Where do you learn to be a photographer (part one of three)

Eager young photographers write me often, telling me about what they want to do as photographers and asking for my help. Part of me says to tell them to “…run as fast as you can, away, away from this ever more crowded field.“ Another part of me says, wait, the business continues and is (in some way) growing, doubly so, with the movement of most communications media to the web, which is an ever more image-driven media. So there will be photographers in the future, though not the same kind of photographers as there used to be. I recently blogged about the best college for photographers being the one where you learn how to “think,” not just take pictures. That begs the question, where do you learn how to be a photographer?

The e-mails that I get go something like this assemblage of a few different e-mails that came my way recently.

I’ve been a passionate photography working for about 5 years now. I graduated in May and have been putting some serious thought into where I want to take my life. A lot of people remind me how difficult it is to make a career out of photography, that I should keep it simply as a hobby, but more than anything I decided I wanted to spend my life pursuing my passions and doing what I love….

When I look at the type of art you create and all you’ve accomplished, I’m inspired and strive to reach that same life/career path. Just getting started in the business, I’m not sure how or where to look for photography jobs. Unfortunately, it seems like a lot of magazines work with many freelancing photographers rather than hiring a photographer to be a part of their team….

The first thing to know is that commercial photography is an industry where fewer and fewer fulltime jobs even exist. Most magazine and advertising photographers are freelancers who are hired on a per-assignment basis. Newspapers have recently started following that same trend, firing their staffs and replacing them with under-paid (and often equally under-experienced) freelancers. See a recent case at: http://www.lbpost.com/news/allison/11548

So, if a full time job with a linear career arc is what you are after I would strongly suggest you not consider a career in photography (or in most any other “creative” practice.) This is part of a long-term pattern that trend spotters much smarter than I long ago noted and have been writing about, including at:
http://www.dailyfinance.com/2010/01/19/freelance-nation-why-permanent-jobs-may-not-come-back/ There is also Daniel Pink’s remarkably prescient book from way back 2001, Free Agent Nation, which you can read more about at: http://sohodojo.com/ribs/free-agent-nation.html

Assuming that those experts know what they are doing, the future will be a situation where full time jobs will be rare and those who brand themselves the best will the most successful. To appreciate that, look at the recent book Career Distinction: Stand Out by Building Your Brand by William Arruda and Kirsten. Read more at: http://careerdistinction.com/

I have already voiced my doubts in previous blog entries about the cost-benefit analysis of attending straight up photography schools. Some of those are in the midst of fighting a losing battle in terms of their own credibility. Having taught at some of these I know the problem is not with the teachers, who generally are forthright with their students, but usually with the business people behind the institutions. You can read more about an example of that at: http://www.pdnonline.com/pdn/news/The-Art-Institutes–3531.shtml ou can also read how greed has ruined a once great California photography education institution: http://www.allbusiness.com/retail-trade/miscellaneous-retail-retail-stores-not/4453599-1.html

So what does that leave the aspiring photographer?

That’s next week’ blog entry. I will give you hint. Actually, with the advent of the web comes a new world of photography and in our case, educational resources too. To paraphrase “… the Internet giveth and the Internet taketh away.”

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