From the Photo-Secession to Group f/64, photography clubs have been around since the turn of the 20th century. And while some think of photography as a solitary pursuit, the friendships between artists in these groups—Alfred Stieglitz and Gertrude Käsebier, Imogen Cunningham and Ansel Adams—serve as a reminder of the power of community. Today, with the help of social media, it’s easier than ever for photographers to form relationships with career-launching potential.
For introverted creatives, the idea of putting yourself out there and networking with other photographers, editors, curators, and industry leaders can feel daunting, but finding a community can push you out of your comfort zone and open doors for opportunities that would otherwise feel out of reach: group exhibitions, publications, and client introductions. We put together this guide of actionable networking tips to help you navigate the ins and outs of making meaningful connections.
Networking is about cultivating long-term professional relationships, and you can start forming those connections without any expectations or pressure. Instead of waiting to contact a potential client or collaborator until you need a job or a favor, get in touch now. You can message them simply to say you love their work, or you can send a recent personal project of your own that they might find inspiring. The worst thing they can do is not respond.
For some, networking is a marathon, not a sprint. The idea is to introduce yourself without asking for anything in return. Down the road, that relationship could grow into something more, but for now, you’re just expressing interest. Make your note personal to the individual you’re contacting, and show that you’ve done your research. Keep your tone humble yet confident.
Attend workshops and portfolio reviews
The web is a great place to start building connections, but you’re more likely to leave a lasting impression if you meet face-to-face. Workshops and portfolio reviews are perfect for meeting people in a more intimate setting and getting one-on-one feedback on your work. Organizations like Maine Media Workshops + College, Eyes in Progress, and FotoFilmic offer workshops by leading photographers and photojournalists, while juried portfolio review events like CENTER’s Review Santa Fe offer plenty of opportunities to learn from the best in the business.
Trade organizations like Professional Photographers of America and the American Society of Media Photographers also offer conventions, workshops, and conferences for industry pros. You don’t have to go to every event; instead, select a few key opportunities that align with your goals and aspirations, and focus on making the most of them. After attending an event, remember to follow up and thank people for their time.
Quick tip: Arrive at events early. That way, you’ll have time to meet people in a more relaxed setting, before the crowd arrives.
Stay active online
Make it easy for the right people to discover your work by maintaining a consistent presence on social media. Focus on a few key platforms (500px, Instagram, TikTok, etc.) and post new work regularly. Use hashtags, and engage with other photographers. In addition to your professional work, feel free to share behind-the-scenes videos or blog posts that give your followers a sense of your story and personal vision. Finally, create a simple but beautiful portfolio website so that people can easily get in touch if they want to work with you.
Quick tip: Collectives and databases for photographers are flourishing right now. These communities offer a sense of support and belonging, and they can also lead to new job opportunities. While some are open for anyone to join, others might require an application. Some influential communities include Women Photograph, Black Women Photographers, and the African Photojournalism Database.
Put quality before quantity
One misconception about networking is that more (more contacts, more events, more cold calls) is always better. For introverts, in particular, a few quality connections can be worth more than tons of superficial ones. When attending an event, whether it’s a photo exhibition opening, a photo walk, or a workshop, focus on forming just a couple of connections with the right people.
As an introvert, your strength lies in your ability to listen to what other people have to say. Consider preparing before an event by researching the people who will be in attendance and coming up with some questions you’d love to ask about their work. You can even reach out beforehand to say you’re looking forward to meeting them in person. One meaningful conversation will prove more rewarding than dozens of hasty introductions.
Quick tip: Remember to nurture your existing network. The clients, collaborators, and editors you’ve worked with in the past can help connect you with future contacts, so stay in touch or schedule a lunch to catch up.
Create your own opportunities
When we think of networking, we generally think of rubbing elbows with industry “gatekeepers,” like influential curators, gallerists, and publishers. But you don’t have to wait to be “discovered” to start putting your work out there.
There are so many ways to create opportunities for yourself, whether it’s organizing a pop-up exhibition with other local photographers or launching a print sale with artists you’ve met online. Maybe you set up a regular meetup or critique group with friends and ask them to invite their friends. You can contact the big names, but don’t overlook the value of collaborating with your peers.
Rejection is part of the process, so learn to accept it. Even when someone doesn’t respond or you don’t get an offer, you’ve put yourself out there. Not everyone will connect with your work, but it’s not personal, so don’t let it discourage you from trying again. Networking takes practice. The more you reach out to others, the more comfortable you’ll feel getting in touch with new people. Every time you do it, you’ll learn something valuable.
Once you’ve found your place in a photography community, look for ways to help others. Maybe you connect an emerging photographer you love with an editor you think would be the perfect fit, or perhaps you offer feedback and tips to your colleagues on where they can pitch their ideas. Be kind to everyone you meet on set; the talented assistant or makeup artist could be in a position to offer you a job someday. If you come from a genuine place and are willing to give back, people will be more likely to help you out in the future. You have to give to get.
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