Skip to main content

Create Powerful Photo Essays & Personal Projects

Lesson 33 of 35

Reinvention as a Career Path

David H Wells

Create Powerful Photo Essays & Personal Projects

David H Wells

Starting under


Get access to this class +2000 more taught by the world's top experts

  • 24/7 access via desktop, mobile, or TV
  • New classes added every month
  • Download lessons for offline viewing
  • Exclusive content for subscribers

Lesson Info

33. Reinvention as a Career Path


  Class Trailer
Now Playing
1 Class Introduction Duration:20:30
2 Pivotal Essays Duration:24:53
4 Career Path Part 1 Duration:27:09
5 Career Path Part 2 Duration:28:24
6 Defining Your Skillset Duration:16:52
7 Seeding the Project Duration:17:05
8 Mirrors and Windows Duration:20:55
9 Creativity Quotes and Ideas Duration:33:04
15 Student Proposals Duration:20:41
16 Analyzing Photographs Duration:34:44
17 Experiment to Define Format Duration:32:58
18 Editing Exercise Duration:12:35
19 Grants and Funding Part 1 Duration:30:20
20 Grants and Funding Part 2 Duration:40:59
23 Elevator Pitch Duration:19:01
24 Executing Your Project Duration:15:34
25 Gear Duration:30:30
26 Shooting Approach Duration:20:48
27 Shooting Q&A Duration:20:26
28 Instant Editing and Time Use Duration:36:33
29 Editing Exercise with Students Duration:28:57
30 Workflow Part 1 Duration:29:10
31 Workflow Part 2 Duration:33:18
33 Reinvention as a Career Path Duration:19:44
35 Final Q&A and Feedback Duration:28:09

Lesson Info

Reinvention as a Career Path

I got into photography I talked about this before battle days of film and then it changed a little bit and now all of a sudden his enormous change and we've been talking a lot about it and talking about it as if it's something bad and certainly been challenging but frankly it's democratized photography incredibly and there's no other way of saying it's brought women photography used to be an old white guys profession let's be honest old white guy my wife you all these other people photography's bin democratized and the work and the quality and the interesting stuff just gone to the roof but has created new challenges and so I'm gonna talk about how I adapt to those challenges hopefully give you something to go forward with but one last reminder there's no magic bullet I I know you three because we've been talking and that the brakes you understand I can't hand you the controller you know, if there was a controller that would say photo essay I'd already by one of them and you have a lot...

