On Being A Professional Photogapher...Tell us your story, please...

Discussion in 'Photographers' started by jovo, Aug 30, 2006.

  1. jovo

    jovo Membership Council

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    On Dorothy Blum Cooper's thread about her decision to not accept a color assignment, there are some interesting posts by several of you who earn your living as professional photographers, both fine art and commercial. Brian Kosoff (Early Riser) tells an interesting story about his experiences. But there are so many others whose stories would be very interesting to read.

    Would some, or all !, of you who do that tell your stories? I think it would be interesting to us all, but also useful and informative to those who are making the decision to go down that professional path.
     
  2. David H. Bebbington

    David H. Bebbington Inactive

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    Will I talk about myself? Well ... if you insist!

    Left school in 1967 with no idea what to do, joined the Civil Service (Department of Health and Social Security). Had previously been a keen photo hobbyist while at school. Stayed at this desk job for about 15 months, then decided to try photography and got a transfer to the Ministry of Technology, where I got paid £10 a week (in 1969) to operate a 16x20" Littlejohn process camera. Was allowed day release 1 day a week to study. Eventually got a diploma in 1971.

    Moved in 1970 to the Victoria & Albert Museum, got paid a few £s more to photograph art objects, using most 8x10" cameras. Used to volunteer for evening shifts and do press and PR work with the museum's Leica. Work at the museum was fascinating, pay and career prospects very poor, so moved about 50 yards to Imperial College Botany Department (right by the Albert Hall), where I became head of the photography department (total strength: me) and photographed diseased leaves, occasionally healthy plants, and lots of architecture, etc, for a glossy brochure. Was playing in a rock band around the student scene at this time. Did some freelance press during this period, too, got the odd publication in the nationals.

    By 1974, fame having strangely failed to tap me on the shoulder, I took a job with Ilford Limited as a technical writer and wrote booklets, advertisements etc., on the products. The company was not in good shape at this time, it was moving out of the Ilford site and going to Basildon, Essex (a short time later, it closed all operations in SE England and regrouped at Mobberley), so I retrained as a technical translator, which is the work I do on a freelance basis, together with editing and the occasional from-scratch magazine article, still today. Writing is much more lucrative for me than photography ever was, whereas photography is much more fun without commercial pressure!

    Regards,

    David
     
  3. blansky

    blansky Subscriber

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    Like most men pretty much everything I did from the time I was 6 months old was directed to the task of getting laid. I spend most of my school years in that endeavor and when it came time for exams, I didn’t have a clue what the answers were because I was too busy. I tried music, but that didn’t do me much good either, so at the ripe old age of 22, I bought a camera and started taking pictures of women.

    I always told them they had fascinating faces but what I was really after was something a bit lower. I finally opened my first studio at the age of 25 and spent most of the first year playing the piano. Gradually it took off and I was shooting portraits and weddings and family stuff. I eventually had a 3000 square foot studio with 4 employees, did all my own color printing, etc. I traveled all over the US and Canada taking seminars and workshops. I once trained with a New York fashion photographer for a week and I told him how much I like the whole fashion thing. Really I just wanted to nail a few models but I never told him that. When he saw my work he sort of changed my mind on what I was doing. He said fashion photography is really just bird cage lining and within a month the pictures are irrelevant. He said doing family pictures is far more important and meaningful that anything he was doing.

    When I got home I re-dedicated myself to portraits. After shooting 500 wedding I was given a reprieve from the Governor General and told that I’d done my time. So I concentrated strictly on families and portraits.

    I sold that studio after 10 years and moved to LA. Ah- ha now I’ll get laid a lot. Didn’t happen. Well at first anyway. I snagged a job working for Franciscan Communications, a Catholic communications company, and thrived as the resident pagan. Whenever they had questions about life in the real world they came to me. For 4 years I did social documentary photography for them, then I shot headshots of wannabees, did actor portfolios, shot stills for movies, did location scouting for car commercials, then after the riots I got the hell out of Dodge.

    I started black and white when I landed back in San Jose after spending a year in Portland OR. That was about 13 years ago. There was, and still is an incredible amount to learn and I’ve barely scratched the surface. I quit photographing pretty girls a long time ago because, although somewhat of a slow learner, I finally discovered that I could get laid on my own and beside pretty girls don’t, I repeat, don’t, buy photographs. It’s those parents with those cute little kids that do. And guess what, they keep having more and more and they look different from month to month.

