You have a passion for photography, and you’re quite good at it, too. You can’t imagine doing anything else professionally. The good news is that you have a strong idea of what it is you want to do (which is a head start on a lot of people). The less-than-good news is that finding a good job (much less your dream job) in photography is not all that easy.
However, you can stack the odds in your favor by being well prepared and having a clear idea about how to go about finding your dream job as a photographer. You can learn from those who have come before you: what steps other established photographers have taken to help them obtain their success; clearly define your objectives and what a dream job means to you; and get help from online resources and job portals.
In this short article, we’ll take a closer look at how you can stack the odds in your favor and improve your chances of landing your dream job as a photographer.
Define Your Dream Job
There is no one and only dream job for a photographer. Each photographer will have their own set of criteria as to what exactly makes a job great. It’s important not to let others define what a great job is for you. Instead, spend some time thinking about it, imagining and daydreaming the context in which you feel you would thrive and be happy.
We’ve compiled a short list to help you get started with your brainstorming.
A photographer has a unique way of looking at his or her surroundings. He or she wants to frame and capture moments, images, reflections, movements that provoke, inspire, and spark the imagination. However, in almost every case, the photographer will have a specific subject matter that appeals to them.
- Nature, landscapes, natural phenomenon
- Portraits that capture the human struggle, perseverance, and/or beauty (either simple or extravagant)
- Geo-political conflicts, war zones, in progress or as aftermaths
- Commercial, real estate, food, and work environments
This is only a partial list, but as you can see, it is extremely varied. The specific focus on what kind of subject matter you are drawn to will narrow down your search for your dream job as there is more often than not, not much crossover in these subjects when it comes to employers or employment possibilities. Likewise, your portfolio should express what subject matter you have chosen to work with. Since there is little to no crossover in the job market, there should be little to no crossover in your portfolio as well.
Define And Refine Your Niche
A specific subject matter will bring with it specific employment opportunities. In order to make a good living as a photographer, you will need to find the right balance between:
- Having a broad enough appeal – so as to offer value to a broader range of employers or contractors
- Being specific enough in your appeal – so as to set you apart from other photographers and frame you as an expert in a chosen niche.
There is no tried-and-true formula for finding this balance. However, a goodver way to go about it might be to with as specific a subject matter or niche that you can imagine and then expand outward, incorporating derivations and derivatives, until you reach a point where the subject matter or niche no longer appeals to you – or it no longer matches your specific skill set.
Tools And Techniques
When it comes to taking your passion and turning it into a career, you will have to familiarise yourself with the many tools and applications that are considered to be industry standards. However, there are many options, and each photographer – as well as each niche or subject matter – has a tendency to prefer one set of tools over another.
For example, photographers who choose to work with natural light will have their own specific tools and techniques that differ from photographers who prefer to work in a closed studio environment. Beyond being a talented and hard-working photographer, in order to land your dream job as a photographer, you will need to demonstrate proficiency in the tools (including software and photography platforms) that are widely used on the market.
Here is a partial list with descriptions of 6 photography tools every photographer should consider.
If you are more interested in working with natural light and shooting nature and wildlife, check out this article on 15 photography composition techniques to improve your photos.
Having a dream job goes beyond the responsibilities and challenges you will be faced with at work. There are also practical parameters you will need to consider and define. Your dream job will take you places. What places do you wish to go to?
This includes where you would need to live in order to carry out your chosen dream job. For example, if your dream job as a photographer is centered around fashion, you will need to live in one of the few big cities that sustains the specific market such as New York, London, or Milan.
Likewise, if the commercial aspect of photography appeals to you – such as working with realtors or developers, advertisers, and marketers – it would be worth it for you to conduct some research on those specific markets in order to determine which cities or regions best support that specific economic activity.
Many photographers are drawn to the profession because it does provide many opportunities to travel, visit exotic locations, and see parts of the world most people would only dream of. Being called upon to travel extensively does, however, imply that you need to live in a city – or very close to a city – that easily and effectively accommodates international travel. It is highly unlikely that a photographer who earns their living by visiting exotic locals isn’t based in a capital city with regular flights that reach all the continents in the world.
