How To Become a Professional Photographer Without Assisting: Sara Macel

April 11, 2017

By David Walker

After studying photography at New York University, Sara Macel worked as a studio manager for Bruce Davidson in the early 2000s. Looking at his images all day inspired her to “jump and become a photographer myself,” she says. But her leap turned out to be premature. “I had only seen what the life of an older, established artist was,” she says. “I knew nothing about the business side” of building a career.

She ended up taking a job as a producer at Art Department for photographers including Platon, Steve McCurry, Robert Maxwell, Christian Witkin and Rankin. She quickly learned the essential business skills: budgeting, handling creative calls, figuring out what clients want to hear from photographers, and what creative directors and photo editors are looking for when they hire.

“This is all the nitty gritty stuff, the real life experience of being a photographers, as seen through the eyes of the person making sure their life is running smoothly,” Macel says. It was an all-encompassing job, that occupied all of Macel’s attention. But ultimately, she wanted to be a photographer, not a producer, so she left Art Department to earn a master’s degree at the School of Visual Arts.

Macel is the author of May the Road Rise to Meet You. She shoots fine-art work and editorial assignments, and teaches photography at State University of New York and City University of New York. In addition to telling students to learn as much as they can from photo industry jobs they take on the way to careers as photographers, “The most important advice is to constantly work on your own [projects],” Macel says. “Keep focusing on your own work, because that’s the end goal.” And, she adds, “The photo world is a small world. Be kind to everyone. You never know which intern of yours [will end up] a photo editor” at some magazine you want to work for.

The Career Roads Less Traveled

Grace Chon, former Art Director

Geordie Wood, former Photo Director

Stephanie Gonot, former Rep