    That little tidbit of information took me 20 some years to learn.

    Michael
     
    Last edited by a moderator: Aug 30, 2006
  4. BrianShaw

    BrianShaw Member

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    Based on the media over the past few years, you seem to have some influence. :wink:
     
  5. terri

    terri Subscriber

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    Great thread! Let's have some more, please.
     
  6. jovo

    jovo Membership Council

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    If nothing else works out for you, Michael, consider a second career as a motivational speaker.


    David, in your department of one, were you a good boss?
     
  7. DBP

    DBP Member

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    I think I finally nailed down why Blansky's style seems familiar - He's doing Hunter Thompson imitating Dave Barry imitating Hemingway.
     
  8. Roger Hicks

    Roger Hicks Member

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    Miaow!

    Cheers,

    R.
     
  9. blansky

    blansky Subscriber

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    Actually it's homegrown because I've never read any of them.

    Sorry for the confusion.



    Michael
     
  10. Roger Hicks

    Roger Hicks Member

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    Yes. The big thing is that photographers can be lucky: the occasional good picture makes them look good. Writers can't fake it the same way: what you write has to be grammatical, correctly spelled, usw.

    One of my dearest friends, the late Colin Glanfield, was a significantly better photographer than I, but wanted to be a writer, at which he was merely good. I'm a significantly better writer than he was, but would love to be a better photographer. I make up for it to some extent by being a competent photographer (good amateur level) and knowing a fair amount about technique and history.

    Stories? Endless, from my assistant days. The art director who wanted a lion in the back of a baby Peugeot. Think of it as a 500 lb kitten and a 2000 lb ball of wool. The reshoot (comped into the Peugeot hatchback shot) was made from a pic of the Peugeot and a pic of the lion in a hatchback-shaped frame made of railway sleepers (?ties in American). And he was shooting 10-on (Pentax 6x7) and the best pic was always frame 11...

    The art director with the car magazine, with nude or semi-nude bimbos draped over the cars. He was not as other men, and he said, "I hate this ****ing job. It's the same old ****ing rubbish, week after week. And the ****ing cars are no better."

    Cheers.

    R.
     
  11. Roger Hicks

    Roger Hicks Member

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    Perhaps you should.

    R.
     
  12. blansky

    blansky Subscriber

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    Actually two of them have the nasty habit of shooting themselves in the head.

    Don't think so.

    I'll just stick to shooting myself in the foot.


    Michael
     
  13. Roger Hicks

    Roger Hicks Member

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    Dear Michael,

    I had neglected that aspect of it. Perhaps you have the right idea after all.

    Though to be fair, you can't really say it's a habit when they only did it once.

    Cheers,

    Roger
     
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  15. SuzanneR

    SuzanneR Moderator Staff Member

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    Actually, I found when I worked for a news magazine, the writers were often a little out of focus, but our photographers rarely had that luxury.
     
  16. Roger Hicks

    Roger Hicks Member

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    Dear Suzanne,

    Professionally, you are are incontestably right -- though the writers' work was still likely to be grammatical and correctly spelled, even when lacking in brilliance or focus.

    But a lot of amateurs judge themselves by their lucky flukes, and imagine that being a pro ain't as difficult as it is.

    Cheers,

    Roger.
     
  17. Les McLean

    Les McLean Subscriber

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    My life in photography started as a part time rock musician in the 50's who was a coal miner by day but who was always interested in any of the arts. After a fairly long and unsuccessful time as a pro musician, lots of booze, failed records, travel and other things (decide for yourself?) I gave it up to return to college as a mature(?)student. At the same time I purchased my first camera, an old Minolta Autocord twin lens reflex for ten pounds sterling. The obsession began.

    I quickly became hooked on black and white and spent every spare minute and all the cash I could get on film, paper and chemicals. Hours, no days, were spent in the darkroom producing countless postcard size prints which littered the house until I was persuaded to confine them to the litter bin. It was like destroying part of my soul. When I discovered 16 x 20 paper nothing changed except that the litter bin started to take over the house.

    Eventually I achieved some level of quality and consistency and started to give lectures to the local camera clubs, this was followed in a few years by giving some printing demonstrations and then full blown workshops. I didn't know it then but my photographic career was in it's infancy.

