Photo: Jake Scott

Breaking into the photography industry

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By Stefanie Phillips

When Stephanie Noritz moved to New York to pursue her photography career, the only available job was an unpaid internship with photographer Chris Buck.

Before leaving Toronto, she worked and saved up enough money to support herself and work for Buck for three months. She then left to intern with Alessandra Petlin, another photographer in New York. She took the necessary risk of working for free and finished the internship with Petlin as a paid photography assistant.

Now, living and working as a freelancer, Noritz says the industry is more difficult than she thought it would be.

“We have to really hustle, especially in a city as saturated as New York,” says Noritz. “As photographers we really have to put ourselves out there and really market ourselves.”

In the past nine years that Noritz has been in the business, the industry has changed “drastically.” Budgets are getting smaller, companies are doing their own photography instead of outsourcing and pricing standards are being lowered by young photographers charging less for shoots.

According to Service Canada, the number of photographers has decreased in recent years and it is expected to continue decreasing by 1.2 per cent annually for the next four years. One of the causes of this reduction is the growing popularity of image banks.

In 2011, Ryerson and the Ontario Ministry of Training, Colleges and Universities collected employment rates and earnings of Ontario university graduates and concluded that 83.9 per cent of fine and applied arts students, which includes photography, were employed six months after graduation.

Despite the shrinking industry, Noritz has managed to make a name for herself since graduating from Ryerson in 2006, having worked for Samsung, New York Magazine and Maclean’s to name a few. She was also profiled by American Illustration – American Photography and honoured by The Magenta Foundation and the American Society of Media Photographers.

Noritz says that if she hadn’t taken a photography business course in her time at Ryerson, she would have been very lost in the real world.

“Taking the photography business course was what opened my eyes to a whole other side of the industry,” she says.

The course was offered through the Chang School and — at the time — was taught by a practicing commercial photographer who “had a lot of insight.” Noritz learned how to quote jobs, keep track of expenses and market herself. Today, the Chang School offers a media business course that covers general business practices using a case study approach, according to the course description.

Fourth-year photography student Petrija Dos Santos is about to graduate and feels that Ryerson has not taught her how to properly market herself.

“There is little emphasis on how you get people to pay attention to your work, or who those people actually are,” says Dos Santos.

She says she thinks that Ryerson, and universities in general, forget that students don’t want to start out in the first paying job that comes their way.

“Don’t be afraid to put yourself out there. Be humble. Shoot what you love and don’t give up.”

“Obviously [students] want to put the skills that they’ve learned to use, they want jobs that are relevant to their field. They don’t want their degree to hang on a wall and not use it,” she says. “Most [students] do want to go into working professionally as commercial photographers or portrait photographers. We don’t want to work at the Walmart studio, we want to do good photography because we can.”

Christopher Manson is a sessional professor teaching two photography courses at Ryerson while working on documentary photography. When he graduated university in 2001, he wanted to be an artist whose work was featured in galleries, but he soon realized that that dream wasn’t financially viable.

“I had to get a job like everybody else. At one point I was catering, I was working in a call centre, I was taking portraits for fashion companies and I was doing all that while I was trying to put together a [photography] project,” Manson says. “You shouldn’t expect … at the beginning of your career to get to the top immediately.”

Manson then noticed an opening in advertising at Crack Magazine in Newcastle upon Tyne, England. His work in the call centre gave him enough experience to get the job. He made connections while working there and eventually got a photo in the magazine through networking.

“I would go out for drinks with the editor, would go and meet with the photo editor, would always pass by his desk and say, ‘What shoot are you doing this week, do you need anything done?’” he says. “I became someone who was always there, who was always available, close at hand.”

Even though he didn’t have the title he wanted and was only doing a few shoots a month, working at the magazine allowed him to build a portfolio — one that would connect him to other jobs.

Bryce Julien is in his first year in the photography program at Ryerson and wants to be doing the same type of photography that Noritz and professor Manson are doing once he graduates. But unlike Dos Santos, Julien isn’t as worried about finding a job.

“I don’t think I’m more worried than somebody in an engineering program or even a science [degree] or something like that,” said Julien.

He’s currently trying to strengthen his portfolio and build up his own equipment stock but is challenged by the high price of gear.

Photojournalism professor and veteran photographer Peter Bregg advises students who are first starting out to invest in an entry level DSLR camera with a standard 18-55mm kit lens before buying anything else.

“As good as that is for general photography, it has limitations and if you have the desire, the passion, the fire, you’ll recognize that you need to buy [more],” Bregg says. “Keep shooting with what you have and eventually you’ll learn what you need based on the pictures you wanted to shoot but couldn’t. Eventually you’ll say, I could have [gotten] a better shot if I had x, y and z in my bag.”

Noritz says that to this day she still rents equipment for shoots and shares gear with other photographers in the industry instead of buying all of her own pieces.

She advises students in the photography program to apply to as many online blogs and annual photography contests as possible when they graduate and to have a website at hand, ready to show potential clients whenever necessary.

“Don’t be afraid to put yourself out there. Be humble. Shoot what you love and don’t give up. If I’m able to make it than any of [you] can make it.”

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