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Making the decision to become a freelance photographer isn't one you make lightly. It requires commitment, planning, and strategy. One thing you can to do prepare yourself for such an undertaking is to attend the "Making a Living as an Emerging Photographer" lecture at the B&H Event Space on June 19th, 2014, at 4 p.m., which is being given by professional documentary photographer Diana Markosian. We had the opportunity to ask Markosian a few key questions on the topic, which shed light on the pervasive power of people skills and how personal insecurity can be the biggest obstacle you face.
When someone is ready to dedicate themselves to becoming a full-time professional photographer, how important is it for them to have a clearly defined goal for the kind of photography they want to make?
I think you have to have some sort of vision for the type of work you want to be making. Naturally, it evolves as you mature, but it's important to have an understanding of what you hope to be creating and work towards something bigger.
If someone has an affinity for a specific area of photography, should they concentrate solely on that, or should they try to make money by taking on any kind of photographic work possible?
There are so many different ways of approaching photography. I don't think there is one right way of pursuing your career. You have to do what works for you. My suggestion is to pursue the things you are drawn to rather than what makes the most money. Having a business plan is important. I try to diversify my income as much as possible—whether it's by teaching or writing articles to accompany my images. This has been especially important when I am in-between projects. It gives me time to reflect on my work and what it is I am trying to create.
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As someone who holds a Master’s Degree in Journalism from Columbia University, do you feel that formal study is an important aspect to making a living from photography?
My education at Columbia set a foundation for the type of work I am doing. But you don't need to have formal education to be a photographer. I think the more curious you are about the world, the more interesting your work will be.
"Anyone can take beautiful images. That's not the hard part."
It’s often said that having strong people skills is essential to being a professional photographer. Has this been your experience as well?
I think it's essential to life, not just photography. You have to be able to connect with people—and be vulnerable with your subjects. This is what makes photography real. Anyone can take beautiful images. That's not the hard part.
Your work has carried you around the world. Do you find that people skills are somewhat universal, and follow you from culture to culture?
Respect and kindness are universal. But each country is unique. It's important to understand the customs of a culture before reporting on it.
Have you identified common pitfalls for photographers trying to make the transition from amateur to pro? If so, what are they?
A lot of photographers have a tendency to get in their own way. There are so many talented photographers whose work is not out there because they're either unsure about their images or don't follow through with their projects. It is a bit self-destructive. My personal pitfall is not having enough patience with my work. I am constantly worried about the outcome, so if I am not producing new images or a project, I think I am doing something wrong. It helps when I am able to put things in perspective, by reminding myself that my images are just the side effect of the journey I am on.
If you had to single out the one most critical piece of advice for amateur photographers who aspire to go pro, what would it be?
You have to want it more than you're scared of it.
Diana Markosian will be giving a free lecture at the B&H Event Space on June 19th, 2014, at 4 p.m. that will help guide you into the world of freelance photography. She will discuss her personal career and the importance of building a portfolio, marketing oneself, and learning to diversify your income. Unfortunately, online registration has been closed, but you can still get on the waiting list if you arrive 15 to 30 minutes early.