How I Became a Professional Photographer and What I Saw Along the Way: Connections, Connections, Connections
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:
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:
- My First Photo
- The Entrepreneurial Spirit
- Applying to Photography School
- Digital Can’t Do That
- Brooklyn Children’s Museum
- Madison Square Garden
- First Concert