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How I Became a Professional Photographer and What I Saw Along the Way: Connections, Connections, Connections

May 19, 2011

The question I get asked most often from aspiring young photographers is, “How do I get hired?” Well, here’s the answer:

There is no single answer! Frustrating, isn’t it? The photography industry isn’t like the legal industry where you can go to law school, take the bar exam, and POOF, you’re a lawyer. Each photographer paves his own path towards earning a living from his craft. There is, however one common thread amongst all successful professional photographers: connections.

“Connections, connections, connections” are as important in the photography industry as “location, location, location” is in real estate; it can’t be ignored. Here’s a chart comparing a representative sample of my clients since my sophomore year at New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts, how they’re connected, and the income share of their primary sources:

How to get hired as a professional photographer

Nearly 93% of my income since 2003 can be traced back to connections to friends & colleagues, while only 6.5% came from connections at NYU and a scant 0.7% of my earnings found their way to me through the internet. This last figure is especially surprising because I have high internet visibility through good SEO, including the #1 ranking in Google for the search term “New York photographer” (as of today, anyway), and an active website and blog. It’s important to note that the Friends & Colleagues list branches out due to the personal nature of the connections, while the Internet list has never branched out. In the battle of Connections vs. Online Search, Connections wins 99.3 to 0.7.

How can the chart I’ve presented above help YOU get hired? It depends. If you’re a student, you should realize that you have a golden opportunity. About 91% of my income has been generated through connections from my school or the Madison Square Garden internship, which I had to be a student to be eligible for. You’re young and you have a built-in network from which to grow your career. Take advantage of it! Internships can be boring, but you never know where they might lead.

Not a student? You have connections too, you just don’t yet know who they are. Most of my new work comes through people I already know. Some of them are simply friends who know I’m a photographer, but have never worked with me. You need to be ready when someone you know vouches for you as a photographer. This means having a website that looks professional and highlights your best work. It’s better to display a small number (20-30) of great photos than a ton (100+) of mediocre ones. Also, don’t advertise that you just take photos for fun. If you want to be hired as a professional, represent yourself as one on your website.

Ultimately, connections are critical to the success of a photographer. This has been my business approach: the value of any one shoot is equal to the sum total of all future business from that client and that client’s potential connections. For this reason, you must produce a quality product and a happy client at each and every opportunity.

Do you have a story about how a connection led to an opportunity? Please share!

Other posts in the series, How I Became a Professional Photographer and What I Saw Along the Way:

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7 Comments leave one →
  1. May 19, 2011 10:42 am

    I’m quite frustrated to see that Internet doesn’t get you that much of a contract. But I believe this doesn’t happen to everyone else, does it?

    • May 19, 2011 10:51 am

      Well, one thing I’ve noticed about people who find me online is that they’re searching for a cheap photographer, whereas people who find me through my connections are looking for a photographer they know will deliver an excellent product, even if it means investing a little more. Because I won’t compete on price with the thousands of other photographers out there, and there’s no personal connection with people who find me online, I’m awarded a much lower percentage of those jobs. I suppose if I slashed my prices I could get a whole bunch of internet business, but I’m busy enough as it is, so I don’t think that would increase my total income at all.

  2. May 19, 2011 12:13 pm

    After reading your story and challenges you faced and facing too, I am very much impressed as well as feel good. I too need to do hard work to achieve success like you and all those people who are like you.

    Good Job is what you are doing and Keep It Up…..
    Felt nice reading you.

  3. lizdriedger permalink
    May 19, 2011 12:43 pm

    My sister in law is the queen for our connections (she even jokes about one day earning a referral fee! Which is so true, she may need it) The amount of people she knows, and has sent our way via blogs, colleagues and her husbands family is how we are starting our client base, and from there the connections to those people have just exploded! We did a maternity shoot for her friend, then an engagement shoot for that friends brother and now a wedding from it! Connections are how we run our business and its even more incredible that way then people just finding you online :)

    http://www.eeeandbee.com

  4. lizdriedger permalink
    May 19, 2011 12:44 pm

    PS: your blog is awesome for the aspiring photographer. So often photographers (in our city anyway) don’t want anything to do with other photographers. I’m not going to steal their business ever, I just want someone to share the trials and wins of the photography business with besides my partner in crime! Thanks for writing such great posts about what it really is like to be a photographer!

    • May 19, 2011 12:55 pm

      Thanks Eee, interesting to read how connections are as important to you Canadians as they are down here. I checked out your website and I like your photos and branding. I can see why you’ve picked up so much work when your sister in law sends prospective clients your way!

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