For my first post I tackled a subject that I believe in greatly: that great images come from a place of smart thinking and not from fancy gear. Huge thanks go out to Art Streiber, Brenna Britton of People, Richard Ross, and Sonya Revell for taking part. 🙂
How many times have you been rejected this year? This week? Today? I’m probably being rejected right now! Unfortunately, it’s a natural part of being a professional photographer—so if you find yourself upset after some harsh criticism (or a stiff breeze), maybe this world ain’t for you.
I think dealing with it requires two things: one is tolerance, and the other is learning.
When I first began the glamorous freelance life, I fully expected replies to every email I wrote and enthusiasm for every mailer I sent out. At least my self-esteem wasn’t in the toilet, but boy, was I delusional.
People, and creatives in particular, are busy. Your email may go ignored, your mailer may be trashed (but hopefully recycled), and your calls may go to voicemail. Just think about it: would you want to be pestered by someone you don’t know? Of course not! And yes, it is these people’s jobs to find new talent, but after all they’re just people, and they behave like you or I would.
An early mailer, many of which likely reside at the city dump
There is a noise barrier that must be broken. Too much damn chatter.
If someone doesn’t respond to you, it doesn’t mean your work is bad. It could mean that it wasn’t unique or eye-catching enough, but more than likely it simply means that the editor or creative director is swamped. (Again, it’s also worth noting they are human and have personal lives as well.)
So what to do? Be patient. Art Streiber says to “build yourself an iron shell.” Another older photographer friend, David Campbell, once told me it takes about six times seeing your name/work for someone to really pay attention. Both of these are sound pieces of insight.
And if someone outright tells you that you suck? There are two options: either they are meanies or they are correct. I have been told several times in my career that my work is “too commercial.” At first I defended it, but eventually I realized that it might be worth exploring other territories—and you know what? They were right. I made some changes and my book is better and more well-rounded now.
Once in a generation someone rockets to the top, but trust me, it isn’t you or me, buddy. Rejection sucks, but if we have patience and remain open to criticism, at least we can keep our heads above water.
For my second blog post for The “Generation Hustle” series I tackled the idea of using your photographic talents to earn extra side income in a post entitled “Working Your Angles.” Enjoy!
And the full post:
These days sometimes it seems like the only people working are either those who were born with silver spoons in their mouths or those who became successful before the economic crash. Becoming successful in the arts is “an ambition that, like pretty much everything else in society, is rigged in numerous ways to favor people who start off with money,” says Gawker’s Cord Jefferson.[i]
Veteran photographer Art Streiber frames the problem a different way: “Clients may be wary of trying someone new. There is so much riding on every shoot, and both editorial and commercial clients appreciate the security of going with a known quantity.” In the age of layoffs and shutdowns, art directors and magazine editors are cautious like everyone else: taking a chance on someone without a proven track record is risky.
As with all things, it’s best to focus your energy on what you CAN control. The deck is clearly stacked against you, but while you wait for everyone to realize how fabulous you are, you better figure out a way to pay rent. While you could bartend or wait tables to stay in the game financially, why not figure out a second source of income that involves photography? With a little creative problem solving, you can find a lot of opportunities in other areas of photography that will pay dividends both now and later.
Corina Marie Howell – Boudoir (top) and Beauty (bottom)
As I’ve gotten to know more photographers of my generation I’ve come to learn about the various “side gigs” we all have. Bret Hartman of Los Angeles does “unit work” on film and television sets (stills and behind the scenes), but his passion is environmental portraiture. Sonya Revell of Miami shoots weddings in her free time, but her heart is in conceptual imagery. Eli Schmidt of New York City shoots runway as a photojournalist, but loves high-end men’s fashion editorials. And me? I run a successful boudoir photography business on the side.
Brett Hartman – Portrait (left) and Unit Work/Behind the Scenes (right)
Sonya Revell – Conceptual (top) and Wedding (bottom)
In addition to providing you with a bit more (hopefully reliable) income, there are other benefits to staying active in your field and in your community in general. For one, you never know who you will meet. “You’re there as an editor, I’m there as a photographer; we might be sitting next to each other,” says Eli Schmidt of his experience meeting people at runway shows in Paris and New York. I myself have had designers, publicists, and marketing executives as clients of my boudoir business. A positive experience with me on a boudoir shoot gives clients confidence in my abilities and knowledge of my personality and attitude that can lead to other opportunities.
Eli Schmidt – Backstage Runway Show (top) and Fashion (bottom)
Lastly: Practice makes perfect. Use it or lose it. Like a foreign language, photography needs to be practiced frequently to improve. If you want to get to the next level in terms of experience, you need to pick up a camera and practice your craft as often as possible. The more you practice, the faster your work will improve, and the sooner you will no longer be perceived as a risky choice to prospective clients.
I used to feel shame about my side gigs – like I was the only one struggling to make it out there. But guess what? We’re ALL doing it. We all could use a little more cash, exposure, connections, and improvement—and in the end, no amount of glamour or accolades is as important as paying your bills on time!
I am an official blogger now. (as in someplace else than here!) Below is the link and the full text as well. 🙂
ON TOP OF THE PLATEAU
Headline: An introduction to a blog series that intends to be an all-encompassing look at what many young, talented photographers of this generation are struggling with in this economic climate and age of technology.