Colleagues And Clients
Photography isn’t only about the photographer, his or her tools, and his or her subject matter. You will still be interacting with various other people when you turn your passion into a profession. Whether they be clients, contractors, or colleagues, each niche will attract a certain type of person or persons. The interpersonal relations you develop on the job will play an important part in determining how satisfied you are with the job.
Workload And Pace
For many people, finding the right work-life balance is a crucial point in determining whether they would be happy at a given job or not. In some cases, when someone is living off their passion – such as a photographer – the line between work and life can become somewhat blurred. In these cases, we must pay special attention to avoid burnout, and we need to constantly be reevaluating our priorities to make sure that our work is not detracting from other goals we may have set for ourselves.
It is not uncommon for employers or contractors who work with photographers to be aware that they are dealing with people who live off their passion. In many instances, this understanding can tempt them to take advantage of the situation. They may be prone to asking the photographer to put in far more hours or to accept working conditions that employers or contractors in other contexts would never suspect they could get away with.
While this type of ‘exploitation’ is not industry standard, it is common enough to warrant taking it into consideration. To avoid being taken advantage of, it is important to understand – and make clear to others – that although you simply love what you do, you also possess a talent that is valuable, a talent that you have earned through years of work, study, training, and practical application.
What Value Do You Want To Add?
Having a dream job as a photographer goes beyond what types of photos you will be taking, where you will work, under what conditions, and for what kind of compensation package. In a professional context, the photographer is providing a valuable skill and/or service that will bring value and benefit to many. This important factor will go a long way in determining how happy and how successful you will be at your job.
Value can be perceived in many different ways – and perhaps more importantly – by a variety of different people or entities. In some contexts, the photographer will bring value that contributes in a positive way to a few select clients and their immediate entourage. This would be, in part, the value of a portrait photographer or an event photographer. In some contexts, the photographer will bring value to a company and to its customers. This would be the case for a corporate photographer, or a food photographer.
War or conflict photographers bring value to underrepresented and suffering people, whereas travel photographers bring value to communities in that they can help promote needed tourism and they inspire people to travel, expand their horizons, and see the beauty of our world where it can often be so easy to only see the negative aspects.
Part of determining and defining what it means to you ‘your dream job’ will consist of identifying the value you bring and who seeks to benefit from this value. Not only will this help you in narrowing down your niche and scoping out the appropriate markets and job offers, but it will also go a long way toward making sure you demand the appropriate compensation for your work and ultimately enjoy the maximum level of satisfaction and pride in your work once you are on the job.
How Do You Expect To Grow?
In most cases, having a dream job means being provided with the necessary opportunities and challenges that will lead to growth – both professional and personal growth.
How do you envision your dream job improving your work as a photographer? How do you envision your dream job opening you up to new experiences and new perspectives? What new levels – both professional and personal – would you expect your dream job to take you over five years? Over ten?
When determining and defining your dream job as a photographer, it is not enough to simply understand the benefits the job will bring you in the immediate, but you also need to anticipate the benefits the job will provide you after a certain amount of time.
Does the employer or contractor grant you access to tools and training that would make you a better photographer? Would the job in and of itself grant you access to other appealing people – both creative and professional – from which you could grow professionally and personally?
However you answer these questions, your dream job as a photographer will not, after a certain amount of time doing it, leave you the same person with the same skills, the same talent level, the same amount of opportunities, and the same perspective on the world and on your art as when you started the job.
What Compensation Do You Expect
Certainly, there are several practical factors that go into defining your dream job as a photographer, not the least of which would be your compensation. Data from The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics on photographers can give you a better idea of what you can expect to make as a photographer.
Compare and contrast those statistics with statistics compiled by gov.uk Department for Digital, Culture, Media & Sport.
From these statistics, we can gather that while there has been a slight growth in creative sectors, the growth is far less substantial than that of other high-performing sectors such as finance and IT. Additionally, salaries have not gone up much over the years.
