At the time this article was written, roughly 35 million Americans were unemployed. Many of the businesses where they once worked do not expect to be able to fully reopen, even after being given the green light by governmental authorities.
The world's current pandemic crisis has produced a global economic tsunami of people actively looking for work, often rethinking their professional status while doing so.
Having seen so many work opportunities and established clients disappear (at least temporarily), most of us commercial photographers have felt some challenge. I polled a photography group on Facebook, and over 50% of the users reported client budgets being lowered, 40% of those significantly so. Of the professionals in my personal network who run photography businesses, nearly all of their work has come to a standstill, though some of us have seen an encouraging comeback in the month of June.
While the US economy struggles at large, many photographers are anxious to find reliable income opportunities. Steady freelance work or employment has never looked more appealing. And while no job comes with 100% security, there are still plenty of companies hiring now. Just check out job boards, taking care to filter by date posted, as it’s common for filled job listings to leave their postings up.
Searching for photography jobs often yields poor results. Most commonly, you will find offers from companies who pay their portrait shooters $10 an hour or unrewarding grunt work like retouching hundreds of images for pennies on the click. These disappointing job searches serve as a reminder that:
- The photography market is crowded and competitive.
- Those getting into the business are often desperate to work in the field, which sets the bar low for some employers, such as portrait companies.
- The best photography jobs are scarce and highly sought after.
- Digital media has replaced the need for photographers on staff at publications. Digital publications can now easily and cheaply source media from the public and/or amateur shooters.
- Cheap overseas outsourcing has ground much of image editing jobs down to nothin
Bear in mind that all of the above are generalizations, and exceptions can be found. Common obstacles shouldn't dissuade you from looking for a job in your field. But recognizing them can limit disappointment and prepare you to search more skillfully.
Don't Think Narrowly
Before you waste too much time on a narrow search, possibly ending up throwing in the towel, consider expanding your search to wider fields of media-related work. This can open the door to more opportunities.
By the way, you don't need to rely on job title-specific searches. Executing a wider search for jobs that include words like "photography" or "video" in their descriptions will yield even more listings.
There are many jobs whose titles do not include "photographer," but still demand skills in such areas as Adobe suite, video editing, and even shooting. Roles in marketing, advertising, and media / PR often require digital imaging and photo-related skills. If you don't possess the skills — photographic or other — required for any particular job listing, now is a great time to acquire them.
Learning New Skills to Further Your Career
Are you a Photoshop wizard, but haven't ever touched Adobe InDesign? Well, underemployed wizards can learn new skills. Take your newly found free time and check out online courses for valuable software skills to add to your repertoire. More diverse talents will serve you well in freelancing. They also enhance your value when you provide them on gigs for clients or offer them to prospective employers.
Broadening your skills beyond narrowly defined photography isn't just helpful, it's necessary. Photographers thrive by mastering marketing, networking, and organizational skills. These abilities are crucial to building and maintaining an independent photography business, but are also helpful for photographers seeking work as a salaried employee.
Thanks to today’s easy access to self-help aids, blogs, and YouTube tutorials, learning the ropes of business can be relatively easy (inexpensive, too). Some of the biggest hurdles are unexpected ones — sales tax, for instance. My county (and others, from what I hear) does not make it easy to find answers to many government-related questions. Hiring a CPA or a legal professional is a great way to save time, reduce stress, and lessen your liabilities. Of course, such expertise is not free.
Save Money: Do It Yourself
While I believe hiring out tricky or cumbersome tasks to seasoned pros is wise in some circumstances, I've found great satisfaction in learning the ropes of online marketing and have saved plenty of costs in doing so.
SEO (Search Engine Optimization) is a broad range of techniques signaling to search engines that your website is trustworthy and valuable. SEO often feels daunting to those unfamiliar with online marketing. And it usually requires a decent amount of work, since competition can be fierce and Google often changes its algorithms.
SEO took years for me to learn, and I’m still working to master it. But the benefits have been well worthwhile. I've saved myself money by not hiring out all of my marketing needs and shelled out far less than the pay-per-click money traditional online advertising requires. The downside to SEO, again, is the amount of work one needs to put in — and continue putting in. But even if you fall behind and your Google rank drops, you still have these useful marketing tools.
Those of us who for years studied a single subject passionately often find it hard to "think outside the box” of our professional specialty. For instance, not only do still photographers commonly scoff at and resist learning video, many are picky even about the genres they shoot. While specializing can help you master one area and market yourself, your appeal to potential employers is increased if you've mastered a variety of practical, real-world talents.
A lot of companies are currently understaffed, meaning they are on the lookout for employees who can "wear many hats." While nobody wants to be overworked or to switch tasks constantly, being able to shoot, edit, write, and advertise will serve you well.
Has your approach to self-marketing or job searching changed recently? Share your opinions and strategies in the comments section below.
Lead image by DariuszSankowski via Pexels.