Catch Twenty-two: Breaking into the Business Without Experience


Hands of Time BOUYou really think you’d like a career in photography but you have no experience and you can’t get hired by a professional photographer because you have no experience. Draw a circle and put experience at the 12:00 o’clock position and at the 6:00 o’clock slot. At three and nine o’clock write “job”. Paste a selfie in the center and make sure you have a “what should I do” look on your face. Read on, because I’m going to tell you what to do next.

Volunteer! (You mean work for…free?) Exactly. Go to your favorite photography studio and ask to be an assistant to the head photographer/business owner. Tell him or her that you’d like to become a professional photographer and you have no experience and could she put you on as an unpaid staff member? State that you’ll be her gopher in return for her knowledge of the photography business. 

Stay one jump ahead of the professional photographer and state up front that you have no objection to signing a “noncompetitive” agreement. This agreement would indicate that you have no intention of opening your own competing business within 100 miles of the one you’re volunteering for. Note that the specifics are what you mutually agree upon, for example the distance might be more or less than the 100 miles stated.

You are asking the professional to be your mentor and you must treat him or her with the greatest respect. So what’s in it for you? Obviously, you’ll learn great fun stuff like lighting, posing, color and black and white production, and you’ll handle some of the coolest equipment and gadgets in the industry. You’ll also learn the less exciting stuff like record keeping, handling irate clients, how to work under pressure, and marketing.

There will be some good times and bad times, but that’s all part of the business of photography, or for that matter, any other business. It all goes with the territory of being self-employed.

But what if your request is denied? I learned very early in my quest to be a photography entrepreneur, that you can be flatly rejected by the highest paid photo professional or accepted with open arms by the next pro down the road, or in my case, another studio owner in a smaller town. My local pro openly rejected me in a room full of amateur photographers, and that rejection ultimately led me to someone even bigger and better.

My friend and mentor, was not only more knowledgeable than the first photographer I approached, but was also an internationally admired speaker in the industry! What I gained from his expertise was more than words can express. He was openly free about sharing his knowledge and was not intimidated that I was building my own business just thirteen miles from his primary studio! (He had a second studio in the Caribbean on St. Thomas Island.)

My mentor maintained that clients purchased not just your photographic art, but your personality as well. Your photographic style will develop (pun intended!) into something that is uniquely you and some people will pay you for it and some will not. You won’t, nor should you want, to please everyone. That’s fine! You’ll want to acquire clients that appreciate your style and are willing to support your business to the tune of your prices.

So, essentially what you are doing is acquiring an intern position with the professional photographer of your choice. It’s not a bad way to break into the business. And, who knows? If he or she likes you and appreciates your help, he may even offer you a job!