Turning your passion for photography into a career can sometimes feel like an impossible slog – but every successful photographer has to start somewhere. Here, a few of Magnum Photos’ biggest talents share their tips for young photographers…
Photograph because you love doing it, because you absolutely have to do it, because the chief reward is going to be the process of doing it. Other rewards – recognition, financial remuneration – come to so few and are so fleeting. And even if you are somewhat successful, there will almost inevitably be stretches of time when you will be ignored, have little income, or often both. Certainly there are many other easier ways to make a living in this society. Take photography on as a passion, not a career.
Alex Webb took the above picture. See more of his work.
Try everything. Photojournalism, fashion, portraiture, nudes, whatever. You won’t know what kind of photographer you are until you try it. During one summer vacation (in college) I worked for a born-again tabletop photographer. All day long we’d photograph socks and listen to Christian radio. That summer I learned I was neither a studio photographer nor a born-again Christian. Another year I worked for a small suburban newspaper chain and was surprised to learn that I enjoyed assignment photography. Fun is important. You should like the process and the subject. If you are bored or unhappy with your subject it will show up in the pictures. If in your heart of hearts you want to take pictures of kitties, take pictures of kitties.
Have a look at Alec Soth’s work.
I would advise to read a lot of literature and look as little as possible [at] other photographers. Work everyday even without assignments or money, work, work, work with discipline for yourself and not for editors or awards. And also collaborate with people – not necessary photographers, but people you admire. The key word to learn is participation!
Have a look at Alex Majoli’s work.
Carl De Keyzer
Give it all you got for at least five years and then decide if you got what it takes. Too many great talents give up at the very beginning; the great black hole looming after the comfortable academy or university years is the number one killer of future talent.
Have a look at Carl De Keyzer’s work.
Forget about the profession of being a photographer. First be a photographer and maybe the profession will come after. Don’t be in a rush to pay your rent with your camera. Jimi Hendrix didn’t decide on the career of professional musician before he learned to play guitar. No, he loved music and created something beautiful and that THEN became a profession. Larry Towell, for instance, was not a “professional” photographer until he was already a “famous” photographer. Make the pictures you feel compelled to make and perhaps that will lead to a career. But if you try to make the career first, you will just make shitty pictures that you don’t care about.
Have a look at Christopher Anderson’s work.
- Never think photography is easy. It’s like poetry in that it’s easy enough to make a few rhymes, but that’s not a good poem.
- Study photography, see what people have achieved, but learn from it – don’t try photographically to be one of those people.
- Photograph things you really care about, things that really interest you, not things you feel you ought to do.
- Photograph them in the way you feel is right, not the way you think you ought to.
- Be open to criticism – it can be really helpful – but stick to your core values
- Study and theory is useful, but you learn most by doing. Take photographs – lots of them – be depressed by them, take more, hone your skills and get out there in the world and interact.
Have a look at Chris Steele-Perkins’ work.
More Magnum advice:
Part 2 – David Alan Harvey, Constantine Manos and more.
Part 3 – Martin Parr, Eli Reed and more.
Want to improve your photography skills? Apply for a bursary to Magnum’s next Professional Practice seminar in London.
Image: HAITI. Bombardopolis. 1986. School prayers. © Alex Webb/Magnum Photos.
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