Advice for Graduating Photographers

5th April 2016

Recently I got an email from a student who asked my advice for finding work now that they’re graduating. I was writing the reply, and I thought that others might be able to benefit from the advice. I’ve pasted it below.

“How would i go about finding out where the work is?”

Hi ___________,

Thanks for your email.

Okay so the best way to pick up work is by word of mouth — and you can do that by just shooting loads and getting your name out there. There’s a usual argument about how working for free degrades the industry, and I’m not necessarily disagreeing with that, but what I would suggest is doing work for something other than money.

For example, if you’re starting out and want to get your name out there, and you wanted to specialise in, let’s say, events, then you could approach events companies offering your services for free, and in return they use you every time. That way, after a while, they trust you, and when a big event comes up with a budget, they’ll start to pay you. It’s the same with anything. I shoot a lot of dance, and how I started doing that was doing portfolios for free or on the cheap to get my name out there. You just have to work out what could benefit you in the long run. Shooting a student club night for free may not make you any money and could be a waste of time, but shooting a club night run by a promoter, who then looks at your work and recommends you to other people is much more valuable.

The key thing with all of this, is working out what it is that you want to be shooting. If you already know, great! Shoot that until you can do it upside down with your eyes closed. If you don’t, great! Shoot everything you can. You’re a student, so there will be loads of people finishing their degrees soon. Want to shoot fashion? Approach a fashion student. They’ll need images for their dissertation / final project. Want to shoot events? Approach the students union about shooting their nights. Want to shoot actors? Approach the performing arts students and offer free headshots. Want to shoot architecture? Shoot every building you can in Manchester. Work out what time of day they look best. Then you could even approach estate agents and go “hey, look at all this stuff I did, I can make you money with better photography of your sites for sale” for example.

There are plenty of ways to get experience, and you’re in a great position as a student because you’ve got plenty of time and no responsibilities and a massive network of people who want your services.

Ultimately, just shoot more, and plaster your work everywhere. I work on three basic premises:

1. Deliver good work

2. On time

3. And be fun to be around.

I nicked that from Neil Gaiman, and it absolutely works. You don’t even have to provide good work! And right now, your work probably isn’t great, but that’s okay. I nicked that from Ira Glass.

Your biggest asset right now is your network. As soon as you graduate people drop away faster than you can possibly imagine, so use it NOW.

Hope this helps,


Neil Gaiman Speech:

Ira Glass — The Gap: