how realistic is it to make a career in photography?

Discussion in 'Digital Photography' started by Bazilemac, Sep 20, 2014.

  1. Bazilemac macrumors regular

    Sep 10, 2014
    I would love to become a photographer. more specifically a fashion photographer, how hard is it for one single guy to make it in the industry and maintain a suitable lifestyle that does not involve sleeping in his car? :p
  2. acearchie macrumors 68040


    Jan 15, 2006
    A creative career isn't difficult if you are willing to put in the time and the effort. You should always be ready to improve yourself and put in the extra hours when needed. I think the biggest thing that puts people off is lack of confidence and the inability to adapt to different situations.

    Don't expect to be working for someone else. If you want to do it it would have to be on your own and you would will have a lot of hurdles to jump initially.

    What is your current position? Are you able to try the freelance lifestyle? If you want to try it you really have to commit and I would suggest at least 6 months of freelancing to see whether it would be for you.
  3. kenoh macrumors demi-god


    Jul 18, 2008
    Glasgow, UK
    I know a couple folks at both ends of the spectrum on it. Two who are incredibly successful and one who is kind of OK makes a living but not massively so. Though far from hard up still!

    From talking to them, it is like being an actor. The challenge is finding a unique signature to your work, then getting noticed by someone influential who then helps drive your work into the industry. Quite the challenge but if a nobody like me, who has no connection to the creative arts knows a few people making it, then that suggets there is enough work and therefore potential for you to do it assuming you are skilled with a camera. I think like IT, the general capability and awareness of the population has increased meaning it is harder to achieve relative expert status and stand out. However like most things if you work hard enough, good things will follow.

    My brother in law to be does the photos for some of the big fashion houses as he specialises in the nude form. He is pretty bloody amazing with a camera, makes it look too bloody easy! . Another just released a book of portraits and is usually the guy who helps panasonic on their campaigns for new Lumix models.

    So it is possible just make sure you have another income to make the car payments in the meantime.

    Seems the money is in fahion rather than photojournalism or weddings. Maybe stock photography would be a good starting point while you develop your niche?

    Just my non-expert opinion. Good luck. I hope you find way to make a living doing what you love.
  4. neutrino23 macrumors 68000

    Feb 14, 2003
    SF Bay area
    I don't know anything about your talents and abilities, but I have some generic advice.

    Consider broadening your focus. You might not make it as a fashion photographer per se, but maybe you can find a job that includes fashion photography or similar photography that you don't yet know about. You might have to do something related to pay the bills for a few years till you make it fashion. Alternatively, the world may change in ten years and fashion photography won't be what it is now.

    Public ideas about jobs are not well informed. There are all sorts of jobs out there that are not covered in job fairs or career day at school. Many of these jobs are self created. You can be working at a company and because you have a talent for X that becomes part of your job description.

    I'm not a photographer but I photograph instrumentation and samples as part of my job. I'm no longer a programmer but I do a little scripting and such in my job. I didn't train as a public speaker in college but I now do a lot of that and enjoy it. Keep your options open and just keep plugging away.

    The job I wound up at didn't even exist when I was studying in the university, but I'm very happy about where I landed.

    Try hard, good luck.
  5. Cheese&Apple, Sep 20, 2014
    Last edited: Sep 20, 2014

    Cheese&Apple macrumors 68000


    Jun 5, 2012
    Some great advice so far to which I'll add...

    It doesn't matter if we're talking about photography or neuroscience, a rewarding career is all about what you're willing to sacrifice and put into pursuit of that career, that determines success.

    It's great to have a dream but make sure you establish realistic goals and objectives for yourself. Work hard to meet those goals because the only person you're ultimately accountable you.

    Be passionate, creative and determined and you'll more than likely succeed.

    I don't know if you're old enough to remember the popular sitcom "Cheers" but I remember a line from Norm in response to the question: "How's it going Norm?" He replied: "it's a dog eat dog world and I'm wearing Milk Bone shorts. Truer words were never spoken.

    ~ Peter
  6. Bazilemac thread starter macrumors regular

    Sep 10, 2014
    you guys are great! thank you so much for the great words of advice!


    BTW I'm a 20 year old guy living in Los Angeles and im currently in community college. I've changed my major so many times and now that I'm done with most of my GE classes, I HAVE to choose a major to follow a path. I'm just in a place in my life where I have no direction or overall goal anymore. it sucks. I don't know if it's normal for 20 year olds to feel like this but I almost feel depressed because everyone else seems to have their life figured out.

    As far as photography, I've always held an interest in it and never thought about getting serious with it until a few weeks ago when a friend of a friend bright their camera to photograph a parry we were all at. Only thing is, the guy didn't actually feel like taking pictures! So he asked me if I was willing to do it and I did. I never felt so much passion and energy for doing something. I couldn't stop taking pictures. it was great! The next day, I started researching more and more and now I'm sort of hooked onto the medium. My next goal is to save up for a really good camera or try to hopefully get a scholarship from my school to pay for one. Either way, I definitely want to go further with this interest in photography. Again, thank you all for taking the time out and replying with great words of wisdom. You guys are great!
  7. Oracle1729 macrumors 6502a

    Feb 4, 2009
    I've taken a fashion photography program at a local college. I did it for fun but there were people there who were a lot more serious. At one point, to "inspire" us they brought in one of their grads from a few years before to show how great he was doing.

