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How I Became a Professional Photographer and What I Saw Along the Way: The Entrepreneurial Spirit

May 25, 2011

In my previous post in this series, I discussed how connections from one client to the next have been central to my success as a professional photographer. There was, however, a time when I had never been hired to shoot an event and didn’t yet know the satisfaction of earning even a single dollar from photography. That time ended in 11th grade. In a way, it’s the year my professional photography career began. With an entrepreneurial spirit, I would earn my first buck.

Throughout my four years at Brookline High School, I was involved with its drama department, either through classes or extracurricular activities. When it came to theatrical productions, I mainly liked being behind the scenes. The 11th grade play was Shakespeare’s Pericles, and I volunteered as the “Head of Publicity.” With a hotshot title like that, I must have had many responsibilities. What were they? I don’t recall most of them. What I do remember is that I used that opportunity to take photos during dress rehearsals to turn my newly honed craft and after-school darkroom access into a sweet little profit. I showed contact sheets of photos to the cast and crew, and accepted orders for 8×10″ prints, such as this one:

Left to right: Bailey Seils, Jenny Grenert, Eliza Lay, A.J. Wolosenko and Rachael Gabriel.

To simplify the process, I created an order form:

The “HR” field was their “home room” numbers for delivering prints and the “Sheets and Numbers” fields indicated the corresponding image numbers from the contact sheets. The math, as I remember it: I charged $5 for each 8×10″ print, with some sort of large price break for multiples of the same print (maybe only $2 for each additional print?). I think the drama department paid for the film (score!) because the photos were used in the school newspaper and other publicity purposes. The black and white paper cost 25 cents a sheet, and I went through about 3 sheets of paper in the school’s darkroom to get a perfect print. Once I had a finished print, it was easy to make additional copies at the same darkroom enlarger without wasting paper. So, I was pulling in about $4.25 profit on the first of each photo ordered, plus $1.75 for each additional copy. I don’t remember exactly how many prints I made all together, but I think it was somewhere in the 20-30 range. I probably earned less than $100 for what I’m sure was many hours slaving away in the darkroom and delivering orders to home rooms, but the process of turning art into income was an exciting new experience, and I knew it wouldn’t be my last.

And waddayaknow, 11 years after Pericles at Brookline High School, I was hired to shoot the Tony Awards at Radio City Music Hall!

©Madison Square Garden, L.P.

How did YOU make your first dollar from photography? Leave a comment below!

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

6 Comments leave one →
  1. Shira permalink
    May 25, 2011 11:03 am

    I love this post! “Head of Publicity” – ha! It is funny to imagine you delivering prints to different home room classes.

    • May 31, 2011 8:27 am

      I know, the best part is that I was actually the head of a 3-person publicity team! Good times….

  2. May 27, 2011 7:48 pm

    This is great! As for my first paying job, it probably would have been when I was a sophomore in college. I worked (very part-time) as a photojournalist for the campus newspaper, which I am still proud about. Before that, I was a high school yearbook staff photographer, and I also liked being behind the scenes for drama. During my senior year in high school I created albums from the photos (some also used in the yearbook) for theatre and, by invitation, the student leadership class.

    • May 31, 2011 8:30 am

      Thanks for sharing! For some reason I wasn’t involved with my high school yearbook at all, but looking back, I’m not sure why. It probably would have been a good fit.

  3. May 31, 2011 2:14 am

    Great post! I will share with other students who work in the yearbook, newspaper and video programs!

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