hi there! i'm michelle, southern california based photographer and curator of the coco gallery.

welcome to my blog where i share my life, my latest adventures, photo projects, random nuggets and the occasional stray thoughts.

for clients: to view my portfolio just click on this link - theCOCOgallery.com. to book sessions please send me a message through theCOCOgallery.com or contact me via michelle@thecocogallery.com | 949.734.0604

Friday, April 6, 2012

are you sure you want to become a photographer?

it's been soooooo long since i've posted on here.  life and a new photography company (COCO gallery) have taken over and eaten up all my time.  but this morning, a thread on facebook really got me going and although i responded to the thread by getting on my soapbox and ranting, i wanted to put my complete thought out into the world in my own forum.

the thread started as someone voicing their frustration about not getting any gigs as a second shooter for weddings which i totally understand but i think things should be said to clarify how much work and dedication this career demands for ALL the players on the field from starter to career photographer.

in the film days you had to BEG to be an apprentice at a studio to get a gig as a second.  six to ten years ago getting gigs as a 2nd when you offered yourself up for free was a lot easier.  the digital revolution and a smaller competitive market had a lot to do with that.  these days getting a gig as a second is TOUGH.  here's my thoughts on this....

getting wedding photography jobs in general is HARD.  in socal especially we are competing with the people that teach other photographers nationally and internationally AND we're competing with a very large pool of photographers in general!  the area is full of talented, affordable people, famous names and startups that charge next to nothing.  getting ahead is a beast of a job so when we DO get a gig we treat it with respect and utmost care.  we bring along the people that are trust worthy, skilled and a good reflection of ourselves because this is a game of referral systems.  everything we (myself and the people with me) say or do will make or break us.  finding the right people for the job is NOT to be taken lightly.  in our company we even go as far as dry runs and training for the people we bring along.  the seconds, thirds, assistants, interns or what have you are people that we trust, value and know. they may have been friends from our past, people we've met along the way and some that we interviewed and hired.

i've been at this for over four years and that's not much to some of the amazing photogs out there that have done this their whole lives but it's a lot for me and i've learned much along the way.  i came from an entirely different work environment and every time i did a career shift i knew that i HAD to push myself out of my comfort zone and this path was no different.  here i had to move out of my hermit sheltered self and socialize with like minded people in the industry to network, improve my craft and find people that i could work with and who would like to work with me.  by the time i joined this industry getting in with the bigger named photogs and hoping that my career would be launched by such an association was next to impossible.  but there was a community of budding photographers with the same drive and dedication as mine.  finding friends to work with was the path i chose and it's paid off.  we would meet, discuss and vent at will and we grew together.  the company i'm in now is a melding of 4 people that resulted from those interactions!  the situation today for photographers just starting out is no different.  in fact, it might be better.  there's a constant wave of new people and you just have to find the ones that you get along with, have the same drive, are dedicated and work together.  think about it like school, the alumni from years ahead of you MIGHT talk to you because of the school association but the people in your class know you best and that's where you can find your associates.

the other thing i've had to do is study and practice a LOT.  i'm a voracious learner (don't check my grammar on that).  i'm constantly aware of new techniques and people to learn from.  just like any other skill, photography has to be mastered and to get hired (by a client or another photog) you need to earn the trust and respect of your clients and your peers.  this doesn't come overnight obviously and reading about something and doing are two very different things.  we don't learn by osmosis and surgeons don't get to hold the scalpel on live paying patients after reading about the procedure in a book.  even finding models to do things for free on sites like model mayhem you will find that seasoned models look at portfolios before agreeing to FREE shoots.  a career photographer has to prove that they are a photographer and that takes practice.  the composition part MIGHT come naturally to some, the posing, rapport and personality needed in a shoot can also be inherent but knowing your gear and how to use it is not something you are born with.  it doesn't even take much to practice!  you just need drive and creativity.  use items in your home to perfect detail shots, personal jewelry to get ring shots, use your friends and family to work on portraiture, inanimate objects to practice light ... any one of these exercises can be turned into art and build a portfolio.  coz guess what... a stranger won't hire you unless you have something to show for it.  WHY SHOULD THEY?  for primary photographers, the person they bring is either a liability or an asset.  PROVE that you are an asset by working on your portfolio first if you want jobs as a second.  it's your resume and it's all you've got to prove your worth.  any other career requires a good resume to get the foot in the door (that or a friend that's already in) and then you work your way up.  any career comes with a cost be it education, time, money or dedication and photography is no different.  also, don't forget that the job of the second is to be the backup to the primary.  if that primary's battery runs out, the second's shots become primary ... so now tell me, if you were the one hiring the 2nd wouldn't you be more careful about who you chose to come along?

please, if you want in on this industry even for just assisting and seconding ... you need to decide how BADLY you want it.  some careers require a degree, photography might not need a degree but it needs education and practice just the same.  other careers just need you to roll your sleeves up, start from the bottom and work your way up ... here too.  and ... just like any other career the success doesn't come over night and it doesn't just land on your lap unless you are part of a lucky 0.0005% in which case you might as well just buy a lottery ticket coz it's the same odds.

i've been at this for over four years, i've gone through this and i'm still going through it.  i've seen my contemporaries that actually stuck to the career go through it too so yeah... i know what i'm talking about.


  1. Thanks for sharing, Love. Interesting article and very helpful to all the wannabes :)

  2. Amen! Honestly there is no free lunch, in fact being a full-time professional freelance photographer is one of the MOST UN-FREE "lunches" out there these days. The whole industry got this vibe about it back in 2002-2007 when the economy was booming, that wedding photography etc. could be this easy-peasy cash cow. Not anymore. Gone are the stories of "oh, one thing led to another and we booked 60 weddings our first year without really trying" No, with today's competitive low-end market you're lucky if you get 60 weddings in your first FIVE YEARS as a "pro".

    It's a rewarding career, but only if you pay your dues and bust your ass just like every OTHER career.


  3. Nicely said. You are right on point. Keep working on your craft and you will be rewarded. I know for myself, things are not just handed to me in this industry. I need to put my foot forward and get myself out there! Great article, Michelle!