    What I remember is he was struggling to afford proper gear, shooting in his parents dining room where he had to photoshop the chandelier out of every shot. He was hoping to be able to start renting a studio in the next year and moving out of his parents house wasn't even on his radar.

    But the inspiration was that he'd been published in dozens of magazines, done a few covers, etc. And the teacher said for every person in his position there were 50 more who would give anything to trade places with him.

    I much prefer to keep my day job and occasionally rent a studio for a day and hire a couple of models from model mayhem for a shooting day. It keeps the photography pure fun with no pressure and I earn enough to actually live my life and afford proper camera gear.

    But I do wish you the best of luck. Being able to make a career of it is something a lot of people here would envy.
  8. phrehdd macrumors 68040


    Oct 25, 2008
    It is rare that I'll take time to discourage or promote a profession but I'll just give you some things to think about -

    Consider broadening your scope within the field of photography. Fashion photog is more than being behind a camera. You will need to understand lighting, equipment (beyond cameras), how to communicate with models/talent and more.

    If you think school will help you then consider -

    Brooks Institute (in California and you will need financial help)
    Cal State Long Beach used to have a major in industrial photog
    Any school that offers up some useful photo classes that teaches more than shooting photos (equipment, post processing, lighting, lighting tools etc.)

    Portfolio and networking -
    You need to start building a portfolio and making some people/biz connections.

    Consider being an assistant photographer in a studio (even if you do it for nothing while also going to school). This can be very valuable to get you more hands on and don't be surprised if it is both the worst and the best experience.

    Last - nothing stops you from learning on your own and practicing with friends and looking through fashion magazines for inspiration for images you might want to try emulating. As someone who has been around the block, I'll tell you that you might just find that you are also talented in other types of photography or that it might just be a passing phase. The best I can say is I have had paid jobs in various venues of photography and I am glad I didn't focus on just one to start with back when. In today's world, learning some video might also be helpful.
  9. steveash macrumors 6502


    Aug 7, 2008
    The fashion industry is very much based around who you know and who thinks your work is cool, fashion photography is no different. A lot of networking is involved and it is very competitive. The usual way of getting into the industry is to assist an established photographer to build up your contacts and industry knowledge. Most assistants will be unpaid at least to start with and many will work unpaid for several years.

    It is very competitive but getting work as an assistant is more about enthusiasm, commitment and reliability than your portfolio or qualifications. Being cynical it might also help if you look good/cool on set and massage the ego of your 'employer'. Getting work as an assistant requires persistence. One polite email, phone call or letter won't do it. Technical knowledge is useful but you will soon learn and as 3rd, 4th or 5th assistant your responsibilities may not run much past carrying gear and fetching coffee.

    Once you have built-up knowledge, a portfolio, contacts and friends in the industry you should be able to pick up a few low budget editorial jobs, get an agent and start finding commercial clients.

    There is plenty of work and money in the industry to make it a sustainable career for those who have broken in but it takes a lot of fight to get there.
  10. kingalexthe1st, Sep 23, 2014
    Last edited: Sep 23, 2014

    kingalexthe1st macrumors 6502


    Apr 13, 2013
    What I'm going to say is less about a photography career and more about life.
    It's ok if you don't have any direction at the moment. A LOT of people don't feel like they have any direction even when they hit 40 or 50. When you look around at your peers who seem to have it figured out already, believe me they only have ideas. They still have their life ahead just like you do.

    You're only 20. This is simply THE best decade of your life to try everything and fail while doing it. Failure will set you up in your 30s and beyond to see what it is you really want and you'll have the experience to filter out what is worth your time and what is not. You have a support network of family and friends to catch you when you fall, so go out in your 20's and give it your best shot. Fail, and realise that life doesn't end if you do. Go out and get that photography course, throw yourself in to it and if it works out then great. But if it doesn't then that's ok as well. You'll regret it if you don't try.

    As a certain famous CEO once said: "stay foolish"

    PS Check out a blogger called Mark Manson. He muses on life things like this.
  11. aerok macrumors 65816


    Oct 29, 2011
    I'm curious now, what's his name?
  12. kenoh macrumors demi-god


    Jul 18, 2008
    Glasgow, UK
    James Houston, David Eustace, Adrian Barry.... :)
  13. LethalWolfe macrumors G3


    Jan 11, 2002
    Los Angeles
    I'm an editor, not a photographer, but I feel like all creative professions have similar problems. Problem #1 is that anyone with a Mac is an editor, anyone with a camera is a photographer, anyone breathing is an actor and anyone that's literate is a writer. Basically, there are millions of people that want to do what you want to do and your biggest challenge is separating yourself from all of them.

    It's hard, it's long, it's uncertain if you will ever actually achieve any level of success but if you truly have a passion for it you won't be able to do anything else.

