Case Study: Commercial Photographer - Angela

What do you do?

I am a commercial photographer. I photograph a variety of subjects, including weddings, people, events, scenery and musicians. I am self-employed and work from home.

My job differs from other photographers who specialise in nature, sports, portraits, art, scientific materials, or journalistic style photos.

When I started my career 12 years ago, I developed my own film. Now, I take digital photos most of the time. The quality of digital cameras has come a long way and it can be a more conventional process, enabling me to have more control over the final outcome because I can adjust light levels and do other touch-ups using software such as Photoshop.

What is your background?

I've wanted to be a photographer ever since I was about 10 years old. It's just something I knew I wanted to do!

In high school, I took graphic arts with a heavy slant towards photography. After high school, I took numerous photography courses and worked in professional photo labs for many years before striking out on my own. I don't have any college or university training. For me, the best type of training has always been practice, practice, practice!

I find that a lot of photographers have a good mix of 'left and right brained thinking' and have a tendency to be computer gurus. This is certainly true for me! I had an opportunity a few years ago to embrace my inner computer geek and do some website design for a few bands I knew. I really enjoyed it! Because graphic design is based on good composition - like photography - I enjoy applying my artistic skills to the web as well as to photography.

What characteristics do you need to be successful in your job?

Being a quick thinker is important because every situation in a freelance photographer's life is different. You've got to expect the unexpected!

Most photographers are self-employed, so you have to be a self-starter and be able to work long hours alone.

The interest and ability to learn new technologies is important because equipment changes rapidly.

A head for business is helpful. Photographers tend to spend 5% of the time doing photography and the rest of the time looking for clients, doing the books, and running the business.

The ability to focus on your job is imperative because if a subject sidetracks you, the quality of your work will suffer.

Being open-minded is critical because you will encounter a wide variety of people and perspectives through your work.

The knack of tactfully herding a group of people would come in handy. People often look to the photographer to provide direction.

Many photographers love working with people, but you also have to realise that you spend much of your time working alone. Being able to enjoy this independence is important and will help you succeed in your career.

What other jobs could you do using the skills from this job?

Most photographers I know do this for life. It's a vocation - something you love deeply! However, if you were to think about related jobs, you could become a photography teacher or work in tourism, leading tours to exotic locations.

With some additional training, a photographer could apply his or her skills to the film or television industry and work as a still photographer, location scout, camera operator or cinematographer.

What changes will there be in the future?

In the past, a photographer used to buy gear and use it for 25 years. Now that digital photography has exploded onto the scene, you have to update your equipment every two years. To be a commercial photographer, you have to embrace technology and be willing to spend the money for good equipment.

If you're not interested in digital photography, there is still a call for traditional film photography, especially in the art world.

What are the biggest challenges in your job?

It can be challenging when you walk into a job that is totally different from what was agreed upon. I've scouted some jobs, done test prints, and arrived for the final shoot to discover that props and lighting were completely different from those agreed upon. Having tact and patience is helpful.

It can be difficult working through illness, but it can be necessary if you're self-employed.

Having a client who doesn't know what he or she wants is trying. You have to be able to suggest something that you think will work for them. Many times, photographers act as educators in this type of situation.

Are there many opportunities to enter this career?

In this industry, having a good portfolio of your work to show potential clients or employers is critical. Pictures really are worth a thousand words and they are the best example of your talents.

To start out in the industry, many people work in camera shops and photo labs. You can also work for a portrait studio under another photographer, or apprentice with an established professional.

Read lots of photography books and take many courses. I also advise taking lots of photos and learning from your mistakes.

What do you like about your job?

There's a few things I really like about being a photographer.

Number one has to be, being paid to do something I love that's very creative!

I also like the fact - and this relates to the creativity - that I'm doing something different at the time and I never get bored. I could be taking photos outside of a bridge in the morning, office work during the afternoon and then taking photos of a rock band in the evening.

I also like being my own boss - being able to make my own buying decisions as to what I need to make the business more profitable.

What do you dislike about your job?

Sometimes being a photographer is hard work. You have to carry a lot of gear all day, no matter what the weather is. That can be tiring.

I had to learn how to do accounting and I don't think I'll ever like it.

And I also have a lot of people coming up to me telling me they can do the same thing I do with a camera that cost them £100.

What advice would you give to someone interested in your career?

Keep taking photos every day. Experiment with a variety of styles. Gain experience by working in camera shops or volunteering for events that interest you.

Work for other photographers if you can. Join groups that interest you, where you can get a chance to take some photos.

Go on a photography course and keep your skills up to date. Keep abreast of the latest technology and software. Do whatever you have to do to stay interested in photography. And don't listen to people who tell you you can't make a living as a photographer!

If you're good at your job and treat people with respect, you can expect to work a lifetime as a photographer.

A day in the life

8:00 am - 8:30 am

Respond to any emails received.

8:30 am - 9:30 am

Get any business-related activities out of the way, do some book keeping, invoicing and paying some bills.

9:30 am - 12:00 pm

Prepare image files for a client regarding a Christmas tree photo I took last night; download the images from my digital camera onto my computer; open the files in Photoshop and select the best photo; touch up the final photo to improve lighting quality and clarity; contact a few existing clients regarding future work possibilities; learn of an opportunity to photograph a live performance for a rock band next month; receive a call from a bride-to-be regarding a wedding photo quote and make an appointment to meet with her next week.

12:00 pm - 12:45 pm

Eat lunch.

12:45 pm - 1:00 pm

Prepare to leave for a photo shoot; pack extra batteries; choose the best camera for the job; pack tripod.

1:00 pm - 1:30 pm

Drive to local restaurant, the chosen setting for a folk band's photo shoot.

1:30 pm - 2:00 pm

Set up the shoot by arranging my camera and tripod; set up lighting; talk to the band and discuss their ideas and provide suggestions about the best place to shoot; learn that the band wants a promotional shot that captures their personality to provide to the media.

2:00 pm - 3:00 pm

Do the photo shoot; arrange the band in different configurations; have fun exchanging ideas and motivating the band to get some fun shots.

3:00 pm - 3:30 pm

Finish the photo shoot; thank the restaurant owner for giving us the space; pack up my equipment; visit briefly with the band and learn that they need the finished photos provided to them within three days.

3:30 pm - 4:10 pm

Drive to a professional photo lab to pick up some digital photos I dropped off for processing yesterday regarding some shots of a new bridge.

4:10 pm - 4:30 pm

Drive back home.

4:30 pm - 5:00 pm

Review and return email and voicemails; open and read mail.

5:00 pm - 5:30 pm

Download images from this afternoon's photo shoot onto computer and select the best shots; decide to manipulate the best photos in Photoshop in the morning.

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