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Nick Papadopoulos (VII): practical advice for young photographers

Nick Papadopoulos (VII): practical advice for young photographers

© Mathieu Willcocks

October 2012

The following text is taken from a presentation entitled ‘Practical advice for young photographers’ that was given by Nick Papadopoulos, International Director of the VII Photo agency, at the Visa pour l’Image international festival of photojournalism in Perpignan, France, on Thursday 6 September 2012. CPN would like to thank Nick Papadopoulos for kindly giving us permission to reproduce it here…


I meet many young photographers seeking guidance on ‘how to make it’. So I’d like to run through a list of ‘Dos and Don’ts’ that photographers should follow in their career.


  • Show only your best work

    Continually edit your work and especially your editorial portfolio because that’s what a lot of clients, especially new ones, base their decisions on. They sometimes just make quick judgments. And trust your gut feeling; if you know a picture is not good enough, take it out.

  • Have a website

    This is your gateway; this is what people see and make judgments on. The site should be clean, well edited, and feature your biography (without spelling mistakes or old information). Your e-mail should contain a signature in the body of your email with your contact information AND you should also have a business card, even if you are just starting out. Please note as well that in Asia, a business card is a powerful business tool.

  • Seek out mentors

    No matter what stage you are in your career, it’s important to have a mentor, someone you respect and trust to tell you the truth. This person may be a photo editor or a fellow photographer.

  • Know what's going on in the world

    Read newspapers and news websites religiously, and daily. Good stories can be found even in small briefs in the paper.

  • Keep your clients informed of your whereabouts

    Send your key clients a simple email before you take off on a trip, letting them know where you are headed and how long for. At VII, we send a simple ‘whereabouts’ email each week to our top clients and pick up assignments as a result.

  • Send newsletters

    Send them either on a monthly basis, if you have a lot of work and news to share, though quarterly is probably best. These newsletters should list your current whereabouts, your travel plans, new features and a selection of ‘tear-sheets’ from publications featuring your stories.

  • Stay ahead of the pack

    Always try to think what the next big issues are going to be. Is it illegal immigration? Environmental disasters? What’s likely to happen in 2013, 2014 and beyond? I know of many photographers who have already started working in Brazil ahead of the Olympics in 2014.

  • Attend seminars and workshops

    A workshop with Gary Knight, for instance, is equivalent to a year at journalism school. And don’t be afraid to approach or talk to top photojournalists, most of whom are eager to help.

  • Learn to read client contracts

    And don’t be afraid to strike out sentences or clauses if the conditions are unfair. You should defend your rights. You may not always get your way but clients will or should respect you for taking the time.

  • © Cécile Mella

    Nick Papadopoulos, International Director VII Photo agency, pictured delivering his presentation ‘Practical advice for young photographers’ during the 2012 Visa pour l’Image international festival of photojournalism.

  • Visit your clients

    There is absolutely nothing like face-to-face meetings. For me, that’s one of the big secrets to being a successful photographer or agent. I know email is super easy but meeting a photo editor face-to-face is immeasurable.

  • Have a clear vision

    I think this is becoming super important and I am hearing more and more from photo editors that a photographer with a clear style and purpose is going to get the job.

  • Collaborate with journalists

    Knowing and working with a few key journalists is another great way to get work – and get text for your story. Having journalists walk into their Editor’s office saying: “I’ve got a great story and I want to work with Photographer X,” is another way to pick up work. And it happens.

  • Look beyond Africa

    Photographers have a tendency to hop on a plane and travel to the other end of the world in search of stories. Instead, look in your own backyard, your own country.

  • Do your homework

    Research magazines and make sure you pitch relevant work. Don't pitch a serious B&W reportage to a glossy lifestyle magazine.

  • Buy FotoQuote

    It’s a fantastic resource and packed with information to help you price your photography, whether it’s for use in a newspaper, billboard or the cover of a CD. There are literally hundreds of categories and I personally use the program every day.


