This last week I received an email from a high schooler who had some questions for me about how to do photography for a living and grow in the craft. Although it took me about a week to respond, I did finally get back to him and below you'll find some of his questions and the answers I gave him. These are answers I'd give to anyone, regardless of age.
"To start it off, what type of education is necessary for this photography career?"
More than ever before in history, education is less and less important than your personal drive, your ability to be resourceful and learn from other sources (we have the internet at our fingertips 24/7 and that wasn’t available 100 years ago), your personality and character traits, how hard you can push yourself, and your ability to not give up. As with anything, you get good at something from practice and never stopping the learning process, not from the degree you hold in you hand. Now, on the flip side, hear me out; I think education is especially helpful! Not as much so you can put it on your resumé (although that is helpful if you want a 9-5 job), but because college offers the space to practice, try new things, find out where your skills are, have personal critique from classmates and professors, and have the resources of your teachers. Furthermore, my personal suggestion to you if you want to have your own business or freelancing practice is take some classes or minor in business. Most art departments don’t properly equip students on the business side of things.
"How should I go about taking this career into the next step?"
Start small. As with almost anything in life, the hardest step is the first step. You eat an elephant one bite at a time and you build a business and portfolio the same way. You’re in High School and have a lot of life in front of you. Not sure, what year you are, but if you took just one or two new portfolio images each month you’d have 48-96 high quality portfolio images by the end of college (if you were a graduating senior). Small things done faithfully add up to great things. One photo at a time. One youtube lesson at a time. One new client at a time. etc. Take small steps in the right direction and be consistent in that.
"How long does it take to obtain this quality of photography?"
Such a subjective question. “this quality of photography” has so many variables. I know of high schoolers that are better photographers than me and I also know of 50 years olds that have shot their whole life and I’m better than them. A lot comes down to natural skill and also a ‘quality photo’ is so subjective. Are you talking about the technical specs of the photo? The concept? The viral aspect that the internet shares it?
I think the best way I could answer this is this: never stop learning and never be satisfied with the quality of your photography. Always push yourself to the next level! 30 years from now, you should still be asking yourself how you could improve. The quality of the photographer will always (in the end) be more important than the quality of the photograph. Make sure you’re the kind of person and character that the world should recognize in your craft.
"For the future, what should I do to make myself known as a photography?"
Social media is always a good start. Stay engaged with your followers and post regularly. Keep building that following (one follower at a time). Down the road when you’re ready to start freelancing (if that’s your goal), don’t underestimate paid advertising. If you’re the worlds best photographer and no one knows about you, you’ll never make it anywhere. That’s just the way marketing is. Start researching now how to do effective marketing and spend time getting used to the different marketing platforms so you can make more informed decisions down the road. You could even be proactive and start a fund for it now so that you have some savings built up when that time comes.
"Do you have any advice for someone looking to start this career out of high school?"
First of all, glad your asking these kind of questions off the bat and while your young. I wish I had started sooner and tried planning for my future better when I was in high school. Sure, I was doing photography and video, but I wasn’t reaching out to other photographers and asking big questions about my future in it. Here are a few things are crucial for you as you move forward.
- Never stop learning, ever!
- Start small. Baby steps get you further than no steps.
- Pursue your dreams, but be realistic about how much hard work goes into it. Doing photography as a career sounds like the best thing ever (and it still is), but know that it’s going to take a lot of hard work, discipline, disappointments, and time. Just be realistic about the way life is.
- Try new things and feel free to experiment. The world is full of great photographers, so find out what your specific strengths and weaknesses are. You’ll find that out best when you push your comfort zone. Try things you haven’t before. Try shooting with strobes. Try shooting film. Try shooting projects on just your phone. Try renting expensive gear. Try new angles. Try, Try, Try and you’ll learn pretty quickly what you like and don’t like, what you’re good and and what you’re not. This will help you know how to stand out from the crowd.
My High School Images
Just for fun, I thought I'd also through in some of my old work from back when I was in high school and was just getting started. You can compare them to my current portfolios and judge for yourself if I've grown at all. I'd say I've come a long way, but have a long way to go. Regardless, enjoy looking at some humiliating photos. These are only from High School and they are what I had considered my 'portfolio' images at the time.