A career as a photographer can be an exciting avenue for creative expression, as photographers have the opportunity to work in many settings and meet diverse people. Yet it is also a technically demanding profession, so those interested in becoming photographers must consider the training they will need before committing to this career path. It is also important to know how photographers compare to similar careers in terms of education requirements, average salaries and projected job growth rates. This guide provides in-depth information that can help readers decide if a photography degree can put them on the right career path.
First Make Sure To Check Your Gear
Take out everything you’re planning to bring with you to your conference or workshop: gear, clothes, etc. Check each item to make sure it’s in perfect working order. Is it clean? Are the batteries charged? (You do have a packing list, right? If your instructor hasn’t sent one, and even if he has, make your own packing list. Don’t want to forget your belt, a medication, or a key piece of equipment, do you?)
Pack your gear into your backpack, messenger bag, or however else you transport it. I’ll wear my camera backpack around at home for a while to make sure it’s balanced, comfortable and in working order.
The last thing you want is to arrive at a once-in-a-lifetime location and find something doesn’t work. The second-to-the-last thing you want is to have a backpack that’s 20 pounds heavier than it needs to be
Prepare and do your homework.
Learn a bit about the place and the planned activities.
If you’re going to a workshop on portraits and lighting, read up on the topic. Experiment a little, even if you’ve never shot a portrait before. Look at some examples, perhaps in a local art museum. Or go online and look at the work of portrait photographers you admire. Check out your instructor’s portfolio. That way you’ll go in with some understanding of what you’ll hear and see, along with a set of questions about what you don’t yet grasp. Maybe you’ll want to ask the instructor how she lit a particular shot on her website, or how Richard Avedon or Dorothea Lange got a specific look.
On the other hand, if you’re going to a location workshop in Yosemite, do an image search on Google, Flickr, or 500px. Take a look at what other photographers have shot. This will give you an idea of what kinds of photographic opportunities you might have. If you’ve never been to a place like Yosemite before, it’s really easy to be overwhelmed by the grandeur of the valley. So much so that it’s hard to start finding compositions. Knowing what to expect can help you get into image-making mode faster. You’ll still be awed by the location—it’s famous for a reason! But you’ll be better able to take advantage of your short time there.
Think these things through before you get there, or ask the instructor before you’re on location. That way you won’t waste time floundering around with exposure compensation and miss that critical moment.
Be sure of what you want.
Why did you sign up for a conference or a location workshop? If you don’t know what you want, how will you know if your trip was successful and worth the money?
At the beginning of several location workshops, I’ve heard instructors ask each attendee what they want to get out of the workshop. Many answers are pretty vague. “I want to get better at landscapes,” for example.
If I don’t know what I want to learn, how is an instructor going to help me? They may assume I know what I’m doing when we’re out shooting, while I may be making major mistakes. If they know what I need, they can give me tips and check my work in the field, where I can make adjustments and get that magic image for my portfolio.
Before a Photographers Breakthrough workshop a couple of years ago, I had to send the instructors a selection of my images that I liked and some images by others that I really liked. From that, the instructors recorded a short video laying out what they saw as my strengths and weaknesses and they gave me (and each other attendee) a task. Mine was “meaningful foregrounds.” Others had assignments like “find the hero” (what’s the central element of this photo) or “light my fire” (using light and shadow effectively).
Get plenty of rest
Sleep a little extra or work in a nap or two in the days before your conference or workshop. If possible, plan your travel to the conference to avoid crack-of-dawn departures or red-eye flights. Consider arriving a day early, especially if there is a major time zone difference. You want to be rested and relaxed when the conference starts. Once it begins, you’ll probably be out before sunrise and well after sunset. Sometimes there’ll be significant travel time involved getting to that sunrise site or back from that sunset vista. If you start a workshop exhausted, you’re going to have a hard time keeping up. If you start well-rested, then the adrenaline from the shooting will help keep you going as the days go on.
Now you’re ready to pack up and head out. You’ll arrive at your workshop prepared and at ease. I’ll bet you come back with more knowledge and better photos than you ever expected!