    For the love of god take some business classes. As others have said odds are you will be working for yourself so having a basic understanding of the business world is an absolute necessity. If I had it to do all over again I would've taken some business classes while in college. You'll need that knowledge eventually so might as well get it out of the way now.

    If you think you have your life figured out at 20 you are wrong and growing unhappiness will probably result in a major midlife crisis. I stumbled into editing when I was around your age and I've been doing it ever since.
  14. deep diver macrumors 65816

    deep diver

    Jan 17, 2008
    Solon, OH

    You might try to find a photographer that will be willing to take you on as an apprentice (possibly unpaid). Before you seek a mentor, you would have to decide what area of photography you want to explore the most. No matter what, there is no teacher as great as the real world.

    Good luck

  15. acearchie macrumors 68040


    Jan 15, 2006
    My favourite subject at A-level was business.

    My favourite module at University was business, it was also everyone else's least favourite. Now, roughly 80% of my peers from a vocational course have gone back to working in a supermarket or behind a bar.

    They are creative talented people but unless you have the business nouse to turn your content into money you will be stuck!

    It's often strange as well how people undervalue their services. Barely breaking even because there is no tangible product handed over to the buyer therefore a lot of people find it difficult to attach a value to it.
  16. thekev macrumors 604


    Aug 5, 2010
    Aren't you a video editor though? That profession is at least in better health than the OP's consideration.

    I attended community college at one point, and I did take a couple business courses there. Some knowledge of business is important, but the OP may not get much out of a typical intro to business course. Sadly that is one area where I can't suggest reading materials. I took the courses, and I still had to figure it out on my own.

    You aren't likely to go very far starting off in that specific market today. The low end of that market involves photographing models in boring lighting for e-commerce sites that are maintained by larger retailers and certain brands. Even obtaining that will require real work, and it's going to cost you a lot more than just the cost of a camera.

    I don't think photography courses even matter here. In fact I think they're almost completely worthless. You can learn lighting better from a fine art background or basic courses in illustration, because in those you are forced to learn it. You'll want to understand anatomy. That may sound strange, but you need to understand some of these things to make them look striking or comprehend why something specific looks flat. You need to know something about clothing, makeup and jewelry. They have a lot of details, and you will often need to consider the presentation of these details or the appropriate color of a shade of makeup. There is a steep learning curve.

    I could go on about recommended reading lists and all kinds of stuff, but you should start today to get a feel for it. Start simple. Use one of your friends. Choose the clothing for the shot. Try to set up a narrative. Expensive gear comes later, and it is in no way an impediment to the early stuff. If you want reading recommendations, pick a topic (photography, color theory, hdri capture, anatomy, illustration, etc. as all have some relation). I don't suggest buying books. You go to college. Talk to the librarian. If they don't have it, request an inter-library loan.

    Just make sure you aren't lying to yourself about this, because right now it sounds like the latest in a series of bright shiny objects.
  17. MacInTO macrumors 65816


    Apr 25, 2005
    Canada, eh!
    This is good to hear!

    I've been a photographer for most of my life. My parents gave me a camera when I was about 9 or 10 years old. I've been taking photos ever since. I've always been fascinated with photojournalism and people that take pictures of everyday life.

    I was a photographer through school - taking pictures for the school paper and school events. I was going to become a photographer but decided upon a different career path. However, I never stopped taking pictures. Five years ago or so, I left that career behind and became a photographer as my main source of income. It took a bit, but it got going and I'm doing okay now.

    I mainly take photos of real estate and 'inanimate objects'. This actually stems from my previous career. I worked for large retailers and had access to the in-house photography studio where the product photography was done.

    I have a passive source of income from clients that need specific stock footage. I have a visual memory and can find photos from my library pretty quickly. I've been published in different magazines, newspapers and other sources of media.

    I think a good thing to do is to take photos, lots of them and with different kinds of equipment and media. Different subjects is good also. The thing is to get versatile with how to take a good photo (composition, exposure, lighting, etc.) because sometimes you've only got a moment and you can't be fiddling with your camera. Street photography is a good way to hone these skills. Vivian Maier and Fred Herzog are two such photographers that I admire.

    Also, see what other photographers are doing and see how they are doing things differently. I like Chase Jarvis. He states, "the best camera is the one that's with you."

    Good luck and have fun with it!
  18. Padaung macrumors 6502


    Jan 22, 2007
    IMO this is the best piece of advice on here. We all love the creative field we chose and focus on improving our skills, however as others have said, the chances are that you'll be working as a freelancer. As acearchie mentioned, you need to turn your skill into a living, which involves placing a value on your time and skill and marketing your abilities.

    My photography course involved plenty of technical and artistic development, but we were only given 1hr of business advice - what a joke! However, when I started the course I didn't consider the importance of business modules. Hindsight, as always, is invaluable.

    A lot of the most successful photographers I've met have also studied business and marketing (some studied in that field as their primary course and learnt photography as an additional module or as a serious hobby).
  19. steveash macrumors 6502


    Aug 7, 2008
    I'll second that. After a decade in business I'm still learning, but the grounding I got from my business and marketing studies was the most valuable thing I learn't at Uni.

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