A few days ago I got a phone call from a recent graduate who wanted some advice on her portfolio and on entering the photography industry. I enjoy talking to people in the early stages of their careers about what the next steps are because I find that what we discuss applies to people at all stages of their careers and reminds me of what I need to keep working on myself. This conversation reminded me of the need to break down large goals into smaller, more manageable steps. This photographer said her dream job was working for Italian Vogue. Cool, I thought, mine too! But seriously, once we talked about all the steps she would have to take to reach that goal and what she would have to do once she attained it, I think she came away understanding that it was not something to enter into lightly. Setting some goals that she could actually attain in the next 6 months to a year would be a good start towards getting where she wants to be. I suggested one of three things:
- Move to New York with at least 6 months of living expenses and take an unpaid intern position with the best fashion photographer who will take her (ideally arranged before the move!) In her free time she should be constantly shooting for her own portfolio with the best models and stylists she can work with and meeting as many people as possible that might eventually hire her as an assistant or throw a small magazine or advertising job her way to help her get started.
- If she doesn’t want to move, work towards something that can be attained in Chicago (see my entry about positioning yourself in your market), perhaps trying for a job at a catalog studio for a year or two followed by some assisting for a few more years (or vice versa) so she could gain much needed shooting and business experience to prepare her for starting her own freelance business. Add the same shooting and networking strategy from above.
- Work in related jobs (photo editing, styling, producing, assisting an agent, etc.) either in Chicago or in a larger market that would get her closer to working on the projects she wants without sitting in the directors chair. Continue shooting what she loves and of course more networking.
None of these strategies would guarantee that she will eventually land a photography assignment for Italian Vogue, but she would at least be a lot closer to that goal than she is now. Once she reaches her smaller goals she will have plenty of time to retool her strategy based on what she learned by taking the first steps.