Deeply committed photographers see a camera at the end of their arm more often than their fingers. They invest the time to build a powerful body of work that represents their talents and they believe—really believe—that their work can move people. They constantly expand their skills and stretch themselves to make their pictures stronger and more valuable.
But for many, that’s where the path reaches a dead-end.
Whenever I gather with fellow photographers during the holiday season, the topic invariably turns to plans and strategies for the coming year. This season, one pro mentioned that he planned to do more personal work. Another said that he intended to begin scanning his archive of film to post on Photoshelter. Still another said he planned to shoot more video for clients. When it was my turn to make a pledge for the new year, I said, “continue to ask for the work.”
My friends probably expected me to say that I was going to keyword all of my old files or something else that might fit my OCD tendencies. Admittedly, asking for the work is an odd-sounding resolution. But, it’s a commitment I had to make at the beginning of my career, and one I continue to make in order to insure that it remains healthy.
I should probably mention that if you’re someone who believes that every one of your images should be published and that every potential client should hire you, this post will be paragraphs of typographic electrons you don’t need. I wish I was more like you. I’m genuinely envious of your self-confidence and asking for what you want is likely something you already do quite well.
“They’re for the photographer who is still waiting for the phone to ring and doesn’t know what to do next.”
These words are for the photographer with a fine portfolio of work who wants to be found, who wants to be hired, and who wants to be valued. They’re meant for someone who knows they deserve the work, but is afraid of being told no. They’re words of encouragement for the photographer who is still waiting for the phone to ring and doesn’t know what to do next.
You simply need to ask for the work.
You have to pick up the phone, sit down at the keyboard, or drop a letter in the mailbox. The opportunity to be discovered begins with you. There are people who need your work, clients who will value you, and publications that will improve once your pictures are printed upon their pages. But you have to let them know you exist.
It’s not unlike the high school dance where people put their fears aside, take someone by the hand, lead them to the dance floor, and find themselves embracing the one person they always wanted to hold close. Suddenly, because they asked for what they wanted, they are living out a dream.
A photography career requires a similar leap of faith. Like most things in life it involves uncertainty and risk, but the rewards are truly amazing. Taking a chance leads to second dates, and second assignments. They lead to new experiences, and new clients. They lead to relationships, and careers.
You just have to ask.
Joey Terrill is a Los Angeles-based photographer with clients that include American Express, Coca-Cola, Disney, Golf Digest, Major League Baseball, Red Bull, and Sports Illustrated. He teaches workshops and speaks at seminars including the Summit Series Workshops, WPPI, Atlanta Photojournalism Seminar, UPAA Symposium, World in Focus, and Nikon School.