Full time professional photographers complain about the competition from enthusiasts who don’t count their overheads. They worry about finding their next client, spend more time than they’d like on paperwork and marketing, and if they’re being honest, they’ll admit that not all jobs are equally exciting. But they still have one big advantage over enthusiasts: they get to take a lot of pictures. They get to hone their skills, they’re paid to build their experience and even if they’re not taking photos, they’re working with photography. By the time they hang up their camera for the last time, they can be confident that they’ll have had every opportunity to become as good a photographer as they’re ever going to be.
That’s not true for enthusiasts. People who work full-time and cram their picture-taking into their weekends and evenings have to battle to find the hours they need to improve their skills. There never seems to be enough time for photography tours and road trips. And as for building the kind of long-term personal projects that interest galleries and build a name as an artist, they can drag on through years of occasional weekends — if they ever start. There are things though that anyone can do — both professionals and amateurs — to keep their skills developing and to move their photography in the direction they want it to go.
Create Time and Make It Solid
The number of hours in the day are limited and when you fill it with an eight or nine-hour workday, take away sleep and time with the family, you can start to wonder how you ever find time to eat, let alone practice photography. But it is possible to arrange your schedule and use your calendar to create gaps for picture taking.
Bruce Myren, for example, is an adjunct professor of photography at the Art Institute of Boston at Lesley University, a job which should keep him in touch with imagery. Teaching as many as five classes each semester, though, makes finding time for personal projects no easier than for anyone working a full-time job.
“It is always a juggling act to find time to prep for teaching, doing freelance work, getting to the studio, and going out to make pictures,” he says.
Myren’s solution is to schedule one day each week as a studio day. He writes the day into his calendar so that it looks as real as any other appointment. While he doesn’t always make it there, he does try.
“The more I adhere to this the happier I am,” he says.
For people who don’t work in photography, scheduling an entire day in the studio is a little harder but it may be possible to schedule a couple of hours on a Sunday afternoon or an hour as soon as you get back from work. Like Bruce, you might find that family commitments and sudden work crushes mean that you don’t always make it, but if you can work your photography into your routine — instead of picking up a camera whenever you feel like it — you should find that it’s a habit that’s hard to break.
Network Now So That Supporters Know What You’re Doing
Scheduling time to take pictures will help to sharpen your skills and build your project. But you also want people to see those photos once you’ve created and edited them. Putting them online is easy enough and will give you some form of audience but no website is as prestigious or as rewarding as a photography book that people buy and enjoy or an exhibition of your photos that people can browse and admire.
Photography: Bruce Myren
That requires building a platform before you publish your photos. You need to have people ready, waiting and keen to see your photos as soon as they come out.
Photography classes will give you access to a teacher’s network of gallery owners and editors. Visiting galleries can provide an opportunity to talk to staff, get to know them and their taste in photography — and make sure they know about you and your work. But even online networking can yield benefits too. Let family and friends know about your personal project. Build connections with other photographers and with people who have an interest in the subject of your images. Those connections will prove valuable when your pictures are ready to be seen.
Raise the Funds That Will Let You Shoot What You Want
And they’ll also prove valuable when you’re looking to fund your projects. When Bruce Myren turned to Kickstarter to fund a collection of images shot along the fortieth parallel, he was able to turn to friends and family on Facebook for the money and to ask them to share news of the project with their friends. He describes himself as “shameless” in his willingness to send direct tweets to companies he thought might be receptive and he had also built up a large email list over the last few years as he promoted his other work around Boston and the country. Having put together the promotional video and written up his campaign, he had all the sourcing funds he needed already in place to pay for his trip across the United States.
Altogether, Myren estimated he’d need around $15,000 to complete his project. He asked for $10,000, made that amount by the end of the first week and went on to collect $17,860.
“To be successful, you need to do your homework, plan everything out, account for contingencies, and remember that you did not think of everything,” says Myren. “It is a well-prepared person that can capitalize on an opportunity as it comes by.”
Bruce Myren describes himself as an artist and photographer. He’s had a long list of exhibitions and his work is noticed. But even he struggles to find the time and the money to shoot what he wants and to keep developing as a photographer. His solution, a mixture of scheduling and networking building, is one that can be used by all photographers, time-strapped enthusiasts and professionals alike.