A Candid Letter to Photography Students Graduating College

Chris Gampat The Phoblographer Essentials for th Strobist Street Photographer (2 of 9)ISO 1001-200 sec at f - 3.5

Dear future photographer,

You put in the work, and you’ve learned how to hone your craft. Congratulations! You’re about to embark on an incredibly scary journey into the unknown where you will need to make decisions, figure yourself out, navigate the art world, and eventually become a responsible adult on top of this.

In 2009, I graduated college at the height of this county’s second major economic recession. Though the economy today isn’t as bad, you’re about to face an even bigger challenge–a photo industry that is evolving more rapidly than it has ever done before.

You, young photographer, have more possible options and paths to navigate than any photographer has ever had before right after coming out of school. There are so many genres, social media networks, and you’re also facing a world where photo theft is a much more real thing on top of being in a world where more and more folks question whether or not they should actually pay for photos.

These next couple of years are going to be spent as a major investment into your future by laying the groundwork and building yourself a platform to balance on. It will be an ongoing education in balancing budgets, finding new work and most of all finding a way to have a work/life balance.

Don’t worry though. Some of us never figure this out.

Sure, you’re creative, and that’s awesome. But you should also spend lots of time doing the things and improving in other areas to effectively be an actual photographer. The first thing I’m going to recommend to you is to go out there and consistently network. The truth about the photo industry is that it is a crazy, incestuous place that can sometimes feel like it’s more about who you know than what you know.

Every now and then, I’ll have chats with editors from other publications, and after much thought, I’ve figured it out. The photo industry is so incestuous because of the fact that profits can sometimes be slim and taking risks can be tough financially. So knowing if someone can really do the job that they need is essential to the survival of us all. It’s based on trust, and you’ll need to spend time getting into circles and gaining trust from many people.

Spend lots of nights drinking and networking with other creatives. The time that you put in will be a big investment from you that will pay off extraordinarily later on in the years if you choose to continue down the path of photography and the art world.

Use this time wisely and chat with other people. Learn more effective social skills and learn to make people want to work with you. Folks collaborate all the time, so keep in mind that this is what’s going to help you in the future. Though at times it may not feel like it, the best thing that you possibly have is belief in yourself and faith that you will make it providing you can find your own flaws, remedy them, and continue to march forward.

But networking isn’t the only thing that you should spend time doing. Learn to market and effective business strategies. A photographer wears lots of hats.

A photographer is a salesman.

A photographer is a social media network maven.

A photographer is a creative visual artist.

A photographer is someone who listens intently and figures out how they can create better photos; not just take photos.

A photographer is a technical editor.

A photographer is budget manager that pays taxes on a quarterly basis.

A photographer is usually an LLC owner, so go get yourself registered and recognized by the state.

A photographer is a master marketer.

A photographer is, at times, also just a normal person that hangs up the proverbial cape and cowl to truly just be themselves at times.

But in order to do that, you’ll need to learn the ins and outs of running a business, sales, marketing, and staying on top of all that stuff while developing the creative inside of you.

Oh right, don’t forget to do that. Art buyers and creative directors love to see personal projects to gauge your potential.

Sounds tough, right?

A photographer is also a master scheduler, multi-tasker and knows how to balance it all.

That’s a complete lie. Lots of photographers never know what the heck they’re doing. But social skills, networking, and business savvy are going to keep you afloat much more than the quality of your work. The best salesman in the world can sell the crappiest photo to someone out there. The sooner you accept this, the sooner life will be easier, but don’t go out there creating terrible work. Keep pushing yourself.

Lastly, every photographer goes through random creative dry spells and ruts. Find ways to get out of these and consistently look for inspiration. On the business side, do what sells and pays the rent. But on the personal side, but as experimental and open as you possibly can.

Oh yeah, and drink lots of tea. That stuff is healthy.