Bozeman, Montana-based photographer Eric Schmidt grew up in California, but he, his wife and their three children planted roots in Montana’s Gallatin Valley a few years ago. Schmidt’s decision to move to a smaller market changed his career and his portfolio in interesting ways. He had more time for personal work [Slides 2, 3, 4, 5, 7, 8], and he also began getting editorial assignments for the first time. Schmidt’s main focus, even when he was just starting out, was always on landing advertising assignments. He was too “hard-headed” to see the value in magazine work, he says. “Believe it or not, most of my editorial work has happened since relocating to Montana,” Schmidt told PDN via email. “Various publications have reached out to me because they liked my work. In a nutshell, they were looking for a qualified shooter in the region.”
The decision to move away from a large market can be difficult. Since relocating to Bozeman, Schmidt’s made the transition seem easy, continuing to find work with advertising and corporate clients across the country. He’s also expanded his portfolio to include stock photography, CGI and motion.
His first commercial (video) assignment took place shortly after his move to Bozeman. Pulling a crew together was easy, he says, thanks to the film department at Montana State University. “It was a wonderful experience—especially with being able to shoot with the RED for the first time and then working alongside an editor in post. I’ve always felt extremely comfortable directing people, so that part of the shoot was business as usual.
We asked the 20-year photo industry veteran what advice he would give to photographers living in, or contemplating a move to, a smaller market:
1. It’s important to get involved with the community. I sense that smaller markets will have more approachable clients. I’m not sure why… maybe it’s because they don’t receive the overwhelming amount of solicitations that clients in larger markets receive.
2. If becoming the big fish in the small pond is your goal, then you would most definitely need to be a well rounded photographer—perhaps having several portfolios (i.e. food, lifestyle, architecture, product).
3. Get as much experience as you can in that market and realize that your early assignments are all formidable experiences.Small ones are just as important as the big ones.
4. Include images in your portfolio from other places. Sure, it can be advantageous to have a selection from your particular region, but I would suggest branching your horizons out a bit.
5. Finally, you’ll need more than solid work. There is an abundance of talented photographers in this world and I believe that clients are looking at personalities as well as the work.