Editor’s note: This is an article from the archives that I think was definitely worth sharing. I have been a fan of Erik for many years and was honored when he agreed to create this post. The tips here are still as applicable today as they were when they were first published, so take advantage of them!
I believe everyone has the opportunity to be commercially successful as a photographer in today’s market. This as long as they have a unique and honest perspective.
I’m excited to write for Scott Kelby and the guest blog on Wednesday!
I’m also excited about the current state of photography!
Every day I receive questions via email and social media. They cover a wide range, but the BIG question I get asked, among the handy tips on gear, computers, and coffee and beer deals, is, “How do I do it as a photographer ?”
How do I break into advertising photography and how do you get the jobs you do?
To be honest, I asked myself the same question for years as I tried to break into the world of advertising.
If you’re at a point where you’ve absorbed tons of photographic knowledge through school or online learning, know that photography is your passion and you want to make it your career, it’s not uncommon to ask you…
How can you get hired to do this thing you’re so passionate about??
There’s a lot of writing in social media and the blogosphere about how difficult and competitive it is to succeed as a full-time photographer. So I thought I’d use this time to share some optimism and give a different perspective on the things that excite me about photography opportunities today.
What I believe is this; there are opportunities for everyone to achieve commercial success as a photographer in today’s market.
This as long as they have a unique and honest perspective.
Before I go into detail, I want to give you a quick overview of what I do and share some signature images that represent who I am as a photographer.
In short, I am a Norwegian photographer who, since 1995, resides in the United States.
I got into photography out of curiosity…
There were a few friends who had cameras and I joined them in a darkroom course while at National Defense in Norway.
I was skiing a lot at the time and started taking pictures of my friends floating in powder and flying off cliffs. From these adventures on the ski slopes came my first published photos and marked my beginnings as a photographer.
Later, at 22, facing the crossroads of “What am I doing with my life?” decided to study photography. Thanks to some good advice and a few random encounters, I ended up in San Francisco at the Academy of Art University where I studied photography for 4 years, earning a BFA.
From there I was a camera assistant for almost 3 years before going freelance and starting my photography business.
Going slow at first, I gradually matured in my style and integrity as a photographer and now I regularly shoot for the world’s best known companies and brands.
So why am I excited about this market that seems to be getting tougher by the minute?
Customers are paying less and less and there are more and more photographers trained in colleges and online training programs.
How can I be really excited about this?
To be honest, it’s mostly about taking a different perspective.
What if we looked at it from above rather than below?
If we look at the shallow end of the photography market, there are too many photographers underbidding themselves and no one seems to be making a good living.
The view from above is very different:
We now live in the most visual culture there is!
The collective level and sophistication of photography is increasing every day and of course there is a growing place for images in our lives. As influencers and tastemakers, we photographers now have something more and more valuable and believe that we have a bright future.
There really is a passion for images and photography today that exceeds anything that awaits us, and that continues to grow. Every day we upload about 55 million images to Instagram.
Facebook? We add approximately 350 million new photos daily and up to 250 billion images since inception. In the United States, we now spend 3.2 hours a day on social media. Most of that time is looking at pictures! We are absorbing visual content like never before.
In some ways it is even difficult to understand. When I came to the United States to study photography nearly 20 years ago, class discussions were about the growing acceptance of photography as an art and whether cropping your images in the darkroom was ethically correct.
Today, photography is not only accepted, but one of the most popular art and cropping forms ?? This discussion is completely dead and only serves to date my photographic career!
It’s safe to say that all those images we are bombarded with daily dilute the value of photography, but what if you created something that really stood out among all those images? How about creating something unique that resonates with a growing audience and manages to stand out from all the other images?
What if you have an image that makes someone stop, think and feel, now that’s just amazing!
We then have something that is incredibly valuable to anyone trying to market a product or service.
As our attention span gets shorter, this ability becomes more and more valuable!!
Those who can produce images that stand out in this screaming match for attention have a bright future as a photographer!
The obvious question is: So how do you create images that stand out?
How to create something unique?
We all have access to the same cameras and software, so this is definitely not the gear you have.
The only way to be unique is to use these tools in a way different from other photographers.
We have all heard this before. What I would like to offer is a high-speed highway to get there. A fast track to find that uniqueness that reflects your own visual DNA.
For me, the only way to find this uniqueness is to look at yourself. Find what appeals to you, what excites you visually and create images from deep within yourself.
Sound corny? Unable to access it?
And here’s how: You find your photographic DNA.
It can be years of self-examination, or passing the infamous 10,000 hours popularized by Malcolm Gladwell.
There is a quicker way though and that is to look at the work of other photographers that you really admire.
It’s a great highway to really understand your own sensibilities and vision to find what naturally inspires you.
Choose a hundred images and ask yourself again and again WHY and WHAT these images appeal to you.
Make a list and you will understand your innate visual language. These descriptors you have of why you like these 100 images are the descriptors defining your own photographic DNA.
In these descriptors you will see what quality of light you like, what color palette and what subject and all the other elements that appeal to you.
Your uniqueness is in there.
So the next time you take pictures, you’ll have a clear idea of the orientation. Now you know that you like a certain type of place with a certain type of light with a certain type of person, doing a certain type of pose. Everything is there !
I have, together with fotofagskolen in Norway, created the following to help you get started in finding those visual and emotional descriptors.
By doing this exercise, you should have a great visual awareness of what you like and want in your images. It’s then just to dive in and create.
Not feeling inspired? Just look at your word list. The things that inspire you should all be there!
After doing this exercise, there is no need to get into a discussion about natural light or 1 or 5 light approaches. You simply use the tools necessary to achieve the quality of light that matches who you are.
So, having found this unique photographic imprint, what’s next?
It’s about getting those unique images in front of photo editors, art buyers, and art directors.
Marketing is an art in itself and I’ll save that for another guest blog.
So to sum up, I would say: don’t engage in the “photography is dead and we can’t make money and people work for free” conversation. Create work that is personal and meaningful to you that reflects the visual things that appeal to you, and you will find your value in your photos. Photo editors and agencies will recognize this and you will be hired to photograph the things you love and have experiences as a result of taking photos that few other professions will allow.
As my friend Venture Capital keeps telling me, “Erik, you have the best income-to-lifestyle ratio of anyone I know.”
And I don’t say that to brag, but to inspire.
Good photo shoot!!
To learn more about the photo equipment I use, you can click here.
If you want to know more about my process, here is a link for it.
You can see more of Erik’s work at ErikAlmas.com and follow him on Facebook, Twitterand Instagram and YouTube.