We get asked pretty regularly what someone can do to break into this industry. It's fun, exciting, different every day, and honestly, even when you're pulling a 15 hour day working in grueling conditions - we always find a way to make it fun. Back in 2013 we put together some tips to help interns and freelancers understand what the previous interns and freelancers did that got them hired on full time.
We currently have six former interns on staff. All six were at the top of their intern class, and essentially made themselves indispensable to the studio. The photography industry can be very, very difficult to break into, so here are eight pointers that will help you get started as a professional photographer.
1) Shoot photos every single day.
Whether it's film or digital, just shoot. Remember that old saying “practice makes perfect?” Well, in the photography industry, “perfect” might be a little presumptuous. We prefer "practice makes better.” Pixels are cheap these days, so every single shot you take will help you learn the ins and outs of the camera you’re using, compose better shots, and create or recognize beautiful lighting.
2) Take initiative. Don't be afraid to work hard and work often.
More often than not, internships here at TRG Reality start when we're slammed with work and have very little time to devote to teaching. The past interns who were able to set themselves apart from the pack (and get hired on full-time) were the interns who took initiative, completed their assignments quickly and efficiently, and helped out without us having to ask. When photographers are surrounded by clients, they simply will not have time to make sure you can stay busy. If you notice garbage cans overflowing with trash, empty them in the dumpster out back. If the equipment room is a total wreck, roll up your sleeves and organize it. Your hard work will undoubtedly get you noticed.
3) Recognize real-world challenges.
Young adults are graduating from college with the expectation of working a 9-5, Monday-through-Friday job right out of the gate. Unfortunately, this isn’t realistic. Most salary positions will keep you working late, coming in early, and generally working far more than 40-hour weeks. This holds especially true in the photography industry; client needs are our number one priority. Whether we’re dealing with insane deadlines or super rush projects, rarely do we actually experience an eight-hour workday.
4) Relationships are everything.
Make connections early and often. Focus on LinkedIn instead of Twitter or Facebook. If you've got a year left in school, don't just assume that there are plenty of jobs waiting for you. This is the time to start fostering your relationships. Do some research, find someone who has the job of your dreams and ask them tons of questions. Learn as much as you can from them, and make sure they know you’re looking for a job. The next time they get asked for a recommendation, you’ll be at the top of the list.
It’s not difficult to see the difference between a good photo and a bad photo. But it is difficult to see the difference between a good photo and a great photo. And you know what? Some good photographers will beat out the great ones because they’ve figured out how to form relationships. Skill and talent will only get you so far; the rest relies on your personality and ability to build relationships.
5) Ditch the ego.
One of the biggest hurdles students face when entering the professional world is their ego. So many of them think they know way, way more than they actually do. A four-year education is a fantastic foundation for post-college professionals to build upon, but remember this: you may have all the talent in the world, but the only way to develop industry knowledge is by actually working in that industry. Some of our best interns said they learned more in three weeks here at TRG Reality than in four years of college. Which leads me to my next point...
6) Take in as much as you can.
You’ll only get out what you put in. It’s ultimately up to you. The opportunities are everywhere, so go out there and grab ‘em! On any given day here in the TRG Reality studio, we’ll have as many as five photographers shooting vastly different projects with different lighting styles, different textures and different end goals. Even if you’re not directly involved, stop by and ask questions. Don’t let circumstances dictate your future: go make your future happen.
7) Don't shy away from criticism.
Constructive criticism is one of the greatest tools available to a budding photographer. Getting defensive about an image won't help you grow at all. Your goals should be personal improvement. The minute you stop trying to exceed even your own expectations, you have failed. Show your photos to anybody interested in photography and really listen to their feedback. You know what? Show them to people who don't care at all about photography, too, for a completely different perspective. Keep the valuable information and use it productively.
8) Start now!
Seriously. Stop procrastinating! Get to work today on that portfolio. Start reaching out to your contacts, or better yet, start creating new ones. Stop making excuses. Visualize your dream job and list all the ways you can secure it. Check one item off that list every day. In the immortal words of Nike, just do it.
It’s not easy breaking into the photography industry. If you’ve been able to make it, let us know how below. We’d love to hear your tips, too!