Student Interviews Photographer Jamie Bloomquist

Posted on Thursday January 28, 2010

by Tiffany
Passages Student

“When I wrote these questions to Jamie I never thought he was going to answer them back. When Jamie did I was amazed by what a photographer could do. I have made my mind up I want to be a photographer.” – Tiffany

Dear Tiffany,

Thank you for your note.  I think it’s great that you want to become a photographer.  It’s an exciting time for photography.  We had four or five years where digital was still in development and the cost was high.  Now the prices have come down putting excellent quality cameras within reach from several brands.

With digital being affordable and accessible, there are more people entering photography than ever.  The competition is harder than ever but the good news is, photography will always be in demand.  A career in photography is within reach.  How hard you work at it will determine your success.  It’s not easy, but it’s very satisfying work.  You can take inspiration from the fact that a woman from Camden, Samantha Appleton, is now the official photographer for Michelle Obama!
On to your questions.

What kind of school do you have to go to?

School can be a great way to learn basic skills and I recommend some classes to learn how to operate cameras, test new gear, learn about lighting equipment and get some of the technical know-how that is necessary to move beyond the equipment so that you can concentrate on the images.

A college degree is not necessary for most parts of the photography business; many young photographers find that an apprenticeship is a better way to learn both the craft and the business of photography.  If you are going into a very technical type of photography, like biomedical photography or forensics photography, then I would recommend college.  If you want to be a photojournalist or a portrait photographer then I would recommend following the path of apprenticeship.

What do you call a good photo?

What constitutes a good photograph can vary greatly.  What you find beautiful I may find ugly.  An image can be judged on its technical merits – well exposed, sharp focus, composed well, and those merits are often how we judge nature photography, but even those technical rules are broken in fine art photography and still be considered a good photograph.  Does it taste good?  You’re a good cook.  Does it look good?  It’s a good photo.  Can you shoot photos under a deadline with an art director standing over your shoulder and a crew of models and make-up artists?  You are a professional photographer.

Is this what you always wanted to be? Were you in yearbook in high school?

I knew that I wanted to be a photographer when I took an art class in 9th grade from a teacher named Mr. Prohaska.  He taught me the technical skills of photography and inspired me by showing me the work of many great photographers.  Mr. Prohaska kept pushing me, challenged me and gave me the confidence that I could succeed with a career in photography.  I did work on the yearbook staff but it was the work in the art classes that really hooked me on photography.  I had taken every photography class offered at school and since I had completed all my required classes, I convinced the school board to let me create my own photography course with Mr. Prohaska when I was a senior.

If I were taking a photo of my child, what would you suggest I do to get a good photo?

Photographing children is hard because getting them to cooperate is challenging but in some ways it’s easier because they have no preconceived ideas of how they should look.  They are completely at ease in front of the camera.  Getting a great image of a child means taking a lot of photographs and practicing.  What will come with time is looking through the viewfinder and knowing that moment to click the shutter.  Anticipating the moment takes time and is one of the things I love so much about photographing people.  I don’t believe that some people are photogenic while others are not.  I think there is a beautiful image of everyone, you just have to find it.

How long did it take for you to take the good photo?

How long?  Like I said earlier, if you take a photograph that someone enjoys, then you can have a good photo.  If you photograph your sister and she thinks it makes her look pretty, then it’s a good photo.  Getting good photos and making consistently good photos can only come with hard work, time and experience.  Within a few years you should feel confident enough to know that you can take a good photo, but it may take twenty years before you think you’ve gotten to a point where you can take a great photo.  Only you will know when you’ve achieved that, and it’s not something that anyone else can take away from you if you feel good about the images you are making.

How much money does it take to get started (Camera , school, everything you need)

A good digital camera with interchangeable lenses starts at about $600.  You can begin learning with a camera that costs much less.  A course at the Maine Media Workshops in Rockport can cost $750, but working as an assistant at the Maine Media Workshops costs you $0 and might even pay you something, although I don’t expect that it would pay much.  College courses at the Rochester Institute of Technology can cost you between $50,000 and $100,000 for a four year degree.  If you decide that college is the best way to go, then you should have a plan to build a career on that expense.  I chose the college route to learn photography.  I learned from some excellent teachers, school provided many great life experiences and I met friends that I’ve had for twenty years now, but if I were to do it all over again I may have chosen a different path to a career in photography.  I have a good friend that went to college for a career in photography and now he runs a successful advertising agency.  While he does not work behind the camera, he oversees all the photo shoots and video shoots for television commercials.  He’s an excellent photographer but doesn’t get paid to push the shutter.  Keep an open mind about the many different careers in photography that don’t include you actually taking the photos.  Here are other jobs that may interest you:
– Make-up artist for fashion photography
– Food styling for food photography
– Still image editor
– Photoshop editor
– Film/Video editor
– Multimedia developer

