How to Make It as a Fashion Photographer
Twenty-seven-year-old Melodie Jeng might be based in New York, but more often than not you can find her in Paris, London, Milan—or at another international Fashion Week—crouched in the front of a pack of photographers, trying to get *the* shot. The NYU grad (who’s only been out of college a few years!) shoots street style, model portraits, backstage at runway shows, and work for clients like Nike, Vogue, New York Magazine, and Maybelline. Before she headed to Europe for the men’s shows, Melodie dropped wisdom on breaking into photography and staying grateful.
What were you like as a teen?
I grew up in Cincinnati, Ohio. I was pretty quiet as a teenager and didn't have that many friends (which is fine! I'm still like that). I focused mainly on school but I was also into the arts. I knew I wanted to be a photographer when I first started taking photography classes in high school.
As an adult, what do you wish you could tell your teenage self now?
Don't be afraid to ask for help. I dealt with some anxiety and depression as a teenager which I didn't understand until my early 20s and I'm still working on it. Also, relax and don't take everything so seriously. Everything will be fine—enjoy being young.
How exactly did you get to where you are now, professionally?
I always knew I wanted to be a photographer, so I studied photography at NYU. You don't necessarily need a degree to be a photographer. You can learn by experience and people you know. But my parents wanted me to have a well-rounded education and other skills to fall back on, which I understand. I interned at Harper's Bazaar, Vogue, and Hearst's Studio D while I was in college; some of the people I met there referred me to other jobs in the future, which proves that it's important to always work hard and treat others with respect, because you never know where it will lead.
My career has been fairly organic. Coming out of college, I wanted to assist photographers. I did that for a bit, but I was really passionate and worked hard with street style photography, so one job led to the other. Now I do a lot of street style photography around the fashion weeks in New York, London, Milan, and Paris. People think I'm getting flown out [on a company's dime], but most of the time I'm not. I'm usually shooting for multiple clients and ultimately, it pays off. Sometimes you have to invest and there are some jobs you do more for exposure or other benefits. Just make sure it's worth it for you.
What's one thing you wish had known then that you know now about having a career?
I've only been working for a few years and I did not think I would end up traveling solo so much. It's important to know that you are not alone. There are times when you may feel stuck or are not sure of the direction you're going in, but it's natural and everyone goes through it. It's part of life. Also, take inspiration and motivation from others, but don't compare yourself if it'll bring you down. It's great to be passionate and focused on your career but it's also good to take a break and remember who you are outside of it. You are not defined by one job—you can do multiple things. Lastly, listen to your gut. If you are not happy, then figure out why and change it.
What work advice do you have for teens or for young people just starting out?
Work hard, don't be afraid, and make sure there's a purpose in what you're doing. I'm very thankful to be able to do what I'm doing and for the support I've received in the past. It's a great time to be a teenager and a great time to be a girl. You are worth it, you are awesome, and you are loved. You can do it.