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What better way to live - financially - than to do the thing you’re most passionate about. Professional photographers are a rare kind of people lucky enough to be able to travel, communicate with people, and see the world through a lens. But where do you start? How do you land a great job at Sports Illustrated, or the Associated Press, or with Calvin Klein? In short, choosing a discipline is as important to your photography career as learning the functions of your camera.
After mastering the basics of your camera and functions, you’d probably want to enroll in a school (if you are not already) and get some hands-on experience and advice from people who have worked in the business. In addition to the obvious learning advantages of school, it is a great springboard into a professional life through the contacts you will make through internships, advice, etc.
But no matter where you are in your learning experience it is always wise to choose a discipline to branch out into, and there are several disciplines: some people go into photojournalism, others lean towards sports photography, a large number decide to open a business in wedding or fashion photography, while some opt for commercial photography. It is always good to know a bit about each disciplines, but picking a discipline will give you some sense of direction for your career.
Photography is a competitive market and your photo sales are often dependant on how well you market your images and yourself. It is no secret that photographers generally do not make huge sums of money, but it is just like any artistic career (like the music industry) and the effort you put into your own networking and marketing, could pay huge dividends in the end.
Anyone serious in starting a career in photography has a portfolio of their work. Today, portfolio’s are quite sophisticated but it is generally agreed that a good portfolio of the kind of work you want to be involved in, is a good first step. Again, your portfolio should cater to the business you are applying for. For instance, if you want to get into photojournalism, your collection of work should reflect the kind of images you’d see in a newspaper. The problem with portfolio’s, however, is that they sometimes limit your range of talent, so within your portfolio, show a few (one or two) samples of other photography styles. By throwing in a nice portrait or action shot, your employers will see that you have range and understand photography. As always, include reference letters, a list of achievements, resume, and anything else that will give you an edge; your portfolio is not just a bunch of photos in a binder, but an archive of your experiences and successes in the business.
There are a few kinds of portfolio’s: mainly, hardcopy portfolios and digital ones. Today, more photographers are leaning toward digital portfolios because you can put all of your images and other information on a disk that can be viewed easily by employers. Hardcopy portfolios are usually bound packages with this information. Although digital portfolios are more affordable – you can save a lot of money by creating one portfolio on disk and then copying it many times – there are advantages to the hardcopy: it forces employers to open the thing and take a look, rather than receiving a disk and then having it mixed in with a hundred other disks on an employer’s desk. Again, your choice depends on where you are in your career and who you are showing your work to. If you are just starting out in the business and would like to get your name out there, the digital portfolio is ideal because of its efficiency. But if you are applying for a job at a major publication or modeling agency (and in particular, if you are going for a formal interview) it is wise to have a hardcopy portfolio with you.
Choosing a discipline is a tough chore, especially for photographers who generally enjoy all kinds of photography. Decide on one, but don’t limit yourself exclusively to it – have a few disciplines in mind, even when you decide what route you’d like to take. Most importantly, choose a discipline you enjoy and one you are good at. Be realistic about where you want to be and what kind of photos you want to take, and don’t be afraid to set your goals high.