Q: I am one year out of college and have always had an interest in photography, but have never really let myself seriously consider it as a career. My absolute dream job would be to work for National Geographic or Lonely Planet as a travel photographer.
I am having some trouble deciding where to focus my energy and I need a stable job while I build a portfolio and connections. Does it seem like a better choice to spend some time working under a professional photographer or should I take any job I can get with local magazines in order to learn the ins and outs of the business and hopefully establish connections so that I may contribute my work to the publication?
A: My advice to you is to do exactly what I did to answer your question: I searched around for photographers–through friends and friends-of-friends–and asked them for their expert advice. The best way to get advice on any specific career is to go right to the source of people who are actually doing it. Here are the two pieces of advice I heard: 1) Build your connections in the world of photography. Ultimately, “who you know” will be just as important as your photography skills. 2) Work on creating a professional portfolio. Even if you have great photos, no one will take you seriously unless you have a professional-looking portfolio.
In terms of what particular path to pursue right now, I think both of your ideas are great and I would encourage you to try to get any job you can related to photography, whether you’re working directly for a photographer or for a publication. Go for both paths and see what works out. You might also look for positions at photography studios, photography schools, photo book publishers, etc. Cast a wide net. And why not apply now for a job at National Geographic or Lonely Planet? If those are where you ultimately want to be, send a resume now and see if you can get your foot in the door. Good luck!
p.s. If any blog readers have additional tips related to a photography career, please share!