of homework to do, but I have faith you'll do it so I'm going to talk about reinvention to career path and I'm going to start with the work of a photographer and a friend whose work I admire greatly it's a project by a photographer in washington d c called last car running and ostensibly it's about demolition derbies but really mauritz about the subculture and the community and the people who are involved in demolition to reason the idea last car running I think you've got something there you want it you should by the way down on the last day you should be doing all the analysis I've been asking to do is that title hookey last car running? Do the images hook you so far? Do you want to keep going forward? Does the photographer appear to have a unique access skill set? Passion interest in the subject is the media the presentation choice including black and white a lot of stuff a twilight is that working well in support of her narrative and I didn't know this demolition derbies are an outgrowth of world war two and the changing in in the automobile economy and all that stuff and having these old cars which I learned in the process of reading some of the publications about christine's work and I know I'm supposed to stand up here with silence but I think you're getting them right I mean you get you get this work right away and they looked really nice on that screen too, don't they? And so this is, um a piece of christine statement, the photography the demolition embodies a raucous spirit of what is proudly and I love that we're probably called contemporary redneck culture I'm drawn to this community for his ingenuity the way they give life to an old all but a man in a icon, the america of the american dream, the car they explore, a subculture that embraces the trial of destruction. They love the process of grinding, seal and dream of creating the indestructible cause. Last car running it's nicely written it. The word of the idea of pride in the title of the contemporary redneck culture talks about how these people perceive themselves, how she understand that working with them and you saw by the workshop vesely can get into that culture. Christine is actually photographer reinvented herself as well. So this is from christine's website and I'll zoom in here a second and I read it a little bit, but it has a lot on her project. Last car running after twenty five years is a project manner and designing construction industry. Christine picked up cameron, twenty ten, as a way to face the onset of a disability in a company limited mobility. And so christine passion photography is for physical therapy. He goes on from there. And so she's reinvented herself with photography and she's had a lot of very good luck getting the last car running project published in a bunch of different places under exposed photo week d c this is just a shortlist from her web site of all the different places this stuff has been and all of this stuff that we've been talking about doing from the very beginning building visibility when you get a new show, all the stuff we've been talking about she's in the process of doing and she invented herself because is in a previous life she worked is ah designer and a construction project manager than she was disabled and she walks with a walker now and it's really fascinating to see how people in many cultures deal with a disabled because christine comes up with a walker plans herself and then people start going on with their business and all of a sudden she starts blending in and that's what we all aspired to do. And so instead of being a disability it's to her advantage and so christine's one of those photographers who has done a really good job of reinventing herself and I'm not sure everybody necessarily is going to have such a challenge but it's a way of thinking about the idea what on the one hand she has what appears to be a disability or challenge and how can she use it to her advantage? So I encourage you to look up the work of christine pearl dotcom's real simple website shelf it is with nice portraiture, but that project is called last car running so we're gonna wear our last section here some final thoughts um talked about this before christine's done a great job when you go to a site, you'll see this crowd source your promotion when you tell your friends how famous you are when you tell your friends and they tell your friends how you're making some progress okay social media can be useful as I said before for research contact suggestions used it to build community fans and all that stuff and again it's not a class in social media but you should be thinking about that don't give away the whole thing too early and social media not so much that I'm worried about somebody stealing it you actually want to build attention to it you want people to start saying what's next what's coming up next what do you doing next? Who were expanding to geographically familywise subject y so you actually want to be thinking about a social media strategy and again it's not a social media class and you really do want to take a social media class creative live offers plenty of them there as you well know there free um used it to build interest of slowly roll out your project over time if you presented in the finished project there's nowhere else for people to go they want to keep coming back they want to see it grow um stealing ideas is not my fear I mentioned this before because I don't think anybody can execute my projects the way that I can, so I don't worry about that much in terms of putting it out there in terms of stealing, but I do worry about putting out in small pieces so people can watch it evolve and keep their attention. A potential projects thief can't steal my project cause they don't have all the other things that have the expertise to passion, the knowledge, connections and each one of you has a project on a skill set that, by the way, you are aware that in theory, we've put all of your projects out there on the web universe, and I believe you're comfortable. If so, yeah, but only you can do it that that's what you want, refine your skills and don't go out there to early. This is really important to remember the whole point of this is a personal project is a promotional tool don't go out there too early because you may succeed in this promotional thing, getting the access and doing all the stuff you want, and then somebody calls up and gives you a job and you're not ready. Okay, because it's one thing to do these projects at the level that you're doing it's another thing when a perfect stranger imposes on you and says, ok, I'll do it this way. You have to have the faith in yourself we've been talking about you want to position yourself here so they don't tell you what to do. My wife actually did some assignment work early on, and she really quickly discovered that she doesn't like to be told what to do, and she gets so nervous and agitated, she can't really do that. Well, so be careful about that swap expertise that you have with others who need that expertise so they will help you remember I said before I photograph a lot of foreclosures and other houses for other people, and then they let me into the house. I want to get into common part of my transactions these days. Um, this is as effective is actually paying people. You have a certain skill set, be a photography in your case, you're building up another skill set in terms of your knowledge of the subject matter. You can trade that with people for other things and that's more valuable than just money, thank them in person and thank them in the promotion of your project. That kind of thanks is important on two levels one is it's just the right thing to do, but it says to all the people come to your exhibition, you're showing your project that other people anointed you it's all about this idea of curating and third party anointing for lack of a better term. So those are some things that I keep in mind I'm going in the next hour circle back to stuff I started the first day and I can tell by the the wide awake eyes which you all do have that now it wasn't something in the abstract which it was the first date now it's something you actually go on do right? All right, so now to go to the guts of this particular section, I'm going to take you through my career path over the years and show you about the career evolution of my revenue streams and it's just the idea of revenue streams is one of many ways that defining what I do but if you look at the top there's a siri's of colors npr stands for newspaper, not national public radio magazine, stock grants, college teaching workshop, heating video and fine art photography and so nineteen seventy nine when it came out of college I did basically newspaper work and a little bit of fine art and no surprise those bars are going to change and they are going to change for you you three as well one they're going to change from the most obvious thing from student to accomplish photographer, but they're going to continue to change his time goes on. So here, for example, if you'll notice by nineteen ninety two I am doing gnome or newspaper work at all. At that point, I was doing a fair amount of fine art, which is going to decline unfortunately, notice stock photography is getting bigger and bigger, bigger still and those and you just keep going down on those newspapers are long gone. Um, college teaching I don't do well with college students nothing personal, probably because you two are not the traditional age of college students, so you two are very committed to your work. I find the eighteen to twenty one year old kept crowd who are spending somebody else's money, right? So I don't teach college my wife does very well with that constituency, so I went to appeared right taught college for a