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Monday, 14 October 2013

Luca Sage and the Dos and Don'ts of the Contemporary Photography Industry

A few weeks back I saw Luca Sage post on his blog about how to get work shown and what not to do in photography. He writes about how he was reading another blog, which had a post on...

...how many students write and ask for tips on how to ‘make it’ in the photography World. I get a few of these, not many, which is good as I don’t feel I have actually “made it” in any sense. I’ve had some highlights for sure but do I actually really feel like I can fully support myself and my son with absolute certainty? Hm, that’s still something that I’m striving for. I’m sure many photographers out there would agree with me though so I’m definitely not alone. The work is still out there though, you just have to adjust to what is happening with both the editorial and commercial Worlds of photography.

So what do I say to people who ask me for tips on succeeding in the contemporary photography industry? Usually I tell them where I went wrong and to learn from there. The thing I wished I done more of is getting out there and showing my work to people. Make appointments and get your work seen.

So I thought I'd Luca about what not to do, as well as what to do.

For me, one of the things to do is to DO. Don't whine, produce, show work, meet people, greet people, contact people. Don't make excuses. If somebody wants to see your work and you don't have the train fare, don't tell them you don't have the train fare... Well, I've said too much already.

Here are Luca's thoughts...

All pictures by Luca Sage, from his Ghana and Street Fighter projects.


A few years ago when I left Brighton Uni I went to show my work to a picture editor at the Observer. He was and still is a great picture editor and I'd had twenty minutes with him after he came to talk to us in the 3rd year. He liked my work and told me to come and see him after I graduated. Later that year we had a meeting at the Observer, I showed him my finished final year projects from Serbia and also my Mother portraits.

The key thing about this story is that he loved my work and asked me what I was going to do. I said "what do you mean?"

"Well where do you want to go?"

"Well I've been wanting to go back to India, it's a fascinating time right now. They have one foot in their ancient traditions and one foot at the forefront of the global economy."

"Well, what ever you do will be good"

"But it's the money, I haven't got the funds to go"

"Well we can fund half before you go and then pay you the rest when you deliver the story"

"Really? Right, wow."

"Send in 5 or 6 ideas and I'll show your work to the editor and then we can take it from there"

Going down in the lift I was a tad happy to say the least, being paid by the Observer to shoot in India, it was like a dream come true? I grabbed a quick celebratory gin in a local pub and phoned my parents to tell them my good news. A few days later I got the flu and didn't get out of bed for a week. I found it difficult to research and develop 5 or 6 ideas, especially having the flu but I knew I needed to get back to him as soon as possible. I did my research and emailed him my five project ideas. He emailed me back a few days later and said he'd forwarded one onto the sports editor,  2 or 3 he liked but the last one had already been shot so that was a no go.

I rang his office twice to speak with him but was told he was busy. It was at this point I lost confidence. It's crazy looking back but for some reason I thought that he was no longer interested in my work. It's at this point I wish I had a time machine, to go back and ring him again. I remember him saying that he would sometimes have to sift through 5000 images, this was a busy man and not just somebody trying to avoid my calls. But I left it drift, I'm not sure exactly why because it seems crazy now not to have phoned back again and again. Photographers are just normal people, some are ballsy, some are not. Grow some and don't let opportunities fall by the roadside.


When you get called into an agency to show your book...make sure you have a book to show. I've been called in a couple of times and the first time I had to turn up with a few test prints. Complete and utter fail. I went out and bought a £300 book after that, something I should have done as soon as I left Uni, not 7 years later.


25,000 tweets. Don't spend your time on twitter like I did. Sure it's a great distraction but the last thing I needed was another distraction. Be sparing with the amount of time you spend on twitter. Look towards people like Simon Roberts and Nadav Kandar for how to use twitter sparingly. Both highly successful and both disciplined professionals, there might just be a correlation there?

Studio desk:

If you can at all spare the money, get a desk in a studio. Only if you are a disciplined human machine can you save money by working from home, otherwise it may well be a false economy.

Deadlines for Personal Projects

In my opinion by far and away the best aspect about University is the imposition of deadlines, that you have to meet. When you're a student you know exactly when you have to start, carry out and finish a project. They might even give you a nice brief for your personal project. There are no excuses, you just have to shoot the work and present it on time. Now, I'm pretty confident that some people are exactly like me in the sense that life seems to get in the way of many projects even getting started, let alone finished. Self imposed deadlines are not just good, they are necessary for any photographer to make new work. Everything and anything will get in your way, be it facebook, jobs, the flu or of course the photographer's pet: self doubt.

Just Do It

The biggest difference between you and the photographer's images that you see before you in this magazine or that blog, is the fact they have done it, rather than just thought about it. Just do it.


You should occasionally shop in Waitrose whether you can afford it or not. A chance meeting in there led to my finest series of well paid commissions. I think it was next to the wine section. It was a fashion client based in Brighton and when I said I was a photographer she said "oh! Brilliant, we like keeping our shoots local if we can.." And 5 seasons later


Even though picture editors are very busy people and often write very short one liners as if they are your best mates texting you, it doesn't mean you have to join in with the short answers. You don't have to go overboard and sign off with 'yours sincerely' but everybodyappreciates a little courtesy.


If you get the chance, live in London. You'll see what I mean if you do. Or Berlin. Or New York. Just make sure you move back out of London. 


When shooting editorial don't think your job is to be nice to the writer who is taking 80% of your time. They are writers because they talk constantly and want to get the job done. You also need to get the job done, so you need to stand your ground and insist they be quiet and leave the 'talent' to have their portrait taken. Picture editors don't care about the writers, they only want to see the right picture on their desk.


Don't keep checking your to see if you've been left a message about a commission. You'll only end up believing your phone is broken because it hasn't rung for weeks.


Don't book themselves.

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