How do you get your big break?
Does it take years of planning and persistence to make it in the photography business or is it all down to a spot of luck?
As with other careers, making a success of professional photography is largely not down to what you know, but who you know. Of course, you’ll need to know how to take the type of pictures that your clients want, but to get your name out there and start making connections requires the ability to engineer yourself an opening to show your work to the right people. That ‘big break’ can come in many forms. Sometimes it’s a stroke of luck, a chance encounter with someone who knows someone, and an opportunity seized. But more often than not it’s the result of hard graft, of putting in the hours to build up a portfolio and
“A portfolio that reflects your chosen field of specialisation or area of expertise is a must. As photographers we live and die by the sword. Our product and our ability is very tangible…
Alex Bailey, movie stills photographer
knocking on doors until you get the opening you’re looking for.
Break or hard graft?
“There was no defining moment for me,” reveals wildlife pro Richard Peters. “I didn’t wake up one morning and decide that was the day I’d try and make something out of my photos. The truth is, initially, I’m ashamed to say, I was a ‘fair weather photographer’ and I’d sometimes go a few months between even picking my camera up while I held down an office job.
“However, I then started a job in the media industry which afforded me more free time and those camera-less gaps became smaller and smaller. As they did, my photos improved. As my photos improved, they started to gain more and more attention from others.”
Some photographers create their own luck. Take fine art seascape photographer Jonathan Chritchley: “I had really wanted to photograph classic sailing yachts for some time, but realised that logistically it wasn’t an easy thing to arrange. I contacted the organisers of a classic yacht regatta on the Côte d’Azur and asked if I could come
along and shoot. They agreed and the results led to my first major feature with a magazine, which in turn led to a good deal of gallery interest and my first major print sale – over 3,000 prints for a luxury cruise ship. As often with these things, one simple decision had a knock-on effect that helped mould my career as a fine art photographer.”
Keep at it!
There’s no substitute for perseverance, though. “I’ve never considered being the recipient of a big break,” reveals David Tipling. “I’ve simply kept plugging away and have never settled for an image that doesn’t meet my expectations. There were two instances in the early part of my career that helped, though. First, I ran a stock agency called Windrush Photos for ten years, representing 40 photographers. This gave me a steady income and an insight into what the market wanted so I knew what was worth shooting.
“The other instance was when a publisher lost 350 transparencies used in my first book in 1995. This resulted in a large payout which gave me the opportunity to finance an expedition to photograph Emperor penguins. On my return the pictures proved to be really popular, not least with commercial clients, and they still sell strongly to this day. They also sealed me a win in the GDT European Nature Photographer of the Year awards and brought me success in the Wildlife Photographer of the Year competition.”