Recently I’ve been getting a lot of emails regarding starting out in the photography business and people wanting tips and advice on how to go about it. Now these are questions I’ve been asking myself over the last few years so I don’t really think I’m in the best position to answer. Nevertheless such a response probably wouldn’t be appreciated all that much! Therefore I do try my best to respond with some basics. This in one recent response that I thought I’d make into a blog piece. Although it is more relevant to documentary photography some of the lessons are still relevant across the genres.
Question: First of all, what's it like working in the industry? As I hope to one day work in the area of documentary photography, I guess I wanted to know how you are finding this side of your work? I also wanted to ask how it was finding a job after you graduated and if you had done any particular work experience before hand?
Documentary photography is changing and evolving, let it evolve around you - few people know what it's next form will be, but a lot of it is moving towards multimedia and lots of people you speak to would suggest it's even harder to make a living from. You shouldn't let this worry you. You haven't been doing it before, so these changes will happen around you in a way that you can adapt to as you get into it rather than having to unlearn everything you know to cope, as some people in the business and the middle of their careers seem to think they need to do.
With digital technology reliance on labs and other outside sources is far smaller and thus its far easier for people to start out. This above is my office, tucked away in one corner of my bedroom...
The number one rule IMO is that you must always remember to do photography for yourself. Stay true to yourself. Shoot what interests YOU. However just because something interests you don't ever assume it will interest other people - if it does then you're doing something right. If it doesn't, you're not doing anything wrong, it's just don't be disappointed if people's initial opinions are frosty.
This above is a page from my scrapbook - snaps for a trip to Hong Kong a few years back. Shooting for yourself is what keeps you interested in it.
Take as many opportunities to shoot, learn and therefore grow. The more you shoot, the more you learn. If you want to get into documentary work, start documenting work that you feel passionate about, but that is accessible to you and not overly ambitious. The bigger your plans, the further you will fall if you fall. However at the same time immerse yourself in new environments, cultures, locations; sometimes you will find it hard to look with fresh eyes on things you see every day.
Whilst shooting your own stuff keep an eye on the rest of industry. This has never been easier, with the internet you have so much more access to the industry than people did ten years ago. Build up image references in your mind. Look and learn from the masters, but don't feel you have to copy their style. Learn from their experiences maybe rather than their work.
Inspiration can come from many different areas, I tend to keep things of interest on my wall, but also a much bigger archive on my computer. As you can see even the London tube map interests me in terms of design...
If you want to get some experience inside the industry then try and get internships at magazines, on picture desks, in art departments etc, to try and see the business from the other side. This will allow you to see the pressure and stress that picture desk, and picture editors are up against, especially with time frames and putting their trust in photographers to get the work done. Alternatively assist other photographers who’s work you respect in order to see how they deal with the business from their end.
In the meantime - check out relevant blogs and online resources regularly, read articles, let them inspire you, make you ask questions and then apply the answers to your own situation.
At the same time try and build up an index of photographers website to refer to and to help inspire you from time to time on those down days....
Along with some books that are worth looking at. If you can get your hands on a copy, read: 'On Being a Photographer' by Bill Jay and David Hurn. Plus any autobiographies of famous documentary photographers. I'd recommend Tim Page's 'Page after Page', Don McCullin's 'Unreasonable Behavior', Russell Miller's book 'Magnum' and Jim Lo Scalzo's 'Evidence of my Existence' as a start.
P.S. Hope everyone had a Merry Xmas and is looking positively on the new year (in the face of everything else).