Guest Blog Revisited: Commercial Photographer Erik Almas
Editor’s Note: This is a post from the archives that I thought was very worth re-sharing. I’ve been a fan of Erik’s for many years and was honored when he agreed to put this post together. The advice here is still as applicable today as it was when it was originally posted, so enjoy!
I believe there’s opportunity for everyone to have commercial success as a photographer in today’s market. This as long as they have a unique and honest perspective.
I’m excited to be writing for Scott Kelby and the Guest blog Wednesday!
I’m also excited about the current state of photography!
Daily I get questions through e-mail and social media. They span a wide range but the BIG question I get asked, among practical advice on gear, computers and offers of coffee and beer is: “How do I MAKE it as a photographer?”
How do I break into advertising photography and how do you get the jobs that you do?
To be honest, I asked myself the same question for years as I attempted to break into the world of advertising.
If you are at a point where you have absorbed tons of photographic knowledge through school or online learning, know photo is your passion and you want to make this your career, it’s not unusual to ask yourself…
How does one get hired to do this thing you are so crazy passionate about??
There’s a lot of writing in social media and the blogosphere about how hard and competitive it is to succeed as a full-time photographer. So I thought I’d use this time to share some optimism and give a different perspective about the things that excite me about the opportunities in photography today.
What I believe is this; there are opportunities for everyone to have commercial success as a photographer in today’s market.
This as long as they have a unique and honest perspective.
Before I get into this, I want to give you a brief background on what I do and share some signature images of mine that represents who I am as a photographer.
In short I’m a Norwegian photographer who, since 1995, been residing in the US.
I got started in photography by being curious…
There were a few friends that had cameras and I joined them in a darkroom course while in the National Defense in Norway.
At the time I skied a lot and started taking pictures of my friends floating through powder and flying off cliffs. Out of these adventures on the ski slopes came my first published pictures and marked the start of me as a photographer.
Later, at 22, when faced with the crossroads of, “What do I do with my life?” decided to study photography. Through great advice and some random encounters I ended up in San Francisco at the Academy of Art University where I studied photography for 4 years, earning a BFA.
From there, I was a camera assistant for almost 3 years before venturing out on my own, starting my photography business.
Going slow in the beginning, I steadily matured in my style and integrity as a photographer and now consistently shoot for the most familiar companies and brands in the world.
So why am I excited about this market that seems to get tougher by the minute?
Clients are paying less and less and there’s more and more photographers being educated from colleges and online training programs.
How can I be really excited about this?
To be honest it’s mostly taking a different perspective.
What if we view this from the top rather than the bottom?
If we look at the shallow end of the photography market there are too many photographers that are all underbidding each other and no one seems to be making a good living.
The view from the top is very different:
We are now living in the most visual culture ever!
The collective level and sophistication of photography is increasing every day and there’s quite obviously an increasing place for images in our lives. As influencers and tastemakers we as photographers now have something that’s increasingly valuable and do believe we have a great future.
There truly is an excitement about pictures and photography today that’s beyond anything before us, and it’s growing. Every day we upload around 55 million images to Instagram.
Facebook? We add about 350 million new photos a day and as many as 250 billion images since its inception. In the US we now spend 3.2 hours on social media every day. Most of this time is looking at pictures! We are absorbing visual content like never before.
In some ways it’s hard to even comprehend. When I came to the US to study photography almost 20 years ago the discussions in class were about photography’s burgeoning acceptance as fine art and if cropping your images in the darkroom was ethically ok.
Today photography is not only accepted but one of the most popular forms of art and cropping?? That discussion is completely dead and only serves as dating my photographic career!
One can argue that all these images we are bombarded with daily are diluting the value of photography, but what if you create something that truly stands out among all these images? What if you create something unique, which resonates with a fast expanding audience and manages to stand out from all the other images out there?
What if you have an image that makes someone pause, think and feel, now that is just amazing!
We then have something that is unbelievably valuable to anyone trying to market a product or service.
As our attention span is getting shorter this capability is getting more and more valuable!!
The ones that can produce images that stand out in this screaming match for attention has one bright future as a photographer!
The obvious question is: So how do we create images that stand out?
How do we create something unique?
We all have access to the same cameras and the same software, so its sure not the gear you have.
The only way to be unique is to use these tools in a way differently than the other photographers out there.
We have all heard this before. What I’d like to offer though is a super speed highway to get there. A fast track to finding that uniqueness that reflects your own visual DNA.
To me, the only way to find this uniqueness is to look at oneself. Find what you are drawn to, what visually turns you on and craft images from the depth of yourself.
Sounds corny? Sounds impossible to access?
And here’s how: You find your photographic DNA.
This can be years of self-examination, or spending the infamous 10,000 hours popularized by Malcolm Gladwell.
There’s a faster way though and that’s to look at the work of other photographers you truly admire.
This is super highway to really understand your own sensibilities and vision to find what innately inspires you.
Pick a hundred images and ask yourself over and over WHY and WHAT about these pictures attract you to them.
Make a list and you will get an understanding of your innate visual language. These descriptors you have of why you like these100 pictures is the defining descriptors of your own photographic DNA.
In these descriptors you will see what light quality you like, what color palette and subject matter and all the other elements that you are drawn to.
Your uniqueness is in this.
So next time you take pictures you will have a clear sense of direction. You now know you like a certain type of place with a certain type of light with a certain type person in there, doing a certain type of pose. It’s all in there!
I have, together with fotofagskolen in Norway created the below to help get you started in finding these Visual and emotional descriptors.
In doing this exercise you should have should have a great visual awareness of what you like and long for in your images. It’s then just to dive in and create.
Don’t feel inspired? Just look at your list of words. The things that inspire you should all be right there!
After doing this exercise there’s no need to get into a discussion of natural light or 1 light or 5 light approaches. You just use the tools needed to get to the light quality you know resonates with who you are.
So after finding that unique photographic footprint then what’s next?
It’s getting these unique pictures in front of the Photo editors, Art buyers and Art directors.
Marketing is an art in itself and I will save this for another guest blog.
So to sum this up I’d say: Don’t get engaged in the “photography is dead and we can’t make any money and people work for free” conversation. Create work that’s personal and meaningful to you that reflect the visual things you are drawn to and you will find your worth in your pictures. Photo editors and agencies will recognize this and you will be hired to photograph the things you love and have experiences in the wake of taking pictures few other professions will allow.
Like my Venture Capital friend keep telling me: “Erik, you have the best income to lifestyle ratio of anyone I know.”
And I’m not saying this to brag, but to inspire.
Happy picture taking!!
To learn about the camera equipment that I use, you can click right here.
If you want to learn about my process, here’s a link for that.