A Checklist for the Photographers of the Graduating Class of 2020

Congratulations, photographers, you’ve been thrust into one of the oddest economic situations the world has seen since 2008/2009.

There are two ways of thinking about situations like this: sink or swim. I founded this site in 2009 at the height of the last great economic recession. And we’re here a decade later due to transparency and consistently leading with goodwill. Oh, networking helped. And finding the right people. And a slew of other things. But you’re graduating into a different world than I did. Yet in some ways, it’s very alike. In recessions like what we’re going through now, lots of great businesses and ideas are formed. And lots unfortunately collapse. So now that you’ve got a photography degree let’s go through a checklist.

You, young photographer, have more possible options and paths to navigate than any photographer has ever had before right after coming out of school. But there’s also the need to differentiate yourself from others. Ask yourself what makes your work stand out from everyone else and what makes you unique. And then ask yourself if you’d hire you based on that. Why would you hire you? There are so many genres, social media networks, and you’re also facing a world where photo theft continues to be the real thing on top of being in a world where more and more folks question whether or not they should actually pay for photos. I mean, look at Unsplash. They want you to give away your excellent work for free. Why?

These next couple of years are going to be spent as a significant 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. And to start, you need to be more than just a photographer.

The photo industry is so incestuous because of the fact that profits can sometimes be slim, and taking risks can be tough financially. Take it from a man who used to be the Vice-Chairman of a Non-Profit that helped photographers–it’s not uncommon to see the same faces over and over again. From this side of the desk, 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. The incest is there for better or worse. Many times, I can tell you that it feels like it’s for the worst.

Now, this is going to sound insane. Spend lots of nights drinking and networking with other creatives. But also find ways to enrich your life with more than just alcohol. Be social. Do social things with other friends and colleagues. The time that you put in will be a significant 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 a belief in yourself and faith that you will make it providing you can find your own flaws, remedy them, and continue to march forward.

And most of all, don’t lie. It’s going to haunt you. Folks barely remember the good things you’ve done, and that’s a sad fact of life.

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 salesperson. Learn to sell yourself ethically and without telling a lie. The influencer will eventually be brought down with the spread of fake news and disinformation.

A photographer is a social media network maven. Explore more than just Instagram.

A photographer is a creative visual artist. Work on both capturing and creating. Also remember that most of that work happens in-camera and not Photoshop.

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

A photographer is a technical editor.

A photographer is a budget manager that pays taxes quarterly if you’re really doing well. Though I can tell you from experience, it’s also no fun.

A photographer is usually an LLC owner, so go get yourself registered and recognized by the state. Consider going for an S Corp.

A photographer is a master marketer.

A photographer is, at times, also just an ordinary person that hangs up the proverbial cape and cowl to indeed just be themselves at times.

But 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 (who are seeing a small comeback) and creative directors love to see personal projects to gauge your potential. And Producers.

Sounds harsh, right?

A photographer is also a master scheduler, multi-tasker, and knows how to balance it all. Learn to use Google Calendar. Please.

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 more comfortable, but don’t go out there, creating terrible work just to please an algorithm at times. Keep pushing yourself.

You’re also graduating into one of the weirdest times. Of course, the social stuff is what. Recommend you do safely. Just always remember this, “If you don’t work, no money comes in.” So if you get hurt being reckless, then you’re not going to have a source of income. Take care of your immune system.

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, and don’t let yourself get sexually assaulted just so you’ll get up in the world. There are other ways.