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|| News Item: Posted 2013-03-22

“Regardless of the task, everything I did this summer was directly related to making a successful photo business…”

By Tommy Penick, Trevor Clark Photography

One of my most despised questions is, “How was your internship?”

Over the years, the stigma surrounding internships has grown to an all-time high, thanks to companies and corporations taking advantage of hungry students for a coffee fetcher, or at best, a fill in for summer vacations. My “temporary full time employment”, as I’d rather it be known, at Trevor Clark Photography was anything but the typical newspaper fill in, or coffee seeking fashion assistant.

Photo by Trevor Clark

Photo by Trevor Clark

Tommy Penick in Stateline, NV.
I might not know how Trevor takes his coffee, but I do know what size lug nuts his trailer takes, the number of photos in the archive, and ins and outs of his water housing system. I also know the routing of the server system I set up for him, the color effects of his video I shot and edited for him, and all of his mountain biking weaknesses, which I totally take advantage of while we’re taking a lunch break for a quick ride.

As a previous newspaper intern, I fully understand the benefits of daily shooting. But after realigning my career ambitions last fall towards full time freelance outdoor commercial and editorial photography rather than photojournalism, I found that there were a lot of holes in my plan.

Sure, I knew (kinda) what I was doing behind the lens, but the actual business of photography probably only sums up to 5 percent shooting. The rest of it is generally left up to trial and error, unless you have a great mentor step in and show you the way.

Trevor served this role for me, and then some, throughout the past four months while working for him. While working with Trevor, the motif of our summer was just getting done what needed to be done—whether that means kayaking into a remote gorge to get water level footage, descending 10,000 foot mountains in the dark so we can shoot in golden Tahoe light, or the less glamorous side of things, such as changing a trailer tire in an alley way minutes after meeting with some of the top editors in the country or spending 10 hours in the office crunching HTML code.

Regardless of the task, everything I did this summer was directly related to making a successful photo business—not just making a photographer’s life easier by getting their morning coffee or schlepping around lighting equipment.

In early May, I loaded up my car with my kayaks, bikes, camera gear, and two of my best friends to move to a place I had never seen and begin my work with Trevor. We left directly from my final exam to drive across the country from North Carolina to South Lake Tahoe, California.

I soon found out that daily life at the TCP office was a bit more low-key than what a typical internship might be. I could show up still in board shorts from my morning water ski session, whenever I needed to based upon our mutual commitment to the company’s success.

Some days may end early in the office and continue on the stellar mountain bike trails of Tahoe, yet some days have been in excess of 20 hours of work. The actual work is totally variable, but it all pushes forward for a common goal of operating the business, but also moving it to the next tier of success.

Throughout the past few months, I’ve done everything from website redesign, editing portfolios, spearheading marketing efforts, digital asset management, video shooting and editing, and of course assisting on photo shoots throughout the area and beyond. A few weeks ago after a week long shoot of an adaptive surfing school on the California coast, I had a difficult time telling friends that, yes, it was absolutely critical for my job to surf and waveski to get the footage we need.

Many people see working with an individual photographer to be not as beneficial as a shooting-based internship such as at a newspaper. But with access to gear and classes based all around shooting, this isn’t where we need more help as students.

Unfortunately, I’ve seen very few college curriculums that include comprehensive business courses and few people leave with any idea of how to run the business end of photography. A blank stare would probably be the most popular answer if you asked a recent college grad if they are going to start an S-Corp or and LLC or run as a sole prop.

We all know John Harrington’s book is the gold standard (check it out if you haven’t) but inevitably there will still be questions, and I’m sure John is tired of answering business question emails. Working for an individual photographer in a niche similar to one you’d like to be in is the perfect formula for learning everything you need to, directly from someone who has strived for years to perfect it.

While maybe I wasn’t getting paid to create photos of my own, I’ve almost fully replaced my portfolio this summer, while previous summers have yielded only a few additions to the old book. I’ve also knocked out a stunning amount of nitty-gritty business necessities, such as filing an LLC, redesigning my business cards, drastically building my contact database, learning the tricks to taxes, bookkeeping, invoicing, and so much more.

For the first time after a summer of working in the photo world, I’m not burnt out. On the contrary, I’m totally fired up.

While I’ve had two great previous experiences working and interning for a newspaper and for an adventure company, I never could remain inspired after leaving the companies. Nothing excites me more right now than to be out shooting and producing content that I want to create.

Content that I’m proud of, unlike story time at the library or yet another Occupy movement rally. While these experiences have helped me hone in on creating something out of nothing, it was time for me to part ways and shoot what I intend or pursuing for the rest of my career. Ideas are flowing, projects are coming together, and I couldn’t be happier with the direction I’m pushing my work and myself. For me, it’s time to get after it, and Trevor taught me to see that.

Tommy Penick is a freelance photographer based in Northern California. You can see his work on his Sports Shooter member page:

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