Dear Photographer: Should I Move to a Livelier City/Photo Market?

Hello, I have a quick question. I’m always curious about the various markets for photography. I’m an editorial photographer who lives in Oklahoma City (not a great market), and am always musing on moving my family to a livelier city (New York or Los Angeles) where I could possibly get more work. If anyone has made a similar move and has some insights to share I’d be grateful for the advice.—Anonymous

‘Dear Photographer’ is a new section where readers can ask advice and/or questions of the Feature Shoot audience to be answered via comments under the post. Please send questions for consideration to [email protected] with Dear Photographer in the subject line.

  • Do you move to a place with a larger market? Maybe.

    First, try putting yourself in larger markets right from your current city:
    • find an agent or similar representation
    • become a contributor to online blogs or photography organizations
    • contact editors to ask them to add you to their roster if they ever need a project done in your area

    Don’t look for the largest market, look for the market that might suit you best. (I did this inadvertently when I moved from Montana to Maine) If you shoot wildlife photography, go to Jackson Hole. If you photograph people, go somewhere with a burgeoning creative culture. Clients in New York and LA often reach out to photographers in other, smaller cities to photograph local people and stories, since it cuts down on travel costs.

  • Bargo

    NYC is overflowing with photographers scrounging for work, and the cost of living is very high. $2,000/month for a 450 sq. foot “1 bedroom” apartment in Manhattan is not uncommon, and the more affordable/bigger apartments are way out in Sunnyside or Flushing Queens. If you like paying $5.75 for a regular box of Cheerios come on up!

    Not trying to dissuade you, and I’m not a pro photographer, but you need to be aware of the costs and the competition before you arrive. See if you can crash on someone’s sofa for a week and see what the job prospects are like.

  • In addition to what the previous comments have had to say… both good advice… with bigger markets come bigger competition and for the first “while”, you being the outsider, with the opportunities being given to those who have been “invested” in that market longer.

    I actually went through what you are considering about 9 years ago. I was a commercial shooter in the Syracuse, NY market and decided I wanted to grow and expansion to large markets seemed the thing to do. After nearly a year going to the NYC market (while maintaining my base of operations in Syracuse, 5 hours away) and, to be honest, floundering at best I changed direction and looked at the Toronto market. I love the city, but finding people who would hire me was a struggle and it took about 3 years just to get a foot in the door. Bear in mind, I had about 20 years experience and a portfolio of international product clients (Henckels cutlery, GE, Kodiak boots, etc) at the time.

    Today my business has moved and is thriving, but it’s not a jump that can easily be made and the hit to your bank account will likley take years to recover, since that’s what you’ll be living on (see Bargo’s post above for an idea of expenses) for at least a year or so.

    Bargo has the best idea… “See if you can crash on someone’s sofa for a week and see what the job prospects are like.”

  • Ben

    Not sure if this helps, but I have experienced exactly what you’re asking about – I lived in NYC (I’m a working photographer), and it was the hardest damn thing ever. What Bargo is saying is totally true. It’s incredibly expensive, and unless you’re a millionaire or supremely talented/lucky, breaking through in a big city like NY is like pulling teeth.

    After trying that painful option, I moved to Athens, Georgia, and work began to pick up.. The portfolio I’d built up got me work from the local paper, and ironically I received a string of assignments from papers and magazines based in New York. Sometimes ‘local’ isn’t a bad thing, and as Greta said, clients often have need for photographers outside of the biggest centers.

    If you’re starting out, I’d definitely recommend setting yourself up in the most inexpensive way possible, and ‘working your way out’ from where you are. If your goal is to end up in a major city and get work there, it’s more likely it will be via the slow and steady route than just heading straight for the eye of the storm.

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