    The next step was to agree to write one article for Photo Pro, a British Photographic Magazine. That one article turned into a 15 year stint of writing many articles for many magazines until 2 years ago when I decided that I needed a rest from the monthly deadlines. One day soon I plan to make a come back. As a result of starting to write I decided it was time to give up the acountancy job that I had studied for as a mature student and my life as a full time photographer, printer, teacher started. That was 12 years ago and whilst I have not got rich in monetary terms my life has been greatly enrichened by the people I have worked with as well as those I have taught.

    I will never retire even if I have to propped up in front of the enlarger and have a young assistant to focus the image because of my failing eyesight. One thing I will never give up is the daily ritual of getting my hands into the developer and dripping fixer down the front of my shirt, usually the one that is my wife's favourite.

    To anyone reading this who is thinking of becoming a pro photographer I say give it a go, otherwise you will forever ask yourself why you didn't and what you may have missed. However, a word of warning, it is not easy and you should forget about a 9 to 5 workday. Oh, and you probably will not make a lot of money either.
     
  18. Dinesh

    Dinesh Subscriber

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    Now you guys spill the beans. At the Conference I took a course by Blansky (he couldn't get laid) and a course by Les (he didn't get rich). At the next conference, I am taking any course that Art is teaching! :tongue:
     
  19. RAP

    RAP Member

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    Here is a little shameless promotion from my web site;

    http://narrationsinlight.com/narrationsinlight2004/rantsravesmusings/somepublishedworks.htm

    The top pix have not been published yet anyway. Scroll down and you can see my calendar credits. I have more Hagstrom Map covers then you can shake a stick at, for NJ.

    Verizon used to buy regularly for their "Showcase pages" in the NJ directories which consisted of a two page spread, plus additionals. That was a nice gig for several years, until they slashed their budget and I got cut out of the picture, so to speak.

    Used to do a lot of architectural work.

    I worked for a newspaper that came out once a week way back in the 1980's. I was the entire Sports department; photographer, writer, editor. That was fun, cover 3 to 4 high school games per week, shooting, taking notes at the same time, then writing copy.
     
  20. davetravis

    davetravis Member

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    These are great stories, and it's really tough to follow Blansky, but here goes:
    "Life is what happens, when we're busy making other plans." - John Lennon
    From the age of six I've been facinated with "the magic paper."
    High school - Was a yearbook photographer shooting with a 2 1/4 rollieflex in b&w. I had great sex, but never had any partners. :tongue:
    Along came the Army, and tons of darkroom time. Oh and computer programming also.
    23 years of software analysis/design/installation/support for large IBM mainframes and my brain was fried.
    Stashed the cash, told that field goodbye, finished my basement, built my color Ilfohcrome darkroom, started selling my prints to "rich" people.
    That was 13 years ago. The last 3 have been full-time on the art show circuit.
    Any regrets giving up all that great computer money in exchange for doing what I always wanted to do? HELL NO!!!
    My biggest problem now is keeping up with demand, and not having as much time for travel and shooting new stuff.
    Also, spending so much time in the darkroom has in some ways "de-socialized" me, at least that's what my friends and famliy tell me, but I'm not sure that's a bad thing. I never lose an argument.
    Oh well, it still beats the heck out of computers!
     
  21. DKT

    DKT Member

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    Like a lot of people on this site, I've been a photographer pretty much my whole life. When I was a kid, my dad was an amateur, and had a couple of small home darkrooms. I was always messing around with hand me down cameras, and I learned how to process and print when I was pretty young. By the time I got to my teens--I was interested in being a journalist--I got a night job at a local paper ( the largest paper in the state actually, so it wasn't a small paper).

    I worked first as a copy carrier, then by the time I was in high school, I had begun working the weekends as a stringer for the photo dept. I eventually had a locker, assigned cameras and everything. I did the newspaper thing for a total of about 6 years off & on. I joined the NPPA when I was 17 and have been in ever since.

    I studied photojournalism actually--but somehow along the way, I found myself working in labs, working as an assistant, etc. I tried my hand with freelance work. Living in Chapel Hill, around the time of the second wave of college music coming out of NC (mid 80s)...well, I wound up shooting a lot of the music scene stuff and somehow got into doing album packaging and promo work as well. But it was always very much like working from the trunk of my car or out of my domke bag more or less....makeshift studios and the like--very hard for me to make a living doing it. I shot probably almost 20 albums in that time period, and got a couple of big breaks--did a couple of jobs for rolling stone & spin for example, and got in with a label that was eventually bought by Atlantic--but I never had a formal studio, and it was just not happening for me. My biggest client of sorts--signed to a major, major label--and switched all the shooting out to LA actually, and so I lost that as well...mainly because of a lack of a formal studio. I never thought that their later photos were actually any better or worse than what I did, it was very much the same--only their budgets were like 100 times what mine was. So--I was always looking for work, and working other crap jobs to pay the bills as well (I became a stat camera operator & did prepress).

