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!
About Generation Hustle
The Generation Hustle series is an original series constructed from the mind of commercial photographer Corina Marie Howell on Agency Access’ The Lab. Generation Hustle brings a voice to the generation of young, talented, professional photographers, and what they are struggling with in today’s ever-changing economic and technological climates. Its hope is to ignite a spark within young pros to be active in their community and show each other that they are in this together.
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