Adam Biba is an up and coming photographer from the Chicago area. I first met him when I was 16 through an exchange program that we both partook in. After that, we reconnected at Columbia College Chicago where we both attended for a degree in photography. He is a few years older than me and has been out of school for 3 years now. An interview with him can provide insight on what to expect after graduation.
-What do you do? Where do you work?
I’m a wedding photographer, and freelance commercial photo and production assistant. I work wherever the jobs are! Last week I was in a furniture studio in Cicero, and this week I’m at Trump Tower. I’m also a photographer at Tuan B & Co we have a studio here in Chicago.
-How did you get to where you are right now?
A mix of hard work, luck, and help from friends. Making friends and connections in the industry is SO important. At least a third of the calls and emails I receive about potential jobs come from references from others.
-What are your plans for the upcoming years with your business?
My career strategy over the past several years has been not to pigeonhole myself. However, I’ve moved in a profitable direction with wedding photography over the past year, so I might try to narrow my focus more on that and less on commercial assisting. It’s hard to turn down work though when it comes knocking, even if it means you sleep less.
-Did you know you wanted to be a freelancer when you were in school?
I think the idea of having any type of work post-graduation, while still in school, was the goal. It didn’t matter whether or not it was freelance or not. I can say that I’ve been asked to take full time photo assisting positions at a few locations in the past six months, which I’ve turned down. I like the variety and flexibility of being a freelancer.
-Are there any classes you recommend taking before graduating from columbia? Any that were particularly helpful?
The self-management class was really awesome. As far as photo specific courses, I highly recommend the strobe lighting class (it was called “Lighting Two” once upon a time, and “Advanced Lighting” when I took it in 2013). Even if you prefer using natural light, it’s so incredibly important to know how to use strobes. I’d also consider taking Advanced Retouching, Commercial Photography, and Fashion Photography. Advanced 19th century darkroom classes like “Ex-Tech” are super fun too!
-What would be some advice for someone going into the freelancing world?
Start networking now, whatever that means to you. Go to industry mixers, even if you have to go alone. Go to birthday parties. Make lots of pictures to figure out what you’re excited about shooting. Don’t turn down a job because it sounds boring, but do turn down a job if you don’t think you’re capable of performing the task. There will be more jobs. Send handwritten thank you notes. Follow up with old acquaintances. Keep in touch with new ones. Work hard. Be friendly.
-What do you feel you offer that makes you stand out from the competition?
Most anyone who makes it in the photography industry (or any creative industry for that matter), does all of the things I mentioned in the aforementioned question, and probably more if they’re killing it. When I get hired back by the same commercial team, or get a referral to a wedding, I like to think it’s because of extreme attention to detail, and likeability. No one will hire you for anything creative if they don’t like you, even if you’re mega talented.
-What piece(s) of equipment are a must have in your possession?
Aside from the obvious (camera bodies and lenses), my flashes have become an essential part of my gear. I love using off camera flash, even in daylight, to blend with ambient light. Flash can give images a punch that natural light by itself always can’t. Some more fun pieces of gear I bring with me are more random – I bring a couple LED work lights I bought cheap off of Amazon to light paint with occasionally. I’ll also shoot through random things on location, like tree leaves, and water glasses for something different!
-Favorite experience shooting so far?
Oh man. Well, some of my favorite pictures I’ve made were from India last winter. Those were mostly personal street photography. My favorite paid job I’ve been on was being a production assistant for a Levi’s NFL campaign about a year ago. My job was to drive the crew of about 8 guys in a passenger van from Chicago to Milwaukee, manage things like lunches, keep the sets organized, and just to be attentive to whatever needed to be done. Bringing a small bag or kit of things when on job like that is a good idea. Mine usually includes things like a multi-tool, gaff tape, pens, markers, paper clips, stamps, allen wrenches, Advil, the list goes on.