There are so many people that dream of being a fashion photographer in a huge thriving metropolis. It is mesmerizing to watch people be turned into the spotlight and thrive. They make it look seemingly effortless; if only it were that easy.
While it is inspiring as all hell to watch a successful fashion photographer rise from the trenches and put their stamp on this world, it isn’t that simple. They have often been working for years, sometimes decades, to produce work of their caliber and create a network of contacts that got them this far. It most definitely doesn’t happen overnight.
I wish I could tell you that it is all sunshine and rainbows, but the truth is that it is incredibly difficult. There is no how-to guide that creates an easy path for immediate success. It doesn’t mean that it’s impossible, merely it is definitely not for the faint of heart.
Trying to become a fashion photographer in New York City will test you in ways that you never imagined possible. In order to build an incredible book, you need to test with agency models. In order to produce a great test, you need to have money. That being said, there are only a handful of paid test photographers in this city, and that number is shrinking every day as more agencies are choosing to take a different route. It is necessary to realize this before making the leap as you will almost certainly need a different stream of revenue coming in. Suffice it to say, I made more money working as a photographer back home in Montana. The drawback with that is it is more difficult to produce the type of work that is necessary to make this dream a reality.
Even having that I have assisted well known fashion photographers and helped produce for several major campaigns on my resume, or putting a direct referral from Melissa herself, I have yet to see anyone who is willing to take the risk and make the investment in me. Even though I know I can produce quality imagery time and time again, there are very few that will pay for it.
As a plan B, I have been taking up other types of photography for income and have hit the streets running. As a rule of thumb, New Yorkers tend to only want to work with other New Yorkers. If you are new to the city, dress like them and try to act like them in interviews. They can smell out of towners a mile away and a simple once over usually means the interview is over before it ever began.
It isn’t pretty. It is pretentious as hell. I think we all have to have a little sadistic nature in us to want to make this a reality. I have wanted to quit so many times. So. Many. Times. Watching a bank account plummet is one of the scariest things I have ever witnessed in my life. And the time is coming where I am going to have to re-evaluate a way to make this work. It may require splitting my time for several months in order for me to keep going. And that is ok.
There is no way to sugar coat the challenge of this market. Timing is everything in this industry. When it is off, everything is gloriously off and it is a domino effect of mishap after mishap. The question to ask yourself is how bad do you really want it? And realize that you may fail several times working in the Big Apple before you find a path that works for you. It isn’t impossible by any means. It requires an immense amount of blood, sweat, tears, the right connections and great timing. When New York is ready for you, you will know and be prepared to act immediately so they do not forget about you faster than a New York minute. The most important thing is to keep having faith within yourself, no matter what happens, and keep plugging away.
All Photography by Brittany Smith