How I Got Started in Fashion and Commercial Photography

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Sally and Emily May

Today’s post comes from Emily May, one half of the photographer duo based out of Indonesia. I found her looking for a writer on the freelancing website Upwork, and I found out she actually gets a lot of photography work on there. It was surprising to me because Upwork is a popular global marketplace best known for hiring developers, designers, writers, etc. But now companies are looking beyond the constraints of their city and now looking at global marketplace for talent. And she’ll have a post on the specifics on Upwork in a few days, but today let’s start with:

How I Got Started in Fashion and Commercial Photography by Emily May

Making money as a fashion and commercial photographer can be difficult. Especially nowadays, where everyone on Instagram can claim themselves as a photographer. Of course in this generation, it changed the true meaning of our occupation. Competition gets higher and the challenge to make an income out of your pictures is becoming increasingly difficult. But fear not, there are still some mantras to monetize your photos. If you donʼt know where to start, this article is for you. As a photographer duo in Jakarta, the capital city of Indonesia, weʼre going to share a lot of ways you can make money out of your photos. You can definitely apply this anywhere in the world, because obviously, who doesnʼt appreciate a good picture these days? Peopleʼs tastes are getting better and better thanks to the internet and media. And the positive side effect is: There are a lot more ways to monetize your pictures than there were five years ago. Did you know that “drone photographer” is a career? Well, thatʼs new! So, based on our brainstorming, experiences, and research, these are the great jump start points to get you going on board.

Shoot People

On our early days, we shot personal pictures of our friends and ourselves, without any intention to make a portfolio or whatsoever. It can be your good/unique-looking friends, couples, families, and so on. From your private pictures collection, you can definitely realize your talent and this is a free exercise for you. Always remember to give your pictures to the people. Who knows they
might want to buy your frames and book you in the future! Because people and models are the major elements of fashion photography.

Sally and Emily May

Shoot Stuff and Things

In fashion and commercial photography, you need the type of photography that can sell products. To start off, you can try to shoot things around you that are accessible to you. Whether itʼs your toiletries, food, clothes, or shoes, donʼt limit your creativity. Use social media as a tool to market your photos. Tag the products so they will notice your work and thatʼs the easiest way to build a connection online. If you like some specific brands and think that your works might be their cup of tea, try to contact them and offer your trial services. Youʼll never know!

Sally and Emily May

Be an Assistant/Second Shooter

On our early days, we barely knew anyone in the industry so we applied to be assistants/interns to some of the senior photographers back then. You wonʼt get paid as much as the main shooter, of course, but this is a great pathway for your to meet people that will be relevant to your career. Remember, fashion and commercial world is also all about networking. It takes more than talent for you to get booked.

Stay Consistent in Your Work

People are not going to hire you because you can take a good photo. They’re going to book you for your personal style and character in your photos.

Be consistent in showing your work, and always try to keep your “flavor” in it. Consistency can separate a struggling amateur artist from a real professional. For amateurs, itʼs normal to keep on trying, experimenting, mimicking other peopleʼs styles that they adore. But for successful photographers, their styles are only themselves to show. Try to achieve the same style in every frames. It can be your signature lens that you use, a specific lighting colors, or a particular position for the models to pose. Clients will always watch out for these things.

Shoot People

Value Yourself

In this collaboration and pro-bono era, you have to be aware on what free work that you should and should not do. If itʼs a test shoot with models, of course it can be done. Itʼs called practice and not free work. Just like a painter practicing, she has to paint with freedom and no client guidelines. But if in the end your pictures get published as an advertisement, you have to adjust your rate accordingly. There are always people out there who will take advantage of you and youʼre the one who holds the power to say no. Sometimes, you may need to fund your career with less glamorous jobs like events and corporate shoots. Donʼt hesitate to do this because this might lead you to another photography jobs that you want.

Get in Touch with Agencies

If you want to shoot with big global brands, staying as a freelancer wonʼt do much. Big chance are they are going to contact the design agency and itʼs the agencyʼs work to scout photographers. You can starts by presenting your folios to a few agencies, so when thereʼs a suitable projects coming up, youʼll be on top of their head.

Insurance & Protection

This is something that a lot of people take for granted. Make sure you have a proper cover, because photographer is a true physical job, that can make you shoot underwater to on top of the hill. Protect yourself and your gear. Backing up your files is also important, because thatʼs your asset. Remember you want to earn money, not losing some.

Enter a Competition

With your experience shooting around places, Iʼm sure you have stock photography that you can enter to local and international photo competitions. With prizes up to $2500, who knows you might be a lucky winner. If the competition requires you entry fee, that might be a gamble. But there are some free competitions online that clearly prove you have nothing to lose.
If you find yourself struggling with your photography career, I hope this article will be useful for you. I know that a path to financial security and success is full of uncertainty. There is no certain business plan that I promise will be 100% effective. The first years are the most difficult ones, but I promise itʼs going to be worth it, especially if you have love and passion on the things that you do.
Good luck!


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