You don’t have to be well established or a certain age to attain photographic success. I am a young artist being only 17, but I have been a globally published artist since age 13. When I was 11 I started to win art awards with mixed media works, but I generally create my art with photographs these days.
Myth busting and saving your money
I would like to give some advice to people starting out, and my most valuable tip is to save your pocket money for a decent website and to buy your own domain name. I use Zenfolio for my website. It is the easiest way for photographers to create a professional-looking website for the least amount of money.
When you are starting out you will barely have to spend anything on your public profile. Invest in the equipment you use daily and what is necessary for your creative evolution. There are a million magazines, exhibitions, and contests that are built to take these necessary funds away from you, much like vanity publishing in the world of writing. I find it horrendous that very low profile start-up magazines featuring artists and photographers expect you to pay up to £1200 to grace their pages. High profile magazine such as Harper’s Bazaar and British Vogue sometimes offer special rates to artists wishing to be published in their advertising features for as low as £60.
When I was 13, a piece of mine was exhibited for the United Nations International Year of Biodiversity. This meant my work was exhibited outside the UNESCO building in Paris, Madrid, Hamburg, London, Japan, New York, and other locations. The exhibitions I was included in didn’t cost me a penny. I only had to pay for worldwide rights for my image to become reproduced (copyright still resides with the original author of the image). They were high-profile images, and my name was highlighted and included with PR that as a child I could never afford on my own. It was of lasting importance — even now I’m still asked about it in interviews. These inclusions aren’t the same as hosting a solo exhibition, but they are a very important step toward notoriety and cementing your art in the public domain.
Becoming exhibited without spending money
I often see galleries in locations all around the world asking a large entrance fee just to be considered for inclusion. Then after acceptance, galleries often ask you to pay for delivery, insurance, printing, and full framing. This is especially painful if you are halfway around the world. These fees are completely and utterly unfeasible for most people starting out. I’m not saying for you to never pay an entry fee. Just treat the experience with a pinch of realism.
If your dream is to state in your photographer bio that you are an “exhibited talent,” then the easiest and most affordable way to become showcased in public is to enter a competition. Even if you are in the top 30 or 50 you might still become a commended person, with your work printed in high resolution, and you’ll be in the same location as the winners. They can’t have an exhibit with just one winner and two runners up. They need the commended entries and other chosen pieces to give the contest meaning.
Often the locations where art and photography competition exhibits are held are very prestigious. It is worth your time to enter even if you don’t win. Exhibiting in fashionable and trendy places makes people take note of your work, and in a lot of cases they will pay more attention to the biographical information than the actual art.
Another tip is to donate a piece to a charity exhibition. Try to get your name behind worthy causes. Photography as a medium has shed light on so many worthy causes, and it is important that it continues to do so.
Using the Web to get into print
If you want to become published in print quickly and fairly easily, Google is your dream come true. Type in these exact phrases: “new literary magazine” and “new art magazine,” then confine the search results to the current month. Typing in “call for submissions” will also return similar results.
When making submissions to these burgeoning magazines and journals, keep in mind that the majority will probably not be able to pay you in anything other than copies of their magazine. You will also find that nearly all of these young publications do not charge a fee to review your work.
Increasing your chances
To really maximize your effect, line up about 30 magazines to apply to, give a quick read of their briefs and submission details, fill out your application, and get prepared for rejections. There is no shame in receiving rejection letters from the majority of organizations when you are trying to get yourself published. It only takes one publication to choose your work for you to call yourself a published photographer or visual artist.
These letters will mainly be the standard “Thank you for your entry. We had many fabulous entries and unfortunately could not publish all of them” or it may be a more personal response. If you’re getting technical advice or advice on your style take heed — it’s free advice. This is the type of advice you would normally have to pay for within a portfolio review.
Making yourself stand out
My last tip is that you should have a signature style. Study other photographers, not today’s stock work but rather books containing historical styles. “The Genius of Color Photography” by Pamela Roberts is a gorgeous and essential book. While being as technically apt as possible keep your own little flaws here and there — this puts you ahead of the competition in a different way. People often find melancholy in my pieces. It’s only achieved with light. The same lighting and contrast that makes an image perfect for a scary book cover may keep me out of the running for a stock agency that would deem the image overly edited.
I hope this has provided help to other young creatives. Feel free to contact me if you have questions about anything I haven’t covered.
Eleanor Leonne Bennett is the CIWEM Young Environmental Photographer of the Year 2013 and has also won first place in National Geographic and the World Photography Organisation contests. Eleanor’s photography has been published in The Telegraph, The Guardian, British Vogue, Harper’s Bazaar, and as the cover of books and magazines throughout the world. She is also a writer, designer, and content creator. You can view more of Eleanor’s work at her website: https://www.eleanorleonnebennett.com.