Q&A: A Photographer’s Location

Q&A: How does a photographer’s location affect their career?

This is one of the questions I always get asked by photographers. Once upon a time, clients could afford to fly you, your assistants, and your ten thousands bags of equipment anywhere they wanted. Now, with the budgets collapsing and the competition from small towns growing, clients don’t have to go that extra mile for you.

There are definitely pros and cons to living in a big photography hub like New York or Los Angeles. With the convenience to photo studios, assistants, equipment, and locations also comes competition and higher costs. Competition in these places is really steep, but that can help to drive you and your work forward and also build a community of people who want (and need) to help each other. Having people around you who understand the hassles of your job can be essential at times.

If the city is your thing, then use it to make you a better photographer. Use the competition to throttle your work forward and take the time to build a community there. Meet your clients face to face and shake their hands. If you can’t stand tall buildings and the city life, then you’re going to have to work a little harder to get the jobs there. Your location will be an asset and a weakness, but if your marketing strategy is prepared for that then there shouldn’t be any barriers to you having a successful career. My advice would be to live in a place that makes you happy and fuels your work and, when in doubt, bid as a local!

For this month’s Q&A we’ve put this question out to some of our favorite industry creatives as well as to our own photographers. As always, thank you so much to all the contributors for making this discussion possible! From all of us here at Glasshouse Assignment, have a happy and healthy holiday season and we look forward to seeing you in 2010!

- Jacqueline Bovaird, Photo Rep, Glasshouse Assignment

RYAN SCHUDE, Photographer, Los Angeles, CA

I remember reading an article in PDN a few years back about photographers living in places like Boise that had no problem working full time because the client would simply fly them out for a shoot. This sounded amazing. These photographers could live their chill lifestyle, raise a family on their own terms and not live in obnoxious places like Los Angeles. Don’t get me wrong, after living here for a while I have grown to love LA but my decision to move here was definitely based around the assumption that it is easier to get work if you are close to where the work is happening. The story completely changes in regards to personal work. I can’t imagine any other city providing the resources available here as far as talent, location, props, equipment and a community of people so down to have fun making photos.

JASON LAU, Art Producer/Buyer, Team One USA

I think it depends on the circumstance. Typically we don’t limit our creatives to only local photographers. There have been plenty of instances where we were able to fly out the photographer and first assistant if we can fit it in the budget. I’ve dealt with reps that are willing to make the job happen if it comes down to travel cost. If we’re shooting something that is simple that doesn’t require too much expertise we would probably pick someone local since most of the time these types of shoots are quick. We always want to create great work so we don’t want to limit ourselves to locals only.

EVAN KAFKA, Photographer, New York, NY

I get a lot of my jobs because I am in NYC. There are a lot of shoots that happen in the city only because it’s more convenient for the agencies and magazines, particularly if clients want to be on set. There is a lot of concept and product stuff that could be done anywhere but it’s done here for convenience.

Since it is easy to fly out of New York, I used to get flown around a lot for editorial jobs. That seems to be happening less and less though as magazines cut back. If you can find a midsized market where you can shine, then maybe that is a better life. It’s crazy how many good photographers there are here and the competition is steep. I could live in the suburbs I guess, but I can’t imagine life without walking to work.

MANUELA OPREA, Photo Editor, Adweek Media

Location and the possibility of another [travel] cost is something that I have to consider when assigning a shoot, now more then ever. 
Most of the photographers I’ve worked with have offered to drive beyond the usual city limits without incurring a major travel expense. This is very helpful when trying to meet the budget. What I also find useful is getting travel updates from photographers. Then I don’t have to worry about the transportation cost for the shoot since they are already at that location.

MIHA MATEI, Photographer, New York, NY and Los Angeles, CA

(New York, NY and Los Angeles, CA ) If you want to be competitive in a big city market, I think it’s wise to bid as a local, especially if it’s a big job that you want to add to your portfolio. With everyone cutting corners these days, clients want to see that their budgets are wisely spent. Keep your bid competitive in all other aspects, but if you’re going up against a local whose portfolio is just as strong as yours, you might not win the job because of the added transportation cost. If you’re living in a small town, chances are that your operating costs and living expenses are lower than those in a big city, so at the end of the year, you’ll probably still have less overhead even with transportation costs added in.

NEIL BINKLEY, Publicity Director, Wonderful Machine

I think a photographer can make almost any location work for their career. There are benefits to living in New York, NY or Austin, TX, professionally and personally. I’ll let you decide what personally fits your lifestyle, and I’ll focus on the professional.

As for my background: I’ve enjoyed living in larger and smaller cities, having worked in creative fields in New York, Los Angeles, Portland, and now Philadelphia. And working for Wonderful Machine, I’ve seen that art buyers appreciate that we have photographers listed by location, in addition to specialty. Clients contact us to say how refreshing it is to find a solid photographer in smaller markets, because they’re often less familiar with talent in these cities.

The exception to this are photographers whose location is more integral to their specialty. For example, there are action/adventure photographers like Tyler Stableford, who works out of Aspen partially because of the scenic backdrops required for his specialty. In terms of location, I would say that a photographer has a better chance of getting work if they live in or within an hour or two of any city. Additionally, if you are willing to work as a local to the city, and not charge extravagant mileage to your clients, then you will have greater flexibility in how close you need to live to the city’s center.

As for where the clients are, there’s no doubt that the bulk of the magazine and publishing world is headquartered in New York, for example. Same with the major ad agencies that have a strong presence, if not headquarters, here. And it’s (almost unarguably) the epicenter of our industry, both in terms of prestigious work and influence. But here’s the thing: New York clients need photographers to shoot all over the world!

Working out of a smaller market can make you a big fish in a small pond and perhaps more visible to agencies in larger cities. Another consideration for you may be: if you’re financially and creatively happy living in a smaller city, do you really need to move to a larger city? At the end of the day, I recommend trying to live where you wish and seek work with appropriate clients in your own backyard, nationally, and internationally, too. So go show them your portfolio!

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Keep a look out for next month’s Q&A! I am always looking for new voices and new ideas so if you have comments, questions, or if you’d like to participate, please feel free to email me!

This Q&A exists as a monthly email blast and as a post on this blog. If you would like to receive our monthly email, please feel free to contact me and I would be happy to add you to our list!

Jacqueline Bovaird, Assignment Representative

212 – 462 – 4538  •  jacqueline@glasshouseassignment.com

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13 comments

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