger! – you’ve probably been told that you’re too young or too inexperienced, but think back on those situations where this happened. Did you approach someone in person or lead with your personal history?
If someone has the option of hiring a baby photographer (meaning you’re young, not that you photograph babies) or getting someone with a decade of experience, chances are they will go with the person who’s been working longer. That’s why you can’t start by talking about yourself. If possible, mail in your portfolio or start a website and post it online so that people can see your work first.
This way, they’ll see you first as a photographer and judge you by your work before they even think about age and how long you’ve been working. Most people, if they see evidence from your portfolio that you can do the work, won’t even ask how old you are!
What would you add to Ferina's list of suggestions? Chime in below!