Chris Johnston Photography

The old paths no longer work

A goal I've had for a long time is to be a National Geographic photographer. All the career "experts" give you this old adage "if you want to do something, find someone who’s already done it and do what they did." What I've found, is that regarding careers this is not always the best advice. Let me explain. 

Many National Geographic photographers started out as newspaper photographers. So if you want to follow this advice, you could look for a job as the local newspaper photographer in your town and think that would help you become a National Geographic photographer. The problem with this logic is that many newspapers no longer have photographers! They merely hand and iPhone to the reporter and tell him or her to take a couple of pictures to submit with their story. 

So newspapers are out, what's next. Many of the Nat Geo photographers were biologist, geologist, archeologist, or some other profession that ends in -ist, before they became photographers for the magazine. So if you wanted to follow them you would have to get a masters or Ph.D. in biology or geology and go to work in the field doing photography as a hobby and then transition to working as a freelancer for the magazine. The problem with this model is that the amount of money it cost for you to pursue that degree, unless your family is wealthy and can pay for it, is going to put you in debt for decades and you likely won’t be able to pay that debt off with the income you would make from freelancing as a photographer. 

The beauty of the Internet age and the democratization of media is that there are many more opportunities now to make money online or through ways that just were not possible in the past. The downside to this is that in the past there were clear pathways for how you transitioned from entry-level person to magazine photographer, for instance. People followed this path, and it was a tried and true method for attaining that specific title or job. There have been so many changes in the economics of the photography profession that those paths just don’t work anymore. 

The only way to make it work today is to try many different things and hope that you can figure out a formula that works for you. And there are a lot more formulas that do work in the industry today. 

You can sell presets, training courses, lead workshops, sell prints at art shows or online,  license images, or stock photography. To make a living, you’ll likely need to do a combination of these, but it is possible. 

For far too long I’ve tried to find a path that would work for me and know with certainty that it was going to work before I started. Well, today that ends. 

Products will be going up over the next few weeks; presets will probably come sometime after that, tutorials are going to be showing up in the form of posts and YouTube videos.  I’m going for it and this is it. I’m going to make it or die trying.