As a photojournalism student, I’ve gotten lots of advice from professional photographers. As well-intended as this counsel may be, it usually comes down to a simple admonition: Stay out of the business.
Newspapers are using wire photos instead of staff photographers. The market for stock photos has been crushed by microstock. Photo-rich print publications — from magazines to corporate annual reports — are going the way of the dinosaur. And of course, everybody feels free to steal your photos on the Web today.
OK, I get it. It’s a tough world out there.
But one thing I’ve noticed about all these photographers giving me advice is this: They are still taking photos.
Ultimately, we do what we do because we love it. We follow our passion despite the obstacles. We’ll do what we need to do to make it.
And what we need to do today is adapt to the changes around us.
Adapting to Change
Those who rise above the rest in photography today are those with smart and creative business practices. They’re resourceful, savvy and step outside the box — not just when taking pictures, but when making marketing and financial decisions, too.
My school doesn’t offer much in the way of practical business courses. We have the Business Institutions Program certificate and another one for Integrated Marketing and Communications, but the options are few and far between.
Still, I have friends who are already showing the entrepreneurial spirit they will need to make it as photographers.
One of my friends spent the last year taking photographs for Shop Evanston. Another takes headshots of theater and film students. A third not only photographs for the student fashion magazine, but also has established a presence in the Greek system, covering sorority socials and events.
As my friend John put it, simply: “You have to pave your own way in this business.”
Now more than ever before, perhaps.
Charting Their Own Course
My friend Justin has masterfully built his network through word of mouth. He was known as “The Camera Guy” within a week of showing up on campus. He was just taking pictures, and people asked him where they could find them online.
Before long, he was getting assignments from fellow students. At first, he bartered his services to attend events for free, to have a client build his website, and so forth. Now he is beginning to charge money for his services.
John has built a clientele by participating in online communities and through conventional marketing techniques. I see his fliers around campus, advertising headshots and directing people to his website.
Yet another friend got a jumpstart from a professor, who encouraged him to begin freelancing, which led him to his job with Shop Evanston.
Me? I look for opportunities when they present themselves. Volunteering to take photographs at large sports events and concerts, accepting an opportunity to intern at the alumni magazine, and taking on the job of photographing clothes for a friend’s friend who wanted to start her own clothing website.
All of this comes down to taking business initiative as a photographer.
I don’t claim to have all the answers about what it takes to succeed today. I am still learning. But I know that I don’t plan to give up before I even start.