Preparing for Job Searches

Once you are almost finished with photography school, it’s time to search for a job. The search takes planning and has several parts. You will need to prepare a resume and cover letter, gather some letters of recommendation, and put together a portfolio.

Career References

Most employers will want letters of reference or at least names of people they can contact as references for you. Before they take a chance on hiring you, they want to hear from others who have worked with you in the past and who are familiar with your work. For photography jobs, it is critical to have references from the photography field, but other work and character references are also vital.

Choose someone who knows you well—not necessarily someone who has known you for a long time, but someone who knows and values your experience and skill set. Usually an instructor from photography school or a recent client is a good choice. You can also use employers from past jobs.

When you are taking photographs for a wedding or portraits, ask if you can include the client as a reference for future clients. If it is included as part of your usual routine, you won’t have to find contact information later and spend time asking for your clients’ permission.

If a letter of reference is requested, give the letter writer plenty of time to meet the deadline. It helps if the person has good writing skills.

Be sure to ask permission from anyone who you list as a reference. Get their best contact information so you can give it to the employer who is interviewing you.

Once someone has written a letter of reference for you or agreed to be a reference, write that person a thank-you note to show your appreciation.

Job Interviews

Interviews for photography jobs can be similar to and very different from interviews for other jobs. As in interviews for other types of jobs, you will be asked questions and need to follow good business etiquette. You will probably be asked for references or information about your photography school courses. Some differences are that you may be interviewed by a couple planning a wedding or have an interview for a freelance job. Also, you will need to have a portfolio, which is different from most jobs. Here are some interview tips:

Preparing for Job Searches

  • Arrive ten to fifteen minutes early for the interview.
  • Shake the interviewer’s hand firmly, make eye contact, and smile.
  • Address the interviewer in a formal way, unless he or she asks you to use his or her first name.
  • Ask the interviewer to repeat a question if you don’t understand it or ask for more specifics if the question seems vague.
  • Allow pauses without seeming flustered or uncomfortable.
  • It’s okay to show some humor at the right time.
  • Speak clearly and distinctly.
  • Think about photography projects you have completed. You can use the details from such projects when the interviewer asks for specific examples of your work. You also need to have details in your mind for the photographs you have in your portfolio.
  • Prepare questions for the interviewer. You need to know more about the job or project so you can make an informed decision about accepting it.
  • Have your portfolio ready to show the interviewer. Prepare photographs that are similar to what the job will be, such as wedding photographs for a wedding client, news shots for a newspaper, etc.
  • Be ready to explain past jobs, including some technical details, but don’t overdo it. Clients may ask how you achieved a certain effect, but they don’t want to know every camera setting and lighting level.
  • If the client wants you to prepare an estimate, ask when the deadline for that is.
  • It is appropriate to ask when a hiring decision will be made and if it is all right for you to call at a certain time.
  • When the interview is over, stand and shake the interviewer’s hand and thank the interviewer for his or her time.
  • After the interview, send a short note thanking the interviewer.


Once you are nearing the end of photography school, you need to prepare a resume. Writing a professional resume can be a challenge for photographers. It is hard to distill your work into writing. Nevertheless, resumes are required for most job applications or interviews, so put one together. Here are some helpful guidelines.

  • Resume Format
    1. Format your resume for both paper copies and online submissions. Make it as clean as possible, with lots of white space.
    2. Include all your contact information at the top. Make sure to have all your phone numbers (cell and land line) and mailing and email addresses.
    3. Don’t use more than two fonts and don’t use flashy fonts.
    4. Use a 12-point font and don’t cram too much in each paragraph.
    5. Use bullets to create a shorter but powerful look.
    6. Don’t use passive voice, such as, “The photograph was taken by me.” It is better to say, “I photographed the wedding.”
    7. Make sure there are no typographical errors. Have someone else read it to be sure.
    8. Include a list of clients who have agreed to be references and their contact information.
  • Resume Content
    1. Include your GPA and a short list of your most relevant photography school classes.
    2. Add a list of honors and awards you have received for your photographs
    3. Write down the jobs you’ve held, even if they aren’t photography related.
    4. Include something personal about you. It can be under a heading of interests or extracurricular activities.
    5. If you have done freelance photography, list those jobs and projects briefly.
  • Cover Letter Most resumes will need a cover letter, whether it is mailed or sent electronically. Customize each letter to show that you have done some research on the company where you are applying. Put your strongest qualities and attributes at the beginning of the letter. You can also explain any red flags, such as why there is an employment gap in your history. Be sure to include your contact information in the cover letter as well as on the resume. Stress whatever specialty is needed for the job. For example, if it is a sports photographer position, list similar jobs in detail, and then just mention that you have also done portrait or wedding photography.

Preparing Portfolio

When you begin looking for photography jobs, you will need a portfolio that includes a variety of photographic styles and types. If you are just starting out, you probably won’t have a wide selection of photographs. Be sure to include any photographs that you have taken for photography school courses, especially those that drew praise from your instructors.

You may need to prepare different portfolios for use in applying for different jobs. For example, have a selection of wedding photographs, a set of news photos, a group of scenery photographs, and several portrait photographs. Then you can put together photographs that fit each job interview you have.

It takes time to choose the photographs for your portfolio. You probably have taken thousands of shots during photography school, and it is sometimes hard to judge your own work. It is good to have five to ten shots for each subject portfolio, so you may need to take more photographs for one section. If you plan to specialize in only one type of photography, concentrate on that type.

Portfolios can consist of images printed on paper and possibly matted, or they can be online portfolios. It is good to have both, and they can contain the same photographs. When applying online, include the web address of the appropriate portfolio. For an in-person interview, take only the photographs that fit the job position. It’s not a good idea to have all of your photographs in one portfolio if you only intend to show five to the interviewer. Leave the others at home.

Make the portfolio look as professional as possible. Choose the highest-grade processing and paper and the best portfolio case you can afford. If you have different groups of photographs, you can switch them in and out of the case as needed.

If you are having trouble choosing photographs to include, ask your photography instructor or other students for advice. Sometimes another set of eyes is what is needed to complete an excellent portfolio.

Start your search with your school and instructors. They may know of job openings that would fit what you want to do. If you have been working an internship during school, be sure to talk to those people. Stepping into a job after you have interned with a company is the easiest transition possible.

If your school has career fairs or if there are any in the area, go to those. Take along copies of your resume and your portfolio. Be ready to show it or to interview if someone asks you. If you joined a photography association, use its resources to search for jobs.

You can contact companies or businesses where you would like to work. They may have unlisted openings for which you would qualify. If you are planning to start your own business right away, lay the groundwork while you are still in school. Ask about freelance assignments if you want newspaper or magazine work, research stock photo agencies online, or make plans for your portrait studio.

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