One of the best articles I ever read on making it as a professional photographer was written by David Lyman, the founder and director of the Maine Photographic Workshops and published on digitaljournalist.org. You can check it out at:
I highly recommend this article to both seasoned and emerging photographers as an incredible resource for career development. One other addition I would make to that article is to stress the importance of joining your peers in a professional photography organization. There is nothing as informative as talking with other photographers about their experiences both shooting and working. There are a lot of very good photography organizations out there including ASMP (American Society of Media Photographers), APA (Advertising Photographers of America), EP (Editorial Photographers), NPPA (National Press Photographers Association), and PPA (Professional Photographers of America), which are just a few of the better known organizations. I belong to ASMP, EP, TOPA (Travel and Outdoor Photographers Association) and Sportshooters .com and I have found the resources they provide invaluable to furthering my career. If you are a professional photographer you owe it to yourself and to this profession to join one of these organizations and get involved.
I find that the membership dues are paid for by the discounts available to members (especially with ASMP). Also, the reduced insurance rates specific to the professional photographer are fantastic and only available to members. On top of the discounts, ASMP in particular has a fantastic Find a Photographer database on it’s website that many clients use when selecting photographers for a job. Just last week I got a call to shoot some portraits from a magazine in Washington, DC that found me via the ASMP Find a Photographer database. That assignment more than paid my dues and just being listed as an ASMP member gives a photographer a lot of credibility in an overcrowded industry. Aside from the database, ASMP has so many discounts and perks available for the professional photographer it is hard to keep track of them – so every time I am buying gear or have to rent a car for an assignment I check their website to see what the options are. They also have some of the best articles, digital know-how and photo information of any website on the internet today. Check out their website at www.asmp.org.
Editorial Photographers (EP) is another organization that is inexpensive to join but has an incredible amount of information available to their members. The EP website has a magazine database with the circulations and ad rates of just about any magazine you can think of. This greatly helps when pricing editorial jobs. The EP forum is also a treasure trove of information especially related to the business side of editorial photography. APA also has incredible digital and business forums where top-notch photographers talk about the state of the industry and the latest tools and techniques – and you don’t even have to be a member to sign onto these forums. And speaking of fun the folks over at sportsshooters.com have a crazy good forum that offers the latest news on anything in the photo world - sometimes funny, sometimes serious and also sadly it can become a serious time sync.
Meeting and talking with your peers is a key aspect to growing as a photographer, a business person and a human being as well. I have learned so much from other photographers in ASMP, TOPA and EP – not to mention the incredible forums on sportsshooter.com and APA – that I certainly would not be the photographer I am today without them. Information I’ve found on those forums has led to some incredible opportunities for me including some big time jobs. Need to figure out how to put together your portfolio? Ask a few thousand top pros on APA or EP. Need to get your digital skills dialed in? There is a lot of great info on all of these organizations websites to get you a long way down that road. Need someone to talk about pricing? Get involved, meet some new people and you’ll have plenty of folks to call when you need to talk money with a client.
Last but certainly not least, by joining a pro photography organization you support your profession because they hire lobbying firms to represent our interests in the U.S. Congress (e.g. Orphan Works). And since photographers in general are a very splintered group we have very little bargaining power save for when the organizations ban together for the good of the industry. Hence, your dues go towards furthering photography as a career both now and in the future. Just imagine what your career would be like if ASMP hadn’t stepped in back in the late 70s to help pass the Copyright Act for photographers.
In the old days, back in the 1990s, most photographers were very secretive about how they conducted their businesses – or how they got that incredible image. In my experience that has changed drastically, most photographers are willing to share war stories, pricing info and much more. A mentor of mine, Marc Romanelli, one of the top stock photographers in the U.S. always said there is “room for all of us”. I was amazed by that comment (made back in the mid 90s). And now ten years on, the local ASMP chapter here in New Mexico is a model of photographers mentoring photographers. Perhaps this is because most of us shoot and work in radically different segments of the photo world, but it is also a result of the great attitude that my good friend Marc related to me so many years ago.
So if you want to further your career, join a pro photography organization asap.