Essential skills for Success in Photography and Graphic Design

A student interested in a career in photography and design contacted me recently through Facebook. I thought this would be an interesting conversation to share.

"We all know that it takes a high level of natural art talent to make it in this industry, but how do people advance in the design industry? What skills or talents are most essential to succeed in this field? What skills are most new designers lacking that are affecting their employment potential? What software is absolutely critical to learn?"

Graphic Design and photography today are both very competitive fields. To succeed, you must possess the ability to adapt and learn new techniques quickly. If you don’t keep up with new industry trends, software, or the latest 4k technology, your competition will swallow you whole.

As you say in your question, talent isn’t enough. Having interviewed candidates for both photography and design positions here at EpicMind and spoken with freshly graduated friends, I can say that many lack one critical thing: the ability to sell themselves.

Whether you want to get hired on staff or kick off your own business, as a creative professional, you need self-confidence, networking resources, and a little business knowledge. Get out and network—get your name out there, get leads, and convince others you’re the best for the job. Go to local networking events, participate in online forums, talk to people you know. It’s a competitive industry where you must be strong and able to convince others of your abilities.

Old sample page from my photography portfolio"Memories”, a sample spread from my early events portfolio. Promote your work with printed or digital portfolios. Your business cards, mailers, website and, your blog are all ways to get your work—and your name—out there.

Software skills

For photographers, there are two must-haves. First, RAW-conversion software, such as Phase One’s Capture One. It allows the photographer to fine tune the digital negative (the RAW file) and do things that are difficult or impossible with post-production software. For example, an overexposed image’s detail in the highlights can be gained back because the software allows you to access additional data found in the RAW file. Another example is white balancing a photo, doing this anywhere else can be nearly impossible. RAW software converts your digital negative to a standard JPG or TIF image, which you can manipulate with Adobe Photoshop, the second critical piece of software for a photographer. Its features include specific color adjustments, selective contrast fixes, blemish removal, compositing, and tons more. You can download a 30-day trial from Adobe’s website.

For designers, I’d recommend the Adobe trinity: Photoshop for photo editing/compositing, Adobe Illustrator for vector graphic work such as logos; and Adobe InDesign, which is layout software used to create all sorts of spreads: books, pamphlets, etc. The more skills you can bring to the table, the better your chances. Showing that you keep busy by continuously learning is something employers value.

"In this current difficult economy we have, how are job prospects for designers and how is the industry being affected in general? What do you expect the job trends to be like in the future with the current push to send work overseas and using cheap labor to cut costs?"

Downturn or not, demand for certain types of photography and design isn’t going away: product advertising, weddings and events, family portraits, magazines, and newspapers. The downward spiral means that budgets are reduced, but they haven’t disappeared. Shrinking markets drive competition. One solution for companies trying to cut costs is to hire overseas workers. They can offer similar work for a fraction of the cost. Thanks to the Internet, sharing digital files is quick and easy. Add to that the time-zone difference: While the client sleeps, an overseas contractor can be working, so that by wake-up time, the project is already sitting in the client’s inbox. It’s so fast, it’ll make your head spin!

India's Taj Mahal and a young students looking forward to the new booming economy India, with its growing economy and large population, is one of the countries Western companies look to for cheaper labour. Photos taken during a trip in 2005. Left: Taj Mahal; Right: Curious college students questioning me about my life in North America.

However, not all types of photography jobs are suited to sending overseas. For product photography, it often doesn’t make sense to ship the product over long distances. Consider shipping costs, customs brokerage, and company representatives wanting to be present at the shoot. Overseas transportation of our specialty—jewelry—can be problematic for insurance and safety reasons. Other types of photography can’t be exported period: weddings and events, for example.

On the design side, middle to higher-end projects that involve more creative discussion and where clear direction and communication are important, will stay local. Jobs involving straightforward, monotonous tasks are the type that are sent overseas: clipping out products from backgrounds, simple color corrections, basic retouching—tasks that many graphic designers dislike because they lack any creative component.

"Describe to me a typical day at work. What is the work environment and culture like? What are the tasks, duties, functions, and responsibilities?"

A typical workday as creative director and jewelry photographer at EpicMind involves a variety of tasks. I oversee all projects to ensure they are completed on time, within budget, and according to our client’s specs. Some projects have me thinking of ways to highlight a product’s unique feature, be it photographically or in some other promotional form. I work with the client on creative aspects through open dialog, an approach that breeds creativity, I think. Working with my team, I execute the vision and show a demo to the client. Once approved, we carry it through the finish line. It can be quite exciting!

That’s it for today. Stay-tuned for my next blog next week! Do not forget, if you have any questions please contact me.