All of these require you to have some photography skills and understand what makes a great image, but not all careers mean you are the one pushing the shutter.   If your dream is to be a National Geographic Photographer, then don’t let anything stand in your way, but if you don’t know exactly what you want to do, then keep an open mind about the other jobs that may make you happy.

And to expand on that last sentence, I would say the best thing about being a photographer is that you will love to go to work every day and that’s what makes a great career.  I got to travel to far away places, climb mountains, snowshoe across a desert, ride in a glider plane, and sail from Maine to Florida in my career as a photographer and I have loved every minute of it.  I now make my living working with photography to create a great magazine and that is just as exciting for me as all the adventures I found while clicking the shutter.

When taking a photo of a waterfall would you take it at sunset or sunrise?

As an outdoor photographer I can tell you that noontime I was rarely out taking photos.  The best images come at sunrise and sunset.  Generally speaking, you have about an hour after sunrise to get great images before the quality of the light starts to decline.  The window of opportunity before sunset is longer.  The great light can extend as long as three hours, but the magic light is always within the last thirty minutes before the sunsets and sometimes another fifteen minutes after the sun has dipped below the horizon.  If you want to be a nature photographer you better be a morning person because that comes with the territory.

How much money do you get paid per job?

Looking at all the different types of photographers in a general sense, the average day-rate for a professional photographer is about $1,200 + expenses.  Magazines pay less, some advertising clients pay more. Some photographers like Annie Leibovitz  make considerably more.  She might get paid $30,000 per day.  Much of how that price is determined is based on your skills as a photographer and how the company will be using the images.

Let’s do some math.  You need to advertise your work, discuss the details of the job, negotiate the price, account for the weather if you are an outdoor shooter and finally you get to shoot the photos and get paid.  For every day of shooting you’ve got at least three days of preparation.  That being the case, the maximum number of days you are actually getting paid is only about 85 in any given year.  85 x $1,200 = $102,000.  Subtract out the costs for equipment, paying an assistant, office expenses, marketing expenses and you should be able to take home 1/2 of that.  You won’t get rich in this scenario, but you can make a good living.  That’s just one look at how a photographer makes money.  You could resell images from your archive, sell calendars, postcards, you could offer courses to other photographers.  There are many different ways that photographers price their work and how they get paid.  If you want to know more I would be happy to expand on the topic at another time.

If you wanted to be a photographer, do you need to be a wedding photographer?

Wedding photography is just one option.  Its biggest advantages are it doesn’t require leaving Maine to make a living and it’s fun.  You photograph people on one of the happiest days of their life.  There are over 10,000 weddings in Maine each year so you can usually find work right in your hometown.  If you want to be a fashion photographer you will need to move to New York, Milan Italy or Paris to have the best chance for success and the most available job options (I can count the fashion photographers that I know of in Maine on one hand).  If you want to be a National Geographic photographer the chances are good you are going to be on the road much of the year (my friend David McLain travels 150 days of the year as a Nat. Geo shooter).  What kind of photography you choose will determine where you need to be to succeed.  If you want to live in Maine (it’s a great place to live), then you can be a wedding photographer, or a nature photographer, or a photojournalist.

It’s all where you want to be and what you like to photograph.  I did photograph weddings for a few years and they are fun but also a lot of pressure.  You have one chance to get it right and no re-shoots.  The center of the photography universe in the United States is New York City.  I never wanted to live there but you will learn the most and find many photography jobs in the bigger cities around the country.  You don’t have to live in NY to be a photographer, but if you think you might like living in a big city, you will find more career options.

I hope my comments were helpful and I wish you all the luck in the world in your pursuit of a photography career.  If I can answer any other questions just drop me a note.

All the best,
Jamie Bloomquist

A directory of many Maine photographers on the web:

Click on any of the photographers names and then on their website and you’ll be able to see samples of their work.