Most professional photographers in Israel photograph weddings, Bar and Bat Mitzvas, family and work place events, as well as commercial venues. Even if you only work with the English speaking population, it is important to learn Hebrew as best as you can. That will enable you to run your business more successfully. Photographers are paid at a lower rate than in North America or the UK. It is important to familiarize yourself with the high rate of competition amongst photographers in Israel.
Thank you very much to Jared Bernstein, professional photographer, for participating in this interview.
Give a brief description of your field.
I am a professional photographer. Primarily, I photograph weddings, Bar and Bat Mitzvas, and various commercial projects including Shaarei Tzedek Hospital, Nefesh B’Nefesh and Yeshiva University.
How long have you worked in this field?
I’ve been working as a professional photographer for 21 years.
Did you work in this field prior to making Aliyah, as well?
What experience do you need to get into your field?
This might seem simplified, but it’s true: The best experience involves both working on your own photography projects and working with other photographers. Perhaps you can find a job initially as a photographer’s assistant. You will learn how other photographers do things and figure out what works for you and what doesn’t work for you, so you’ll know what to do when you go out by yourself. You want to learn the business, and at the same time, you’ll want to start developing your own style.
What skills or experience do you need to build the business that you have?
You need to really learn photography well – both by doing your own projects and by watching other photographers.
In addition, don’t underestimate the importance of the interpersonal side. Today, 95% of my work is by word of mouth and 5% is from my web site. Most of my business comes from recommendations. I’ve learned over time that how you treat the people you are working with, is as important as the photos. Clients want to feel that you are going the extra mile and treating them properly, to feel that everything is in sync. Both overseas and in Israel, I hear from people that they “would never hire so and so” because of how they were treated. You need to treat people right if you want to succeed.
Finally, it is important to learn Hebrew as best as you possibly can – even if you work only with the English-speaking population, Hebrew is very helpful in order to run your business successfully.
What type of training should someone making Aliyah come with, in order to break into your field or get a decent position in your field?
I have a college degree from a business school. When I graduated college, I went right into business for myself. My only formal training in photography was working as an assistant full time for four years in New York City. I took one or two courses at the International Center for Photography on lighting, but I never went to photography school. One doesn’t need to.
Does it make any difference whether you studied in Israel or abroad?
Is your field different here than in the US and if yes, how is it different?
Yes, it is different. For starters, the pay rate is a lot lower here. In Jerusalem, the number of jobs that come through are fewer, and there is significantly more competition. The other photographers drive the price down.
At the same time, it is more laid back – the job is easier. Back in the States, I shot with medium format cameras which are actually quite difficult cameras to use. I started shooting with those cameras when I first arrived but there is no market in Israel to shoot with that equipment. Here in Israel, people primarily shoot 35 mm. digital cameras. A lot of us professionals use high end cameras, but no one here is going to spend $35,000 on a medium format setup considering the pay rate here.
In addition, the jobs themselves seem to be less demanding. People don’t care as much about quality; they seem to be less demanding in general. Before I came to Israel, I was used to dealing with upper end clients – celebrities and very wealthy people – and they were very demanding. Here, I am working at the same standard that I developed in the U.S., with people who are paying a fraction of the cost, and the expectation is much lower.
In Jerusalem, I have not found outlets for high end work. Many of my clients are from the US, UK, South Africa and Australia and they are willing to pay a little extra for higher quality and good customer service. Perhaps in Tel Aviv and more central areas there are greater opportunities, but I haven’t tapped into that yet.
What is the salary range one can expect in this field?
Weddings: Standard photography prices are between 3,000 and 6,000 NIS for an Israeli wedding. The client receives a DVD, prints, and an album (or albums), depending on the price. Video prices for weddings, on the low end, are going to be between 2,000-2,500 NIS. For the high end clients, the cost will be between 6,000-7,000 NIS.
Corporate clients: The pay rate usually ends up being between $75 and $125 per hour. Clients can hire by the hour, by the day, or by the project. All of the prices that I’m mentioning exclude the extra cost of VAT.
I do a lot of work in Israel with visitors from the UK, Australia, South Africa and the U.S. Even the upper end clients know what the prices are locally, and they aren’t willing to pay significantly higher rates.
I also get flown into the U.S. and the U.K. for weddings and other projects. I love to travel, and it is financially worthwhile for me to fly in for these types of projects.
What are the upcoming areas of specialty you would recommend?
Lighting and correct exposure in digital exposure.
What recommendations can you offer a student who is interested in working in this field?
If you want to go to school and learn photography, that’s great. However ultimately, you just have to get out there shooting and learn the business, and learn how to succeed vis-à-vis the interpersonal side. Formal schooling is not necessary.
How do you feel about working and living here in Israel?
I’m so happy doing what I do, and I feel so blessed to still be doing it – after 21 years! Even though I’m making a fraction of what I used to charge, I’m happy with it. I feel creative all the time I’m doing my work. It is a major blessing: I enjoy the work; I’m making people happy; and I’m giving them a great product.
I am a photographer; for me, there was never any other option.
It is a major adjustment living in Israel. It is hard to break into the market. Especially with digital photography, everyone here who owns a digital camera thinks he or she is a professional photographer. Some people even have high end digital cameras. There is a lot of competition and you really need to know what you’re doing. It is difficult.
If you’re going to go into photography, be realistic: It’s not going to happen overnight. It may take a period of time to make it here. If you’re serious about it and you put the effort in – it can be done, and it can be done successfully.
In my opinion, there’s no better place to work in the world – and at the same time, it’s certainly not easier here. My grandmother used to say to me, “No matter what, the cream always rises to the top!” And I always tell myself that… If you work hard at it, you can make it happen. I’ve seen lots of people come and go, and either they’re not really serious, or they’re not so good at what they’re doing. You need to be serious, dedicated and patient in order to succeed.