Outside-the-Box Careers: Photographer

By Nicole Pajer on September 18, 2013
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Who doesn’t love to take pictures? Today, digital cameras have made taking countless photographs more addictive than ever; indeed, it’s hard to leave the house without seeing cameras’ flashes somewhere. If you too enjoy snapping a photo of your friend’s birthday bash or your dog’s first bath as a hobby, you may want to consider pursuing photography as a career.

Courtney Dailey wakes up every morning, goes to her downtown Los Angels loft studio, sifts through piles of lenses and lighting equipment, and gets to work. She is a professional photographer and absolutely loves what she does.

“I had always loved taking photos,” Courtney said. “I was always that friend who carried her camera everywhere. “I had always wanted to be the person who shot the covers of magazines. I just didn’t know how to pursue it.”

Not knowing how to make a living by taking pictures, Courtney went to Oakland University in Michigan and earned a B.A. in Communications.

“I figured that getting a pretty broad degree like Communications would help me to have a solid future,” she said. “I attended Oakland University for five years. After graduation, I was working at a weekly magazine as an event planner. Then I found that my job had been discontinued and I was switched to sales.”

The unexpected job shift, though unfortunate, turned out to be a blessing for Courtney, as she saw it as an opportunity to make her passion for photography into a job. “I took a huge risk,” she said, “and it all worked out.”

Since successfully breaking into the field of photography, Courtney has come to realize that there are many careers available in the photography arena and that jobs are available across all different levels.

“From architecture to fashion, there are markets for imaging,” she said. “I know people who just shoot products who live very comfortably, along with portrait photography [weddings, senior pictures, family shots, etc.]. Almost anything you can think of can turn into a photography career.” As there are so many options, it’s Courtney’s view that the best areas to pursue are those that you are passionate about: “If you love cars, for example, pick up automotive photography.” Courtney found her personal niche to be shooting beauty for publishing, along with portfolio work.

Courtney says that if you are looking to get into professional photography, the first step is to pick up a camera and start taking practice photos: “Learn what makes you tick and what you find visually pleasing.”

After you have some techniques down and have a better idea of your visual point-of-view, slowly start upgrading your photographic gear. And yes, equipment is important if you are to give your customers good quality work. The key, according to Courtney, is saving to acquire pieces, then moving up as you can according to the money you have coming in. Though many people don’t like to go so slowly, Courtney says there are great advantages.

“Baby steps are good because it gives you time to really learn your equipment,” Courtney said about her own gear progression. “I started shooting pro with a Canon Rebel. I got it second hand on Ebay. My initial $500 investment has provided me with now over $20,000 in equipment. For every large payday I receive, I upgrade one piece of equipment.” 

Courtney also recommends taking a good darkroom class at a community or city college if you can. While checking out such learning opportunities, interested future photographers may want to look into schools dedicated to the study of photography, like Santa Barbara, Calif.’s Brooks Institute of Photography.

Of the benefits of additional education, Courtney said that “…it’s important to have a solid foundation. I’ve met so many people who don’t really know how their camera works and how to take the images they want.”

Once established, such basic foundations can be built upon to build one’s own unique photography style and to continue to try out new angles of picture-taking. “I prefer learning on my own,” Courtney said. “This way you develop a signature style versus a cookie-cutter technique.”

Courtney’s strongest advice for those looking to break into the industry is to “Shoot what you love and don’t veer from it. If you enjoy shooting landscapes, shoot landscapes. Too many people put so many eggs in their basket; they don’t specialize in anything. It’s better not to be a jack-of-all-trades in this industry. Being a jack-of-all-trades doesn’t make you special; it doesn’t allow you to shine.”

Though a career in photography can allow people to spend every day with their passion and allow them a chance at expression, being a good photographer takes a lot of perseverance and patience—two qualities necessary in most jobs.

“Things do not happen overnight,” Courtney cautions. “It takes years to develop a marketable style and visual voice.” And even after you’ve reached such a point with much practice, there’s a lot of “business-side” work to be dealt with from day to day. “I would say about 80% of my job is marketing, networking, and holding my breath,” Courtney said. “Some months are amazing, some months are horribly slow.” In addition, as a lot of the work photographers produce is used in public, one should be ready to stretch themselves a little bit in ways they might not have thought were part of the job: “So much of this job is dealing with legal issues and business documents,” she said.

After years of hard work, Courtney is proud to be making a living as a highly requested beauty photographer with an always-growing portfolio. When asked about her future career goals, Courtney said, “I don’t know my ultimate goal, I’m a little goal person. I like making step-by-step, reasonable goals so I feel I’m making strides. I guess my long-term goal is to live comfortably by shooting covers of magazines. I like when my mom can buy magazines in the Midwest that feature my work. I feel accomplished.” 

More information on Courtney Dailey and samples of her work can be found at www.courtneydailey.com.

About the Author

Nicole Pajer

Nicole Pajer

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