Again, some of the information below may seem obvious but I am encountering these issues every other day.

  • Don’t treat photography like a part-time hobby

    It's a full-time business, it’s your livelihood and you need to survive, pay the rent, and feed your family.

  • Don’t give away your photographic content for free

    If you do, you are ultimately ruining the industry and making it much harder for photographers and agencies trying to secure fees for their work. There are times, though, when it may make sense to provide some images for free – the reward may not be cash but some other value. It’s necessary to be strategic when deciding how to publish work so please weigh each request carefully. You may also be putting at risk actual sales of your work to newspapers and magazines.

  • © Cécile Mella

    Nick Papadopoulos, International Director VII Photo agency, pictured explaining ‘The 4 P’s of photojournalism’ during his presentation at the 2012 Visa pour l’Image international festival of photojournalism.

  • Don’t sit back and expect your agency to make you rich and famous

    It doesn’t work that way. It should be a collaboration and each should help the other. From my experience, based on the past seven years at VII, photography probably represents only 50% of the end game. The other 50% is marketing, promotion, continual networking, being out there and talking the talk. It’s not easy, but at the end of the day that’s the secret.

  • Don’t send 30 to 40 jpegs in an e-mail to photo editors

    It just clogs their inbox and they will just hit delete. Learn to market your work carefully and find a way to create a nice ‘pitch’ that is succinct and easy on the eye. I personally send photo editors an email with a link to the new feature I am trying to sell and I attach a maximum of two to three low-resolution images.

  • Don't make excuses for your work

    I meet quite a few young photographers who make excuses for a project or a particular shot or sequence. Telling photo editors that this shot would have been better if ‘X happened’ will only turn off the picture editors and create an impression that there is something wrong or missing from the story.

  • Don’t be negative

    I know that can be difficult, in today’s environment, but it’s a major turn off for picture editors and clients in general. Picture editors want to work with photographers who are positive and who will go the extra mile to get the job done.

That’s enough advice from me. But I also thought who better to give advice to young photographers than the VII photographers, with all their years of experience. So I recently asked them two questions…


What is the one piece of advice you have for young photographers starting out in the industry?

Don't be afraid of being broke, well and truly stony broke. It's not that bad and once you have experienced it you won't be afraid to invest every last penny and piece of time into personal work. Being afraid of having no money stops so many young photographers from taking the risk of making their own work. It's always a balance between feeding your bank balance and feeding your soul, for everyone. Follow your heart and do what you love and the money will follow. Anastasia Taylor-Lind

Choose an issue that you are very passionate about. You'll need to be completely in love with your theme if you are to have the endurance to overcome all of the obstacles between the starting point and the final publication. Tomas Van Houtryve

Shoot a lot, everything. Your family, your friends, stories. The only way to improve is with failure and experimentation. Ashley Gilbertson

Either produce an incredible body of work that shows a unique visual approach on an issue of importance, or develop a rounded set of skills that allows you to tell stories through stills, video and audio. And it never hurts to be great at Photoshop and Final Cut Pro. Ed Kashi

Stay away from ‘the industry’! Pursue your own projects, find the right people that can help you go further, if they're economists, doctors, architects or street sweepers, look outside this little galaxy of photography. Donald Weber

Concentrate on producing stories that you are really personally interested in. Commitment in a story/project may take a long time but generally the payback is worth the effort. Waiting for an assignment is pretty much over; the only solution is to start being a totally independent producer. Davide Monteleone

Read. Really increase your knowledge. Taking pictures is easy. Going to dangerous places is relatively easy. So you need a competitive advantage over everybody else. Do what you love and don’t do what you think other people want. Gary Knight

What have you learnt after so many years in the business and what would you change if you were to start again?