    One day I was in a camera store, and a wedding photographer I knew bumped into me and told me about hearing of a job working as lab tech in a museum printing b/w....I interviewed and got the job. I worked part time at first--and this was great, because I made enough to live actually, but then I had the rest of the week off and could pursue my music stuff. Eventually I started working full time, and then another staff position opened as a shooter (in addition to two others at the time)--so I applied for that--got it. When I interviewed for the position--I was actually up against a couple of really qualified candidates. In the end, I think what did it for me was one of the requirements was to operate this new process camera they had gotten...and since I had worked in prepress just to make ends meet....well, I got lucky.

    So--it's now at about 14 years for me. A lot has changed in the outside world--those newspaper jobs have drastically changed. I've had a quite a few friends lose their jobs due to digital--either in labs or as shooters--they either couldn't make the transition, or they wouldn't. My world has been slowly going through the same changes, but I'm still shooting film, and making prints. I'm still shooting the same stuff the press does, often times right alongside them. Which is why I'm still in the NPPA.

    My goal is to work my 25 yrs and then retire. I don't think I'll be able to make it without going totally digital at some point though, but that's just life. I have always been a photographer, and just about every job I've ever had has been in the business. I'd be at a loss to figure out what else I could do to be honest, so I consider myself lucky to have found a stable part of the profession to work in. I get good benefits, and I'm vested as well. When I retire, I'll have a pension, and if I make my time--I'll be relatively young. I'm hoping at least Ilford will still be around, so I can catch up on my printing in my own darkroom.....
     
  22. Roger Hicks

    Roger Hicks Member

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    Don't be so modest. You WERE the really qualified candidate.

    Take this from an assistant in the mid-1970s who didn't know how to load Hasselblad magazines...

    Cheers,

    R.
     
  23. Roger Hicks

    Roger Hicks Member

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    Dear Les,

    There's a lot of that about.

    Mind you, you had a disadvantage. You had to pay off the mortgage to the devil for all that time you spent as an accountant. I know how you feel. I was articled to Thompson McLintock for a few months...

    666

    Roger
     
  24. JohnArs

    JohnArs Subscriber

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    Hi
    I worked for 3 years as aerophotographer in Switzerland for a company wich sold this pictures. My camera was a Linhof Aerotronica 6x9 with 400 ASA Color film.
    After 2 very dangerous situation with the helicopter I dicided not to do it longer after the 3. year. I also was frustrated at the time and almost loosed my happyness about photographing so it was time to stop. I was finishing my pro career after this, since I did some parttime shootings for mags and newspapers and stil do it a bit and also weddings and portraits, but not fulltime anymore!
    Its nor easy to work as pro if you are not willing to do every bulls... in the beginning!
    Thats why I'm a happy part timer now!
     
  25. Roger Hicks

    Roger Hicks Member

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    Not just in the beginning!

    What else do you do now?

    Cheers,

    R.
     
  26. DKT

    DKT Member

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    thanks...well....I was lucky. It's funny though, the skills you pick up along the way, and never think much about them. I worked a stint as an assistant at one of those huge furniture market photo studios that do catalog work. I had my sights on working as p-j at this time still, so it was just a way to make ends meet. I spent all day loading film holders, and shuttling mole richardson lights around a studio set. They offered me a full time job, and I turned them down actually--went off to finish college.

    Then years later--I find myself using a view camera, working in a studio, shooting furniture (only real old stuff). I always tell my boss--if I had known I would be shooting furniture for a living, I would have paid better attention....same thing happened when I started having to run process control for E6. I was like, dang--I wish I hadn't slept through that process control class I took in college....I had to go back into the recesses of my brain for that. I remember running control plots and staring at the charts, thinking, I'm a photographer--I'm never gonna need this stuff! hahaha....

    every little bit adds up though, and after a while you don't have to really think too much about how to do something. It just comes naturally--like riding a bike. It was at that point--when I could use a view camera effortlessly, or same goes for the labwork--that was the point when I felt like I had finally become a professional. It became a real job, when it became a "job"--in that sometimes it's not fun or interesting--but I always try to make it interesting and try to learn something along the way.