It is clear that people do not go into photography for the money. However, it is also important to remember that photographers possess a valuable skill set and they provide a valuable service, and there is money to be made from photography.
The average salary for a photographer in the US is around 33,000 pounds sterling. But there is quite a range, depending on the niche and on the level of experience.
Start On Your Dream Job Even Before You Land It
The truth of the matter is that you can’t simply wait around for your dream job to fall into your lap. You have to work at it. And this means defining what activities make up your dream job and then going out and doing these activities – oftentimes without initial compensation and without being prompted by a potential employer or contractor.
By ‘doing your dream job’ before you actually get it, you will be laying the groundwork for your dream to become a reality. The benefits include:
- Developing specific and demonstrable experience that will be appealing to employers
- Improving and refining the skills you need to carry out your dream job
- Helping to determine whether or not your dream job gives you as much satisfaction as you anticipated it would
- Helping to define and narrow down your niche
- Building up a portfolio of your work
- Opening you up to similar or tangential paths to your dream job
There is no reason for your dream job to remain ‘just a dream.’ If you want to turn your dream job into a reality, then you should get started on it straight away. Don’t wait for the opportunity to come to you. Instead, create the opportunity yourself, and this will then cause potential markets and employers to notice you, recognize your work, and then provide you with the compensation and further opportunities you deserve.
If your dream job as a photographer involves taking photos of wildlife, then you should already be taking photos of wildlife, and so forth.
Research The Companies
Whether it’s photo studios, eZines, galleries, or corporations, they are not all created equal. Take advantage of the many online resources, and start researching companies. For example, by taking a look at employment data for Cady Studios, you will gain an understanding of the amount of professional experience they require, what fields of study their employers come from, and other useful data that informs their recruitment practices.
The more companies you research, the better idea you will have as to what professional and academic avenues lead to employment opportunities for photographers.
Research Established Photographers
There are thousands of photographs that have contributed to forming the art and the business of photography. And the good news is that they are more often than not quite open about sharing their stories. Interviews and exposés are not only great sources of inspiration for a photographer, but they can also provide useful insights into what it takes to turn a passion into a profession.
Take a look at this interview with photographer Miller Mobley on shooting Michelle Obama, playing jazz, and capturing defining moments, this interview with photographer Holly Booth on finding a niche, appreciating mistakes, and not being afraid to take risks, or this interview with photographer Robert Devereux on what we can learn from the ‘anarchic’ spirit of African art and why painting will never die.
Each photographer has their own journey, however you will notice they do share several points in common – notably, hard work and determination.
Ask For Help
No one expects you to go it alone. In fact, no one ever goes it alone, regardless of the sector of activity or their professional ambitions.
Guidance From Established Photographers
Do not feel bashful about reaching out to established photographers for advice or help breaking into the world of photography or accessing the next rung up the ladder. The chances are that these same photographers did the exact same thing when they were starting out – and the majority of them continue to do so.
Ask for help. The worst that could happen is someone says ‘no,’ and more often than not, they will actually help you if not by merely steering you in a better direction to get the help you are asking for.
Online Job Portals
In today’s competitive field of online job portals, a given platform cannot survive if they merely provide a list of job offers. The better ones – or the ones that manage to stay active and successful – will offer far more. This includes personalised feedback on your C.V or portfolio; concrete examples of what kind of training would make you more attractive to prospective employers and where to get that training; and insights into trends in the market that will help you stay ahead of the curve.
Take advantage of their professional insights and expertise. That’s what they are there for.
You are the only one who can define and identify your dream job. This comes about by giving careful thought about your passion, your needs, and your priorities. Your idea of a dream job is also informed by your on-the-job experience. You need to stay active, continue working on your craft, and not wait around for the opportunities to fall into your lap. Research the relevant markets and companies, and reach out to established photographers and recruitment specialists for help. More often than not, they will be more than happy to help you land your dream job as a photographer.