This might be a bit contentious, but here goes anyway. I think the traditional ways of learning about photography and business are too slow and outdated. Here are some alternative paths for you to consider.
1. Don’t Do A Degree.
It’s too slow. Sure, you’ll learn some great techniques and will come out with a great-looking portfolio at the end. But it will take you 3-4 years. And doesn’t prepare you for the real world of photography.
Also, you’ll graduate with 50 other students who will have a very similar skill-set and similar-looking portfolios. You’ll all start searching and competing for the same few jobs out there.
2. Don’t Learn From Stuffy Technique Books.
I walked around a “pro” photography shop the other day as I waited for my prints to be done.
I began to flip through their textbooks about lighting, portraiture and posing. Oh my! So dreary! Sure, I get that it helps to know difference between broad and narrow light, Rembrandt and the like, but there are less stuffy ways of doing it.
Here are some free online video resources which will get you moving:
Lighting, Using Sun and Strobes: The Slanted Lens.
Inspiration, Technique, Composition, Post-Processing, Lighting: The Framed Show.
Lighting, Portraiture: Sunbounce Lighting School.
And if you have a few hundred bucks to spend, invest in this guy’s videos:
Portraiture, Advertising Photography, Strobes, Post-Processing: Joey L.
3. Learn About Business.
Your photography business will succeed only if your business model is ahead of the competition.
Business world has changed dramatically in the past 5 years. Which is good news for you, because it means most of your competition’s business models are out of date.
But it also means that you need to become an expert about social media, SEO and modern ways to brand and market yourself.
You won’t learn about those from stuffy, outdated business books which teach you about SWOT analyses.
Draw ideas and inspiration from contemporary success stories in other niches, like Steve Pavlina, Seth Godin and Michel Fortin. Read the Google blog, Problogger and Matt Cutts blog to keep up with directions that online digital marketplace is going. Subscribe to the Harvard Business Review to learn about how people in big business think.
4. Start Building An Online Presence.
I don’t care if you know nothing about Internet. Learn – there are plenty of tutorials out there which will help you.
Register a website, start a WordPress blog on it, start a Facebook page and a Google Plus account. Link them all together and start posting.
It’s OK if you don’t know what to post. Posting something vague now is better than putting it off for another year. Your ideas will sharpen as you post and update things.
As a rule of thumb, the more pure, authentic and raw your online presence is, the better. Don’t try to craft some image of yourself. Don’t sugarcoat things. Don’t use your online presence to show off.
Make it you.
Your thoughts, your dreams, your fears, your inspirations, your love, your life. When I read your stuff, I want to feel YOU.
5. Improve Yourself.
This is the key part. Your business is just an extension of you; it will never outgrow you. Invest in personal development.
Mediate and go do Yoga every now and then to clear your head.
Participate in programs which encourage you to become more powerful and free. Focus on becoming more comfortable with yourself and with other people.
Start paying attention to your headspace and mindsets. Notice that you have a lot of thoughts which are a version of the same theme. Are they serving you? What are you going to do to discard them?
Stay away from “how to get rich” and “how to be more attractive” products – they’ll only cloud your mind with more scarcity mindsets. Instead, read biographies and books of people who have contributed to the world and have revolutionised industries.
I suggest you read the biography of Steve Jobs immediately and follow it up by any of the business books by Richard Branson.
6. Assist Professional Photographers.
The best way to prepare yourself for the real world of photography is to learn from other professional photographers. And if they’ll pay you to do it, doesn’t make it a pretty sweet deal?
This is where assisting those who’ve “made it” comes in.
Make a list of all the production agencies and photographers’ agents. Call them and email them with an offer to do assisting work for photographers they represent. They’ll most likely decline your offer. Or they’ll take your name to “put it on their list of assistants”.
That list doesn’t mean anything – every agency has one, but they rarely call people who are on it. But it doesn’t mean that the game is over for you.
Persistence is key. Keep checking in every week – sometimes it’s just a matter of talking to the right person at the right time. Often photographers need an assistant last minute because their regular guy/girl can’t make it.
Also, research the photographers you’d like to work for and email/call them directly. If you spam them with your standard email or call and make a salesy pitch, they most likely won’t be interested because they get quite a lot of offers like this.
But they are interested in working with like-minded people. If you find a photographer whose work and approach to life resonates with you, call them and tell them that. That might just get you a foot in the door.
7. Organise Test Shoots / Do Free Shoots.
Ah! There’s one thing missing so far. The photography itself! It’s hugely important, but notice that there are so many other things that are just as important.
Recognising that your photography is just one vital element in a sea of other vital elements is one way to avoid becoming a starving artist.
Also notice that the heading says “Organise Test Shoots” and not “Go Out And Take Photos”. There’s a reason for this. You need to be have experience in shooting to a brief. In other words, you need to know what results you’re setting out to produce and practice delivering them.
And you need to have experience in shooting under pressure. Being a guest with a DSLR at a wedding, for example, is very different to being the guy in charge of photographing the same wedding.
Moody brides, upset kids, wardrobe malfunctions, camera which suddenly refuses to autofocus, unexpectedly bad lighting – those are all things that photography degrees can’t prepare you for, but you’ll encounter.
Aim to have at least 10 photoshoots to a brief under your belt before you even think about charging people for your work.
Doing this will also provide you with the photos you need – both for your portfolio and your website.
Go out and organise shoots. If you aim to be a wedding photographer, for example, offer your services to your friends due to get married. And be honest with them about your abilities and what you can offer them!
If you have no friends who are getting married, then organise a completely fabricated wedding test shoot: call a local wedding dress shop, a modelling agency, an up-and-coming make-up artist and set up a day where everyone donates their products/services/time in return for your photos.
Notice your heart begin to pound: even though you’re not getting paid, you are now fully in shoes of a real professional photographer – because you must deliver a result.
And that’s a great place to be. Now go make it happen.