How to Become an Editorial Photographer

An editorial photographer's primary responsibility is to deliver a unique, appealing and marketable story in its best form in a short amount of time. Whether he is swinging from a tree in Africa or taking shots of models in a swimming pool, he is always trying to create an image that is congruent with the Editor's vision.

His journey to his current position has been long and arduous, with potentially humble beginnings and an uncertain career end. It has involved long hours, little to no pay, persistent networking, business negotiation, self-branding, innovation and drive. Unlike his colleagues who dropped out of the profession long ago, this individual was able to combine all these qualities with his educational background and natural talent and create a name for himself in a demanding, politically-driven environment.

Develop A Technique

A Bachelor of Fine Arts or a Master of Fine Arts in Photography is not always necessary for becoming an Editorial Photographer. In fact, a majority of Editorial Photographers come from careers in education, the liberal arts, science, medicine, technology and business.

An aspiring Editorial Photographer should take classes through a local community college or university, master the various techniques they learn and cultivate their ability to tell a story with their camera. He should also consider combining photojournalism and creative photography classes with courses in the liberal arts, sciences or another field of interest. If he has already worked in another field and wants to turn his photography hobby into a career, he can turn his work experience into a photography niche.

Find Your Niche and Build an Original Portfolio

Editorial Photographers usually hold additional experience in some other field (culinary arts, wildlife, business, etc.), which they use to create a unique personal brand that consumers and industry professionals will recognize.

The aspiring Editorial Photographer's brand can be a creative spin on another passion or interest of his, or  it can be a visual depiction or story of his former life as a Nurse, Businessman, Construction Worker or Ballet Dancer. A photographer's niche can also be devoted to different publications  he reads.

No matter what his brand may be, the most important thing for him to understand is that his brand must be specialized, unique, innovative, and recognizable and marketable; it must stand out to the masses, appeal to editors, be sellable enough to survive in a market and be stable enough to capitalize on other photographers' brands.

Once the aspiring photographer has established his personal brand, he needs to build a portfolio and Web site around it.  An aspiring photographer's portfolio should never be a conventional and generalized arrangement of wedding photos, pictures of animals, children, and other expected pieces. His portfolio pieces should  be original, showcase his talent, display his mastery of the craft and portray how he can add to the magazine's content.

Gain Experience by Assisting a Professional Photographer

The best way for an aspiring Editorial Photographer to gain experience, contacts, and industry exposure is through a one-year assistantship with an established, connected, and reputable photographer. If the photographer is willing to add an assistant photographer to his team, the assistant's pay will be low or nonexistent, his tasks will be menial and his desire to become an Editorial Photographer will be tested.

An incumbent's success in obtaining a photography assistantship is rooted in his reliability, talent, persistence, and drive, so it is important that the aspiring Editorial Photographer shows all of these qualities when he is prospecting for an assistantship.  

Assistantships are easy to get if the candidate calls or e-mails the photographer, sends her his photographs and follows up with her regularly about the position. Once he has begun working as an Assistant Photographer, he needs to build a stable reputation in the industry.

Build a Reputation and Know the Market

An Editorial Photographer's success is defined by his talent, originality and the reputation he has built in the industry. His employability revolves around whether he can work ahead of a deadline, negotiate well, follow through with promises and deliver strong content in a short amount of time. Since the publishing industry is driven by relationships and credentials, the connections and portfolio he built through his assistantship will be vital to his independent success.

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