Starting out? Don’t try to work your way up the professional ladder

Jan 25, 2023

Alex Baker

Alex Baker is a portrait and lifestyle driven photographer based in Valencia, Spain. She works on a range of projects from commercial to fine art and has had work featured in publications such as The Daily Mail, Conde Nast Traveller and El Mundo, and has exhibited work across Europe

Starting out? Don’t try to work your way up the professional ladder

Jan 25, 2023

Alex Baker

Alex Baker is a portrait and lifestyle driven photographer based in Valencia, Spain. She works on a range of projects from commercial to fine art and has had work featured in publications such as The Daily Mail, Conde Nast Traveller and El Mundo, and has exhibited work across Europe

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If you’re an aspiring professional photographer or even an existing pro who wants to get better-paying, bigger clients, then it makes sense to start small and work your way up the ladder, right?

Well, according to Scott Chouciño from Tin House Studio, that advice is completely wrong. Not only that but following that popular advice could actually cause you more problems in the long run and prevent you from realizing your goals.

In many professions, starting lower down the ladder makes a lot of sense. You want your thoracic surgeon to have studied in med school and then worked their way up, continually training and practicing until they are at the top of their skill.

However, Scott argues that the photography world is just not like that. His argument is a compelling one. Basically, any jobs you might get on the local level, bottom of the food chain, will not be anything like the jobs you might get working for big ad agencies. They all require different skills, and one cannot prepare you for the next.

In a similar vein, working as a photographer’s assistant will not particularly prepare you for being the main photographer. It’s a completely different skill set and job requirement. Sure, assisting a couple of times might be beneficial in understanding how a particular photographer or studio works. However, it won’t help you develop your own way of working long-term.

Scott argues that shooting for a local restaurant’s menu is a completely different gig from shooting an international ad campaign for, say, Starbucks. And he’s correct. The local restaurant will want you for a day, shooting drop-and-pop style plated dishes with a minimum of retouching that you’ll probably do yourself.

For the ad campaign, you’ll be working with a creative and art director, food and prop stylists, and huge budgets. There really is very little comparison except that it’s still food, and you’re using your camera.

Back to the medical world. Doctors are trained with a “see one, do one, teach one” attitude. Perhaps this might be a good mantra to adopt for photographers. Don’t wait until you’re ready to send out that portfolio or marketing newsletter. You’ll never be ready. Start now, start today. Dream big. And remember: there is no ladder.

What do you think about this advice? Do you agree?

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Alex Baker

Alex Baker

Alex Baker is a portrait and lifestyle driven photographer based in Valencia, Spain. She works on a range of projects from commercial to fine art and has had work featured in publications such as The Daily Mail, Conde Nast Traveller and El Mundo, and has exhibited work across Europe

Join the Discussion

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