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Photo Business Advice I Wish I Learned in Art School

Derrick going frontside at Pacifica Skatepark. © Jay Watson Photography

One responsibility in being a photographer involves teaching other photographers. This occurs through either working with assistants, or actually working as an instructor. Like kung-fu, any photographer worth their own salt has both learned from another photographer and/or mentored other photographers. I have taught a few photography classes including advertising, editorial, business, and portfolio classes at the AAU in San Francisco. At the end of each semester I used to share advice to students from a lecture titled …”Important Things That Have Nothing To Do With A Camera.”


Or… Photo Business Advice I Wish I Learned in Art School

1. You get better at putting projects together so learn from your mistakes now.

2. Teach yourself to work on ideas and projects when the semester ends because what are you going to do when you are not being given a grade anymore?

3. Make sure the freelance life is what you really want. “This thing” will consume much of your time. It affects your relationships, your friendships, and where you live.

4. You’ll be competing against everybody else who is looking for a job and that includes people who already have experience. So try to get ready now.

5. Start your “homeboy” marketing list. This is your top list of contacts including your peers, colleagues, potential clients, employers, interviewers, and friends of friends in your industry.

6. Build a pro website now! Don’t wait until your senior year. Don’t wait until graduation. More importantly, don’t wait until your work is perfect. That day will never happen (and that’s a normal feeling). You need the best representation of your work today!

7. Be proactive. No school or person is going to hand you the world. It is up to you to make sure you are meeting your goals. If you don’t know what your goals are then consider this basic need that’s as important as food, shelter, clothing, and personal satisfaction…your portfolio needs to kick ass.

8. Separate yourself from others. Submit work to contests. Get an internship. Don’t be afraid to take on a low budget shoot. However this is your career. The stakes are high so don’t give your work away. Charge a fair rate.

9. Make “art” part of your lifestyle. There are small things you can do everyday. Read about art, write in your journal, go to a gallery, research, learn a new technique, work on your portfolio, contact a person in your homeboy list, work on your website, work on new pieces. Do something art related everyday.

10. It is your responsibility to make a difference. Grades are for cowards. Above all else you and your work need to have integrity, intent, and passion.

The list is an excerpt from a longer lecture. Any comments or additions for the list are really appreciated!

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5 Responses to Photo Business Advice I Wish I Learned in Art School

  1. Jay,

    No one is better qualified to write what you wrote than you. You set a new standard for my assistants with the most overt and serious intent and integrity that I have ever seen. It helps that you were/are funny as sh*t. I hope you never change, my friend.


  2. words of wisdom jw. this young grasshopper appreciates it more than you know.

    hope you & the misses have a great xmas and new year!

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