The Importance of Your Network

WOW.

This past month has flown by. Such a busy August, and September has shown no signs of slowing down. And, for some reason, today I’m thinking about one thing: how important it is to have a great network of people around you.

As a freelance photographer, I’m always in need of help. Help answering questions about pricing, contracts, equipment, locations, and so much more. Sometimes I need an assistant, sometimes I need to know what a location looks like before I get there. There’s no one book, no one website, no one person that has all of the answers. I might be a “one man show,” but that doesn’t mean I don’t or can’t rely on others to help keep my passion and my career not only alive, but thriving.

So, here are some tips I have on how to build and maintain relationships with other like-minded and helpful individuals who can help you succeed.

Seattle Portrait 2-1

Go to workshops.

I’ve attended only two workshops in my (so far) short career — I attended Skip’s Summer School a couple of years ago in Las Vegas, and I was an assistant at an After Dark Education workshop in St. Louis in April. That’s the extent of my “external photographic education.” At each one, I met so many great photographers and other people who have been a great help in my own business and in the direction of my work. Not only do you learn lots of new technical skills at these workshops, but you make new friends who are willing to help you out when you need it. One of the benefits of attending national workshops is that most of the photographers you meet are not from your own area, which makes them less “competition” and more “friendly neighbors” who are willing to offer advice and give insights that sometimes your local competition might not be willing to give freely. Learn from each other! It’s worth the cost.

Don’t be afraid of coffee.

That said, don’t be afraid to get out and meet your local competition! Yes, there are many, many photographers in my area, and we’re oftentimes competing for the same jobs. But that doesn’t mean that the competition can’t be friendly, productive, and formative. We are all pursuing the same career goals: the creation of great images. We can work together to do that, to learn from each other, and to bring up our industry as a group of talented, amicable individuals who are all participating in the same life pursuit. You can spare a moment to have coffee with them, get to know them, and who knows — maybe one of them will be double booked or need a second shooter and throw a job your way, or maybe you’ll need to borrow some gear when you’re in a bind and someone will step in and be generous. It’s all happened to me more than once. And on the flipside, I’ve needed to call on other competent photographers to assist or second shoot with me, and without knowing my competition both on a professional and personal level, I would have had a hard time finding a good helping hand.

Start a meet-up group.

One thing I’ve been trying to do over the past year or so has been to start up a local photographer meet-up group. Once a month, we get together for a couple of hours to grab a drink or some food and catch up. We don’t even usually chat about photography, making the “competition” even more friendly. Not limiting it to professional photographers is a way to meet people who are passionate about photographer and might end up as an assistant some day. It’s been tough to get a regular group together, since everyone’s schedules are so busy, but over time the group has grown and become more diverse. There’s probably an existing photographer meet-up group in your area…and if not, start one!

Stay connected.

There’s no excuse to not stay in touch with people you meet these days; between cell phones, e-mail, and especially social media, there’s never been a better time to stay connected. Join local photography-based Facebook groups, join groups based around photo workshops you attend, follow each other on Twitter and Instagram, and, more importantly, USE these things to stay in touch! Ask questions. Answer questions. Reach out to people when you need help and extend a hand when you can give it. It’s small gestures like this that grow your network exponentially and create an altruistic atmosphere. You deserve to have a great workplace and great coworkers, even if you’re a one-man band working out of a home office.

Get out there and make it happen!

All of these tips revolve around one experience I had a few months ago. I was in Seattle for a couple of weeks, and was looking for some local photographers to go out and shoot with. Then I remembered: I’m in an “alumni” group on Facebook for people who attended the Skip’s Summer School workshops. I posted a note on the group seeing if anyone was around, and a photographer I had met in Las Vegas responded, said he lived in the area, and would be happy to meet up. Being able to travel to a city you’ve never been to and automatically have a network is such an underrated thing. I ended up having a great dinner with Jared Burns, who I’d met in Las Vegas, and Brian Casey, who I hadn’t met but who had also been to one of the workshops. We went out shooting after dinner, and it was great having locals who knew of some great locations (and also had a car).  Sure, we might have looked a little silly with three cameras and tripods and a bunch of gelled flash units, but we got to practice what we love with other people who also do what we love, and got to learn something while doing it.

Surround yourself with positive people who love what they do, who love what you do, and who love helping others. Do that, and you’ll easily construct a network of people around you who will help build you up both as a photographer and as a person. You’ll have a support team that’s ready any time — and if you build it out of people in different time zones, you’ll almost always have someone eager to help you when you need it most! Photography doesn’t have to be a competition. Your full time job can be your passion, and your passion can be your full time job — but doing it alone is neither easy, productive, nor fun.   Images (c)2013 Stephen Ironside / Ironside Photography.

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