A passion for looking at things through the eye of the camera lens could become a career. It's a matter of training, determination and talent.
In addition to developing a photographer's eye for capturing the moment and an understanding of darkroom skills, employee-required skill sets for photographers are shifting to include digital technologies, industry experts agree. And willingness to tote equipment and set up lights as part of on-the-job training doesn't hurt.
Photographer Vito Palmisano has interviewed many fresh-out-of-school aspiring assistants over the years, and warns expectations of a high-paying photography position where a magazine cover is the first assignment are not likely to be met.
Menial studio tasks like carrying cases on assignment, setting up the lights and props are part and parcel of an assistant's daily role, he notes. "With an assistant job, money shouldn't be the primary goal. It should be about getting experience from a photographer whose work you can relate to and can learn something from," Palmisano says.
The talented do get breaks. For instance, not long ago, Palmisano allowed one of his gifted assistants, a recent photography school graduate, to handle a client photo project, including the creative concept. "She brought excitement and an enthusiasm to the table," he says. "If you have a good attitude and a passion for your work, it can take you far. You have to have a hunger to take the photographs."
Getting started as a professional photographer should begin with gaining knowledge of all arts and humanities, suggests Robert Stahl, photography instructor at the Coupeville Arts Center in Coupeville, Wash. "Develop a passion," encourages Stahl. "Go out and take pictures of things you love and don't let anyone discourage you. Then, maybe your love will turn into a job."
Skills with technology -- Photoshop, image cards, digital cameras, lighting systems, camera systems digital and computer photography equipment and programs -- can open doors for recent photo school grads, the experts agree.
Advancements in digital cameras and a corresponding decrease in costs for film and development are making digital technology part of the mainstream marketplace, but career photographers are urged by Coupeville to start with traditional film. If the cost of both film and digital camera seems prohibitive, consider cameras that take pictures digitally as well as manually. "Begin with film because it offers a sound basis," he urges.
As digital camera technology brings increased access to the field of photography, it also launches more budding photographers than job openings. Experience is a precursor to creative control in the field of photography.
Student newspapers, yearbook staffs and other school publications are potential opportunities while in school. For those building a portfolio to show their range and to showcase their work for prospective employers, any kind of experience is helpful.
To create a professional-looking portfolio, choose the photos from your collection that best depict your style, creativity and vision (some portfolio design tools are available online).
Degree or certificate, portfolio and camera in hand, job-seekers should seek experience as they look for full-time employment: internships, assistantships and freelance work can all garner experience. Any assignment or opportunity that gets your image in print is a worthwhile endeavor, Palmisano says. "It's OK to get published and to get very little reimbursement -- at least you have a tear sheet." he says. "If you have tear sheets along with your portfolio, it's a stronger, better-rounded skill base."
Portfolio work should show how photographers solve the visual challenges of clients. "Don't get into photography unless you absolutely love it. Some people photograph to live, others live to photograph," Palmisano says. "I have a burning desire to get up and capture the beauty around me. I actually live to photograph."
For more on photography careers, check with the following professional organizations or look into student photography associations at the school you choose.
Contributing Writer and Researcher Teri Webster.