while, but it didn't work for me work shop teaching has picked up and you'll notice the last few years videos picked up in fine art has never expanded all that much that's not something you should say over that's what you want to do, but you see how it changed its going to change for you some of the three of you will end up doing video. I don't know how much, but I guarantee video because everything is going to win that's just the way it is, you may end up doing stock, you may end up doing an even number of things, but that's how my career path evolved in terms of my revenue streams. All right, the real question I think you want to know about is actually the next set, so this is a similar path, a chart of the over the years, but in this case, I'm talking about the skill that I had, the skill that I needed and how did I learn it? Okay? And that's what you really do have a point now and you're in school, you're gonna leave school, and in theory you're gonna still be needing to acquire new skills. So for example, when I started out in photography in nineteen seventy five to nineteen, seventy nine, I had the most basic photo skills because I learned them in high school, I needed to learn to history aesthetic, so I got that in college, and then I need to learn the basics. Photojournalism seventy nine eighty, eighty one where says the middle one professional basics, and I learned that as a freelance photographer for the agency getty I'm sorry gamma apologies and it goes on there's a skills that I have there's a direction that I need to move to and where am I going to pick it up? As I said before, most of what I do still comes out of the time period there nineteen, eighty one nineteen, eighty three of small newspapers in southern california that's when I learned the most one of the more obscure ones in nineteen eighty three if you look I've got the basic skills of photojournalism color slides air coming how the heck pardon me? Am I going to learn color slides so actually got a job at a summer camp that I used to go to when I was a kid and this summer camp they made slide shows every week. This is obviously completely pre digital and they made a slide show of the top forty things that happened in summer camp that week and so I became a color slide photography I got very good at color slides on somebody else's time I don't expect that you're gonna follow this career path but you want to ask yourself what's the skill I have what's the skill I need how am I gonna learn it? Creative lives one way to learn it but maybe there's other ways of apprenticing in turning doing projects so now we're coming forward in nineteen eighty five I needed, for example toe understand magazine ninety eighty five eighty six the blue in the middle I need to understand the basics of magazine photo journalism so I moved to new york city and started working for different magazines nineteen eighty six, eighty eight I wanted to get better at magazine photography, so I moved to philadelphia I was following my wife at the time and I did those stories for the film off inquires sunday magazine eighty seven ninety two I wanted to do more with photo essays and grants so I did these stories for the film off inquires sunday magazine and again, you're not going to use these but how you can get those skills you're gonna have to figure it out somehow obviously the point here is trying to get either paid to do it or cut your costs is you do it is better than paying full tuition like you guys were and just keep going forward I needed to learn mohr about so in nineteen ninety three my daughter is actually born and so I'm thinking I don't want to do is much traveling as I used to do in nineteen ninety three she's born and so I had an artist residency that was actually full time at a place called peter sally where I started teaching workshops and live there full time and ran their summer workshop program and so that carried me through from getting out of the assignment world into the long term project world also expanded eventually ninety seven in two thousand five, teaching and other places like I c p in new york city and the main media and the great thing about the peters valley job right hand column third from bottom second from the bottom the peters valley job was I ran a workshop program and saw all these workshopping compass structures from new york and I c p and main would come in there and teach and then I was building up my networking all that stuff about network we haven't done anything I'm networking because it's not a networking class but I used to hate it when people say network network network but get network network may work and then we just keep going forward. So I wanted to learn more about workshop teaching so I had the peters valley job and then social media comes along about two thousand five two thousand eleven so I need to build my social media brand so I opened the wells point, which is the blogger you all have seen that one and then I wanted to do some mohr and I wanted to learn how to do video so I started doing videos on the well's point blawg social media corporate sponsorship started working with olympus and again it's nothing you can do these specific pass but what of the skill such a need how you gonna learn them and the big question to go back to everything I'm always talking about looking at other people how did other people learn them? Okay, my career path is really pretty public this is actually, um you know, through here and presentation I'd give a lot so you can see how I did that. This is a question to ask any photographer how did they get the skills? They need it? How did they adapt over time as they're marketed? Changed is that career path thing that I keep talking about is so important? So I'm going to talk about my income, my revenue streams this is another question to ask every photographer somebody says I'm a fine art photographer really? You make your living full time selling prints through galleries well, actually, no, I teach workshops I do this I do that I just appreciate the honesty very few people these days I can name on account of my hand five people who make their living full time selling artwork and that's not to diminish them. It's just a reality of the marketplace. So you want to know what any photographers income streams are and what I call pricing strategies so for example, I do a lot of assignment work, though I have to say the same work for market for me is declining um how interesting is the assignment work? If it's really interesting to me or it has high resale value in terms of stock or I can piggyback that project with something else that I want to do paying or impersonal, I'm really interested that therefore my rates go down if it's something that I can't reuse, I don't particularly feel like doing I feel argumentative the rates go up stock image licensing as I said, I could happily if creative live wants to a whole class on stock image ing one of the first questions is do you sell the images yourself or do you go through a photo agency these days? It varies, but the split is either fifty fifty or believe it or not sixty forty in favor of the agency, not me, but the question is, do you want to spend all that time marketing your images or do you want to give a piece toe? Let them mark it? I only go through agents because I don't want to spend that I don't have enough free time now and to put warm time into marketing, please workshop teaching, which I'm doing here, I do a lot of in the northeast when I'm doing workshop teaching, I'm also asking, am I going to potentially generate us new stock images? I'm going to meet new students and I'm gonna have networking opportunities I also do some fine art print sales. We talked about this a little bit before the big thing with my fine art print sales because they're almost all ofthis interiors, hospitals, bank buildings, hotels, things like that is the quantity how many prints do theywant? How many hotels are they building? Are they going to print them at the venue and therefore am I or am I going to print them myself? I'm going to charge him a licensing fee. There's no right or wrong answer, but that's always another question for me in terms of fine art, princess, people don't usually buy my stuff to put into museum. So there's not addition ing issues with mine um, grass and fellowships. We talked about this before, but just to reiterate grand sir, just advance money. You'll never make money off of the grant, but you'll get to go in the best of all worlds to do maybe your first project, and then you get hired later to do more and more. But the grant is nothing more than advance money and you make a profit on the back end, the resale, which is what I do, a lot of getting paid to lecture, getting paid to exhibit the work, people rent shows. Especially in the case of where you're doing stuff, that's related to business is a lot of time to be feeling like business conventions around infrastructure. You can charge those people for money to rent the show if it fills the purpose that they're trying to do so grants for how you create the money. The granting of itself isn't going to be so much money that you can retire on and and the people who give the grant building building that way. I do a fair amount of private teaching as well, and we talk a little bit about that later. Um, I teach a lot in new york city because my daughter lived lives in new jersey now she goes to college in california, and so I also I'm doing a film on teaching. California also do a lot of teaching online and, um, over the phone critiquing and so that's the time making a living that's an honest assessment. I think you should ask any photographer. How do they actually make their living? What the what of their income strategy, income streams and their pricing strategies?