I’m in my pajamas with a takeout coffee cup next to me and Crouton, my cat, is perched on a pillow right next to me intently licking his toes. I’ve sent out hundreds of personalized emails to potential clients and subjected myself to a many a cold call on this fine morning. The nibbles come, and jobs do happen, but great success still evades me. Perhaps I will not change out of my pajamas today.
I’ve fought the good fight for more than a few years now. I’ve had some quality advertising gigs in the entertainment, beauty, and fashion industries, met hundreds of top-level creatives, and done some fabulous editorials for local and national magazines. I am a former magazine photo editor for both Movieline and The Hollywood Reporter and have great connections. Yet here I sit, on this plateau. Oh, and you’re here with me? What’s up?
The “Good Ol’ Days”
Many successful commercial photographers will tell you that this career takes patience and conviction. But, in this current climate of digital over-saturation and poor economics a lot of extremely talented photographers find themselves right where I am: caught between being a struggling young photographer getting their name out there and a regularly working, agency represented professional.
Based on my time as a photo editor, it seems to me that ten years ago, if one had the equipment, knew how to operate it, and had some sort of an eye one could make a solid living shooting commercial imagery. Now however, the pool of talent is much too big for the small economic window currently open. How does one deal?
“I’m busy, but not with the clients that I want,” said my friend and fellow photographer, Elisabeth Caren. Word. My calendar, like many, is full of things like e-commerce shoots, spec PR shoots, low-budget editorials, and marathon marketing sessions. But gigs that I find both creatively satisfying and pay the bills happen just a few times a year. It happens, but not with the frequency or gravity that it happens for my role models of the photo-generation before me.
The Not-so-Big Break
My first big advertising job was for Bare Escentuals cosmetics. I will never forget the creative director who hired me: Nate Pence. Bless his heart. It took two years of consistent marketing efforts, or “courting,” for him to finally feel like I was the right choice.
Afterwards I felt like I had finally reached the top of my mountain; for sure big things were in my near future. I had new marketing material and a big name client to attach to my name, but life went pretty much back to normal. I understand now that success is much more incremental that I had previously thought. Rome indeed was not built in a day.
The Game Plan
As photographers, we often work in situations that isolate us from our peers; pin us “against” each other in a “battle” to stand out from the crowd. But I think more than often, we forget we can learn from each other. I intend this blog series to be a unifier of sorts for us. In the face of a tight economy and an army of amateur SLR monkeys, it’s nice to know you’re not alone and you have a friend.
So what do you have to look forward to here? Among other things, I plan to talk the importance of networks, the juggling of revenue streams, how to get/if you need an agent, how to stand out from the pack, and most importantly, how to maintain your sanity through the ups and downs
And PS: I can see you. Take off your pajamas and put on some real clothes.
I often get asked if I feel it is difficult being a lady in this business. My immediate answer is yes. But really, more likely than not, it is just plain difficult for everyone in this game, and using ones gender as an excuse is lame.
Working for yourself is hard. Working for yourself in a competitive and often glamorized profession is even harder. There are a lot of people wanting to do what you do and often jobs go to friends of friends or the rich guy/gal with the most gear/biggest studio/most connections. Facts of life my friend.
I’m a big fan of the blog, Jezebel. I love reading about Photoshop horrors, womens’ health crisis, Michelle Obama’s fashion (etc etc). I love it because these are topics of interest to me, and topics of interest to many women (and probably also some men!). What I don’t enjoy as much is the subtle, and often not so subtle (by some bloggers, not all), reinforcement of women in America as disenfranchised and the way it affects my mindset and the mindset of others. In truth, we probably are disenfranchised in many ways. But if you focus too much on it, internalize it, and think yourself the victim it could be dangerous to your success.
I like to think being a woman in the land of beauty/fashion photography has it’s advantages. I sympathize with models’ womanly hang-ups: oh, you think you look weird from your right side? I SO understand! I would also never ask models to do anything that would purely objectify them: I want my models to be mulit-dimensional: sexy, funny, approachable, etc NOT just a piece of meat. I enjoy working towards a less skewed presentation of women in the media.
So is it harder to be a woman in this business? It doesn’t matter if you buy into it or not. Sometimes just entertaining the idea is harmful – negative thinking has an amazing power to produce negative things. It’s a rough gig this freelance photographer life, but if you have the determination and passion, regardless of gender, it is sure to be a crazy and hopefully rewarding path.
I recently returned from an amazing photography convention in New York City: NYC Fotoworks. While I tend to think many “pro-photographer events” are a waste of time and money, this one was absolutely fantastic.
I bought a package of 12 meetings. Each meeting is a 15 minute one-on-one sit down with the art director and/or editor of your choice. I met with Publicis, Saatchi and Saatchi, JWT, Women’s Health, Self, TV Guide, People, Seventeen, and more. Every person I met with seemed genuinely glad to be at the event and honestly interested in my work.
The bonus to attending the event that had not occurred to me prior, was the other amazing photographers I would meet! Given that we often work in such isolating situations and rarely meet one another, it was pretty awesome to pal around with like-minded people for a week.
It remains to be seen what comes of this venture, but I’m excited to move forward with both my new (potential) clients and new friendships! I cannot recommend the event enough!
Check out: http://nycfotoworks.com/