Photojournalism is not dead! Period. But lots of people like to pretend to young photographers that it is. I wish I'd have realised sooner that my own personal projects were the key to getting good assignments. I didn't know that eventually I would be commissioned on the strength of my own work, and not other editorial assignments. So I spent energy feeling insecure and anxious about not working editorially and that was a waste of time. Anastasia Taylor-Lind

Get safety and first aid training early in your career, BEFORE you set off for a conflict. Tomas van Houtryve

The editorial market has changed rapidly in the last 10 years. If I could start again I would try to explore all possible opportunities more than be concentrated on the traditional editorial market. Davide Monteleone

That there is little loyalty and the freelance world is basically terminal dating, so you have to remain attractive, alluring, new and exciting. You also have to have at least one "champion" of your work, whether it be an editor, art director, fellow photographer or agency. If I had to start again what I'd change is my genetics so I never looked older than 32! Ed Kashi

I would have focused on my education more before starting out. Gary Knight

I have learned that it is not the people in the same industry as you are that are the most interesting, but others from outside that you can gain the most valuable insight and richness in collaboration. If anything, I wished I fostered better contacts from the outside world, to help me push and develop what I need to say without being stuck in the "photographic world." We can only see so far, we need help to go further. Donald Weber

Get a good accountant. Jocelyn Bain Hogg

Go to Business school. Christopher Morris

Now I want to finish my presentation with what I term the 4 P’s of Photojournalism. I have reframed the 4 P’s of marketing (Product, Positioning, Place, and Promotion) to come up with what I think is key to a long and successful photographic career.



I know this is a cliché but it’s true. Being passionate shows through in your work and personality, and clients will want to work with you. It’s the reason why long-term personal projects by photographers usually stand out a mile – because the photographer is immersed in the subject and is passionate about the issue he or she is documenting.


Getting noticed, promoting and selling your work, and convincing editors to commission your new project, takes a huge amount of effort. But persistency and consistency are key to making it work, even during tough times. Pitching five story ideas to an editor and having four rejected shouldn’t get you down. Securing one commission will make all the difference to you being happy, and being where you want to be: in the field shooting.


It goes without saying that being professional in all your dealings with clients, other photographers, and your own colleagues is crucial. The photojournalism industry is pretty small, can be bitchy at times, and people talk and share stories or rumours. The last thing you want is to have a reputation for being this way or that way. It can damage or ruin your career, and it does happen.


I can’t stress enough how important personality is in this business, and in life in general. Being positive and not arrogant, going the extra mile instead of cutting corners, visiting clients rather then neglecting them, and just having coffee or lunch with your editors, and just being you, will take you a long way.

Photography blogs & websites worth looking at...

As photographers you should always be looking at the work of others, as well as the websites of those you deal with. Keeping ahead of the competition puts you at an advantage and maintaining your awareness of world events, trending topics, new photographic techniques and product will make you a far sharper - and more successful - photographer in the long term.

Pro Photo Daily (American Photography)

The New York Times Lens Blog

Lightbox (Time magazine)

1854 (British Journal of Photography)

PDN (Photo District News)

Lens Culture (Jim Casper)

A Photo Editor (Rob Haggart)

Photo Booth (The New Yorker)

MediaStorm (Brian Storm)

VII The Magazine (VII Photo)

Photo Business News & Forum (John Harrington)

Biografie: Nick Papadopoulos

Nick Papadopoulos

Nick Papadopoulos is the International Director of VII Photo agency, representing 23 of the world's pre-eminent photojournalists. Based in the agency's Paris office, Nick spearheads VII's sales efforts worldwide, excluding the US and the Americas, supplying the world's media with conflict and documentary photography. Born in Sydney, Australia, he embarked on a journalistic career at The Sydney Morning Herald, one of Australia's leading newspapers, after completing a Bachelor of Arts degree. His passion for photography emerged in 1995 when, he embarked on a three-month holiday through 13 countries and 22 cities. In 1999 Nick moved to Hong Kong, where he worked as a journalist at the Far Eastern Economic Review before joining Time magazine as Editor of their award-winning website. He joined VII Photo in 2004.