Class Description

The most powerful way to establish your voice and distinguish yourself as a photographer is to conceptualize and shoot a photo essay. Photo essays are compelling, dynamic, vivid mission statements of your work — every photographer should have a working knowledge of this narrative art form. Join David Wells to learn how to create a captivating photo essay from start to finish.

This course shatters the myth that photo essays are only for photojournalists; you’ll learn how all photographers can use photo essays to tell the story of any subject, in any style. You’ll learn how to present your unique point of view and communicate a coherent aesthetic through a compelling photographic essay. You’ll build strategies for tackling the complex task of assembling, editing and presenting a large photo project that speaks to its viewers. You’ll also learn about the techniques that are essential for keeping yourself inspired and organized while maintaining an effective workflow.

By the end of this course, you’ll have the skills it takes to stand out in a crowded marketplace and create a compelling project that showcases your skills, communicates your style, and helps others understand your personality, passion, and talents.



First off, I was a photo assistant for a few years to a photographer who did numerous multi-day workshops. This was my first time as a student sitting in on a webinar that actually kept me interested. Sometimes I'm turned off by the pace of the teacher, his or her voice, or the manner in which they disseminate the information. But this was truly fantastic. David showed lots of his work in a way that was NOT egotistical in any sense (something that does happen quite often). I was utterly impressed by the quality of his work, the wealth of knowledge he has on the world, culture and politics, and how he shoots "on the go". All of those qualities are essential parts to creating a great photo essay/story. I came into this seminar needing inspiration and in the end I have more ideas than I know what to do with. David's work is truly magnificent; his photo stories pertain to people and their struggles, which really could be something any one of us could go through at any point, but he shows it in a way that is beautiful - either beautifully desperate or beautifully destructive - instead of in an exploitative way. On a side note, he also offered up a lot of great information having to do with funding, exposure, workflow, time efficiency, income streams, releases... you won't find this a lot with other photographers. You will find the "go find the info yourself" attitude. This has been my problem as of late with photography - we don't work together as artists, we work against each other competing for what, I'm not sure. David's seminar seemed to embrace photography as the art form it is, and shared with us the tools that we as artists need to really understand and utilize in order to get our story out there. A story it seems he really wants to see/hear. Just an amazing "Thank You"!!!!

a Creativelive Student

I have purchased a number of classes on Creative Live. This class taught by David Wells is one of the best. David is a thorough teacher, personal and connects with his students. Along with his superb and inspiring imagery David talked about his experiences in getting funding, his workflow, developing his stories and distributing his work. David is talented, generous and an excellent teacher. Highly recommended class.

Anjani Millet

Just completed the course. Fantastic, practical information on everything from grant writing, finding foundations, proposal development, even how to shake hands overseas. I am not sure where else I would have found this information for photographers. So appreciate it. One friend asked if this would be worth watching for anyone outside the US and the answer is a definitive yes. Very happy I purchased, and already starting to implement.