What is your parachute plan? That is a question that David Hobby, the founder of the Strobist blog and the small strobe phenomenon, asked me several years ago. When Strobist took off, David was able to leave his job as a daily newspaper photographer and live off a new-found reputation as a blogger of international importance and an expert in a field that he and, perhaps Joe McNally, created. My blog has not done so well. Alas! But David’s question is now one we must all consider and act on.
What plans have you made to facilitate the next step in your career and your life. When David asked me that question, I had some vague idea that I might like to work for a non-profit such as Samaritan’s Purse and be involved in international relief efforts or something like that. Of course, I never thought in a million years I might actually need such a plan. My newspaper was insulated, right? I suppose it remains to be seen whether any newspaper is insulated. As it became more and more clear that, industry wide, the newspaper world was shrinking and I might not be safe after all, I started to not just think about it but to do something about it.
My first step was to pull together a portfolio which I had not done with any degree of sincerity in several years. You may think this is an easy process you could do in a couple of hours. Not so for me. It was a painstaking process that took weeks of sorting through old files, putting photos in categories and editing and re-editing until I had a working number of about 100 images. That is way too many for a portfolio you might send to an editor but it was a good place to begin.
My next step was to research and see what kind of web site I would need. I looked at many online and talked to several friends who had web sites. I selected Photoshelter for a number of reasons. First and foremost, I am not a web head and have no idea how to code a web site so it had to be simple to use and Photoshelter filled the bill. The second thing I needed was a site that I could afford not expecting any immediate revenue from it. The Photoshelter basic site was a good fit for me and more than meets my immediate needs and gives me the ability to upgrade should the future place more demands on me. The last thing I wanted was a place where editors and art directors would see my work and, again, Photoshelter was the right choice for me. No, I am not a billboard for Photoshelter. I am simply trying to give you a window into my reasoning.
Now I had a venue to display the images. I began showing my photos to trusted friends and associates to whittle down the portfolio to a manageable level. I mostly used images that gained a consensus from these trusted friends. The site has been great and I have gained some excellent exposure through it. I am able to use the site to develop some clients and I have had several inquiries come to me directly through it. That means I am happy with my choice and I am about to begin some basic marketing using my site. You can see it at http://garycosbyjr.photoshelter.com
Several years ago, I also began working as a second shooter for an excellent friend who also happens to be a premier wedding photographer. David Higginbotham and I worked together at the newspaper and when he got married, asked me to shoot his wedding with another of our friends. That led to him inviting me to be his second shooter and assistant at David Higginbotham Photography which has been great as well. I never liked shooting weddings back in the film day but digital imaging and ordering has completely revolutionized wedding photography for me. Plus, DHP tends to get lots of travel work and I love to travel. Rome, anyone!
Additionally, I take any assignment I can get from an occasional portrait to a commercial shoot. I have developed a little bit of a working relationship with a couple of PR firms and have sold photos to ad agencies and PR firms and even a couple of book publishers. The key to all of this is having an online presence. Frankly, if you don’t have an online presence, there is no way you are ready should the worst happen. My online presence actually began with this blog. The aforementioned David Hobby took me under his wing for the first couple of years putting my site in his blogroll and featuring some of my photos on Strobist.
Having this online presence has literally transformed my career. Back in the day before internet, no one outside of this area would have ever heard of me or seen my work. Now, people all over the world read this blog and see my photos. While not all of them are buyers, art directors or editors, there have been enough to have given me a trickle of work here and there that I hope to parlay into a stream of work down the road.
The bottom line is this; I have to do all I can to make myself indispensable at work but I also have to prepare for a future where my current job does not play a role. I never thought I would have to contemplate this but in something like twenty days, a fair portion of my friends in photojournalism in this state will begin the next phase of their journeys. No one is immune. Do all you can to keep your job but also do all you can to be ready in the event the boss calls you into his office with that sad look on his face.