On Being a Professional Photographer: Looking Back On My Career

This is me, the summer of 1992, going into my 2nd year of Art college, working at One Hour Moto Photo in Ewing, NJ. I hated having my picture taken, and I was not having a good summer.

Have you ever looked back on your career and wonder where you gained your skills and experiences?

I have and now I’m showing you what I’ve done and how I sort of came to where I am now. When I was 14, I got my workers permit, for my first part-time paying job. I was a salad bar assistant for Sizzlers, refilling everything from the lettuce, dressings, to pasta, the sauces, puddings, and soups. Shutting down at night condensing and putting all the food away, mopping, sweeping and cleaning both the men and women’s bathrooms. Try as we could, the smell of grease and food would never get out of my uniform.

So here is my partial list of positions, descriptions, and experiences:

Lingerie Model/Product Photographer and Digital Retoucher:
Photographed lingerie models for the online catalog, retouched/color-corrected, uploaded onto the company’s website and added written content of items. Helped to keep the website up to date and created e-newsletters for customers. Worked with the stylists and helped new models to see if they can take direction and work with us.

In-House Graphic Designer creating embedded HTML ads for emailing customers & point of sales displays for car dealerships nationwide.

Digital Scanning Technician and Producer Assistant for a TV Production Studio: Creating digital files of production paperwork of past and present shows. Also managed the Receptionist desk when needed, answering phones, preparing memos, shipping, and other related duties. Help on various shows looking up stock footage, and making phone calls.

Production Assitant, Digital Retoucher and Customer Service: Checked drum scans for correct color, density, and spotting for dust; then digitally saving them, and/ or e-mailing them to clients. Also involved system time retouching, and setting up files for Fujix dye sublimation, large format, Iris printers and LVT. Assisted customers with their orders both in person and on the phone.

Customer Service Specialist: My duties were to assist customers at the front desk as they came in to have digital images printed and retouched. This was at the time the only full-service digital photo lab in the area of Los Angeles. I helped to create orders for small and large format, fine art printing, press printed marketing materials, as well as retouching for old family heirloom pictures. I was then moved to handle corporate accounts by phone and email for large orders. While I was there, I created the orders as they came in, invoiced, and this included walking the jobs from start to finish to shipping everything out or preparing them for pickup or local delivery. Everything was done in-house, we even had our own server, that I would occasionally have to look items up on.

The singer for Three Dog Night, Chuck Negron, came in one day very angry about a job that wasn’t done correctly. I hadn’t taken the order in, but I assured him that I would personally make sure that whatever was done wrong, it would be done correctly by the very next day. I walked that order from start to finish, making sure that everyone down the line understood what needed to be done. By the next morning, he came in and was so happy! Gave me a hug, and a letter of glowing recommendation because he was about to pull his account from us.

Another time, a gentleman came in with a very old photograph, while he was explaining to me that he just wanted a copy made, I saw the telltale tattoo of numbers on his arm. Upon looking more closely at the photo, it was of him as a boy in a Nazi concentration camp. So I showed it to my boss, and we had it completely digitally restored and printed for no cost to him. When he came to pick up his order, he was moved to tears when he saw the result.

Customer Service/Sales and Purchaser for a large camera store: I assisted customers in the then brand new world of consumer-ready digital cameras, printers, and other digital media. Working with professional photographers and hobbyists in person and on the phone with their orders and needs. I was then moved into the position on digital dept purchaser making sure that our shelves were well stocked and special high and low-end orders were met for our customers.

Professional b/w and colour darkroom printer for a large photo lab: Created prints as small as wallets up to 30″x40″, printed Duraflexes, Duratrans, and transparency duplicates, colour and b/w negatives from 35mm up to 8×10 sheet film.

Portrait Photographer for Expressly Portraits in various Malls: Photographer, customer service, sales, darkroom printing.

Customer Service and Lab Tech for 1-hour photo labs while in high school and college. I’ve done everything, cleaning the machines, refilling the chemicals and paper, working with customers, taking payment, explaining how much of their images would be cropped when making larger prints, cutting the negs to put in sleeves, making sure that every order was done on time and correctly. I even worked in a drive up drop off booth in the middle of a parking lot. While I haven’t been able to travel yet, I feel like I’ve been everywhere from checking customers photos to make sure nothing was missing.

I learned really quickly how to work with people from all walks of life when I started to be a portrait photographer at Expressly Portraits. Helping customers into poses, making them feel at ease, understanding what they wanted, I learned to listen first, and add suggestions. This job I did while in art college up in MA and I continued during my summers back in NJ.

My fine art background in painting, life drawing, printmaking, graphic design, art history, and the skills I learned in a traditional b/w and colour darkroom back in art college, has helped tremendously for digital retouching. I still use my experiences when choosing a location, setting up the lighting, working in Photoshop and in Capture Pro One(I used to use Lightroom).

Being compassionate, listening, showing my clients suggestions and helping them to visualize it whether on the phone, email or in person. Having a good telephone voice and interacting online. How? If a client is having a hard time posing, I use my skills gained years ago, to help them be comfortable in front of the camera, and finding their self-confidence and be at ease. The relationship between a photographer and the person they’re photographing is quite intimate. I listen to their needs, fears, and self-doubt, and I work with them. I like to chat, have a conversation to help everyone be comfortable.

I also add suggestions to a clients idea, if I feel it may add or subtract from their vision, thinking out of the box, being creative when something doesn’t go as planned, and keeping calm makes who I am a professional. Keeping calm is huge, and I get this from my years as an equestrian. You need to remain calm, even when your horse decides to be a jerk and bolt from a standstill heading back to the stables. If not, you both get hurt, I mean you still could, but showing your horse that you’re all going to be ok, and that you’re the one in charge, does prepare you for life.

What have you done in the past that helped or hindered the career you’re in now? Post your comment below, thanks!

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