Regardless of whether your idea of a "small-town" is one with 100 people or 20,000, the potential hurdles small-town photographers must get over can stack up quickly if you only focus on the negatives. Perhaps your goal in photography is to simply maintain a hobby. Maybe you aspire to maintain a high-profile business instead. Either way, I’m here to tell you that it’s possible to achieve your goals regardless of where you currently reside.
The town I reside in is home to roughly 3,000 people. For the sake of uniformity, I’ll refer to places such as the one I live in as small towns for this article, and everywhere else as the city. My small-town is uniquely located in the middle of a Native American reservation and the nearest big city is roughly three hours away. The pace of life here is something I find comforting. In my mind, there are plenty of advantages to living in such a rural community - especially from an artistic standpoint. There’s plenty of room to clear my often-cluttered mind, and fewer outside influences to taint my ideas with any confidence-robbing negativity. Here I’m able to let my creativity blossom in a way that I simply wouldn’t be able to do if I were contending with the hustle and bustle of the big city. The small-town idea isn’t for everyone. In fact, it wasn’t even for me in previous years. It takes some serious self-reflection sometimes to realize where you belong on this earth, and for some, that answer isn’t something they’re willing to settle for.
Enough about me, this is for photographers who may find themselves in a similar place, at a time in their life or career at which they may be questioning their ability to grow both professionally and creatively while residing so far away from the support and conveniences photographers in the city seem to have. You know, things such as access to supplies, other like-minded creatives to bounce ideas off of, and other like-minded consumers willing to invest in something you can easily see the value in, but your community may need help in doing so.
It’s very likely that your small-town needs educating. While I’m not suggesting you put on your professor outfit and start breaking chalk, I am suggesting that if you’re just starting out in a small town, that the residents of said small town may not be able to see the value in professional photography. That’s not because they’re ignorant or that they hate you (I hope), but if there’s never been a professional photography service in your area, they likely don’t even know what you offer. So, help them out.
Think Outside The Box
Just because you live in a small town doesn’t mean that your client base is limited to only those people. For example, my articles here on Fstoppers generally reach well over the entire population of people living in my town. That’s the power of the internet. I’ve created images for companies on the opposite side of the globe, all from my little po-dunk town. That’s incredible if you ask me. The internet allows people everywhere to share, and if there’s one thing I credit the internet for doing, it’s that. The ability to share is like having a foot to wedge in doors (opportunities) that’s attached to a leg that can reach anywhere. Just be careful not to spread yourself too thin.
Don’t Make Excuses
Excuses are like assholes, I’m pretty sure everyone has one. Or is that opinions? Anyway, excuses are easy to make, and some people develop a knack for getting by on excuses alone. You know, that guy that “would have been a big shot photographer, but then digital photography ruined the industry.” If you want to focus on the negative, by all means, go for it. Just don’t expect the glass that’s half empty to ever overflow.
A few excuses small town photographers might be familiar with. You tell me if any of these ring a bell:
“It’s easy when everyone you work with is beautiful. There are more beautiful people in the city….”
“I’d have more work if there were more people where I live...”
“There are better locations to shoot at in the city…”
“Photographers in the city have studios they can shoot in…”
“Everyone has money to spend on photography in the city….”
I’ll admit to using one or two of these excuses in the past, but thankfully I’m not keen on making excuses much these days. Are there more beautiful people in the city? Yeah, probably. There are more people in general. Simply living in the city isn’t going to make it any easier (in my opinion) to get a beautiful person in front of your camera. Would you get more work if you lived in the city? I don’t know. What kind of person are you? Are there better locations to shoot at in the city? Not in my opinion. Does having access to a studio make or break you as a photographer? No. Do people have more money in the city? It’s all relative to lifestyle, and either way, people generally don’t just throw money around because they have it. We all like to get something for what we pay for.
I’m not going to sit here and type smoke up your butt by making it sound like being a photographer in a small town is easy, because it isn’t. Being a professional photographer isn’t easy no matter where you’re from. I repeat – being a professional photographer is not easy. That being said, if you’re a doer, then do. Don’t make excuses and don’t focus on the negative. Instead focus on the many unique opportunities that may be right in front of you and if business is your thing, learn to monetize them.
I’d love to hear from other photographers cranking our awesome images and doing big things in small communities all over the world. Share your images and stories below.