How Photographers Are Launching Their Careers By David Walker

How Photographers Are Launching Their Careers

I found this interesting article on

How Photographers Are Launching Their Careers  By David Walker

Nearly 200 photographers responded in February to PDN’s first survey of emerging photographers, providing us with a snapshot of how photographers are getting their training, how they are paying for it, and other information about how they are launching their careers.

Most of the respondents (62 percent) earned four-year college degrees in photography, and a significant proportion (38 percent) also spent time assisting part of their training. Most respondents (75 percent) went into debt to fund their educations, relying on their credit cards more than any other source of funding (including student loans). Some of those who borrowed went heavily into debt: the average amount borrowed to pay for schooling was $44,435.

Most respondents (74 percent) reported that they were able to establish themselves as working professionals (ie, working for their own clients, as opposed to assisting other photographers) within three years of finishing their formal education.

We solicited several hundred photographers who submitted portfolios for this year’s PDN 30 selection. Fifty-five percent listed fine art as a specialty. Among various professional goals, respondents expressed the strongest interest overall in exhibiting in museums and galleries, followed by selling prints of their work. They also expressed strong interest in shooting editorial work, but somewhat less interest in advertising work, and tepid interest at best in shooting stock.

Since completing their educations, nearly half of our survey respondents (48 percent) have attended workshops to sharpen their skills in various areas, particularly documentary and photojournalistic story telling, post production, and photo business management.

Respondents seem to think photo business management skills are their weak point. Two-thirds (66 percent) reported that they could benefit from more training in that area, followed by post-production training (44 percent) and training in technique such as lighting (28 percent).

A surprisingly high number of respondents (45 percent) have not participated in any portfolio reviews outside of school in the past two years. Another 35 percent said they have attended only one or two portfolio reviews.

But survey respondents say they are finding work in the field. Eighty-five percent are supporting themselves primarily through photo industry-related work, including assisting, photo editing, selling prints, and teaching. Slightly more than half (52 percent) say their primary means of support is freelance assignment work. Not surprisingly, respondents have found editorial assignments more plentiful than commercial assignments during the past year.

And yes, these emerging photographers are shooting assignments at no charge to some clients, presumably as a means of self-promotion, but not as often as you might think. About one in five shot for free more than three times for free last year, 1 in 4 report having done it only once or twice and slightly more than half (53 percent) said they shot no assignments for free in 2008.


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