Practical Advice for the Emerging Photographer
Posted on October 31st, 2013
Jay Trinidad, Guest Blogger
[Since Stella Kramer has yet to mastered the ability to be in two places at once, she was kind enough to invite me to blog about last week’s PhotoPlus Expo.]
Certain photographers, the ones who derive a visceral pleasure from what they do, possess a kind of enthusiasm, wonder, and openness about life that keeps them continually contributing to the larger world of photography. Last week, I had the opportunity to talk with three such photographers — David Carol, James Estrin, and Ben Lowy — at the 30th Annual PDN PhotoPlus Expo at New York’s Javits Center. The subject of our conversations was the challenges and opportunities for emerging photographers.
David Carol, who began his photo career in the 80s by following a girlfriend to Paris where she worked as a model, is the direct, irreverent, and funny Director of Photography for CBS Outdoor. James Estrin shoots for The New York Times two days per week and, by his own estimation, works on The Times’ Lens Blog “eight days a week,” which “may be a violation of union rules.” Ben Lowy, who took part in a panel moderated by Estrin on making it as a young photographer, is a conflict and features photographer. He first gained recognition a decade ago for his photographs of the war in Iraq.
Asked about common mistakes emerging photographers make, Carol is direct: “They put the cart before the horse. Forget about shows, forget about books, forget about being famous, forget about people knowing who you are. Take the first 10 or 15 years to figure out how to be a fucking photographer.”
When he began his career, Carol says, “You didn’t have any opportunities except a gallery.” With the explosion of social media and its many competing platforms, “there are too many distractions” to tempt a photographer improving at their craft. The multitude of places photographers can publish their work, combined with the forgiving nature of digital photography, has resulted in a crowd of immature photographers who “are dying to already be famous.”
James Estrin, who along with colleague David Gonzalez edits the Times’ Lens Blog, receives between 300 and 400 email submissions per week. He looks at all of them. His number-one piece of advice is simple: “Don’t try to figure out what ‘they’ [photo editors/buyers] want. You will get it wrong.”
While your work must “show who you are,” sequencing plays an equally important role. “There should be a beginning, middle, and end” in the body of work you present. As both a producing photographer and editor, Estrin notes that one of the key things an emerging photographer needs to appreciate is “the importance of establishing a good edit and sequencing.” If you need help, “ seek out photo editors and photo professionals to help you with your portfolio.”
Ben Lowy, who avoids the de rigueur photojournalist’s scarf in favor of a beanie, offers a compelling mix of passion and practicality when talking about how to make it as an emerging photographer. One moment, he reminds the audience, “You need to inject your soul” into your work. He follows this up with the reminder, “This is a business” and goes on to say, “You can be the best photographer in the world, but without a plan, you are not going to go very far.” At one point, Lowy asked the audience attending his panel discussion, how many photographers have formed LLCs [limited liability companies]? His point was clear, you need to be more than “just an artist.”
“You need to set goals for yourself, for the year and for the quarter,” Lowy advises. For Lowy, being “fully invested” in social media is part of his business plan. Lowy uses his social media activities to help his clients, whether they are a feature magazine or newspaper, to find new ways to reach audiences. “You need to change things up.”
If there was a thread that ran through all three conversations, it was their generosity of knowledge and experience. They appreciate the opportunity to share their knowledge and experience with other photographers. Each, on their own path, benefited from someone else sharing and pointing the way.
Jay Trinidad is a commercial and editorial photographer based in Seattle, Washington.
David Carol: you are so rude and offensive. I think you could get your point across without that language.
10- 15yrs? try 5,
My experience tells me at least 10 years. That doesnt mean a photographer cant have great photos in the first 10 years. I just think it takes time to mature and develop into a fully evolved, or at least close to it, photographer. Of course there are always exceptions.
I visited the Magnum show at the HRC in Austin last week and was struck by the bios of the members. Most were not accepted until they were in their 40’s.
I agree that it takes a lot longer than most newbies expect it to. Consider what you were showing in your portfolio after just a couple of years. How many of those images remain after ten? Of course that’s a question that’s lost on ones who lack said number of years. So ask some veteran peers.
It’s now 2021 and after 11 years working as a commercial photographer and 4 as a visual artist I must agree! It’s taken me a good decade to finally find my path, build a solid portfolio and flex my intellectual muscles! – Paul
Five years might get you a website and a business model, but ten to fifteen years might – with a great deal of work – see you on your way to creating a significant body of artistic work like David’s.
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