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Meet Trailblazer Jenna Schoenefeld

Today we’d like to introduce you to Jenna Schoenefeld.

Jenna, please share your story with us. How did you get to where you are today?
I started taking pictures when I was about 13. I felt a sense of adventure and excitement from it, so I continued exploring this hobby as I grew older and decided to try it as a career path in college. I went to school at Ohio University, which has one of the most prestigious and challenging photojournalisms programs in the US. They don’t mess around. I felt within the first year that they introduced the career in a make-it or break-it manner, which I was thankful for. I was challenged, but I wanted to make it. I really loved photographing people in a journalistic manner, especially in this university town surrounded by Appalachia, where the stories you find aren’t easy to tell or access. When I graduated, I initially used my degree as a way to travel and work at various publications for internships, which I had done every summer I was in school. This was a way to gain experience, explore different corners of the country and learn about how each area varies from the next. I learned a lot and I felt more confident in my skill set year after year.

I landed in Los Angeles after living in France for a year. I taught English there, missed photography terribly, and made a decision that felt even more terrifying to me at that time – I was going to freelance.

I’ve been in LA for six years now. As scary as that choice felt to me at the time, I have no regrets from it. The wheels took a moment to turn, but it seemed like when one publication put their trust in me for an assignment (thank you, Los Angeles Times), the others took note. Now, I have connections with editors from The New York Times, The Washington Post and The Wall Street Journal, among others. It feels validating. I live and work among great photographers, however, and I have to remind myself of that every day when I push myself to do better. I’m not going anywhere anytime soon.

Overall, has it been relatively smooth? If not, what were some of the struggles along the way?
Getting that first call for photojournalism work felt like it took forever. In a way, it did. I was in LA for at least a year working odd jobs and sending out emails to publications and editors before I got a call from the Los Angeles Times asking me if I was available for an assignment. I couldn’t have said yes faster.

It seemed like once they gave me a nod of approval, work from other publications seemed to arrive much faster than the next. I was able to email editors with new work from reputable newspapers. It felt like I was finally, after months of wondering, able to see my future a bit more.

My advice is to keep pushing. Be professional with pursuing your contacts: don’t bother, but nudge. I knew my work and my experience was good enough to be considered by these places, but realize that you are in a city where you are surrounded by other creative professionals who are also very, very good. Your work will speak for itself, but give it time. In your free time, research projects, find jobs to help you keep afloat- ideally ones similar to your wheelhouse like assisting- but keep reaching out to remind people that you’re there, and you want to work.

Also, ask around. Meet with photographers you know in the area and see what you can learn from their experience. Maybe you’re overlooking a detail in your email you haven’t thought of yet. Maybe you’ll just make a connection down the road who may recommend you for work. But be humble and ask questions. Always.

Please tell us more about your work, what you are currently focused on and most proud of.
I’m a freelance photojournalist. I specialize in documentary photography, and I work mostly with news publications. This style of photography makes me unique outside of the news world for clients that want something documented- an event, behind the scenes- it’s a skillset that I can utilize in various ways, and I’m really upfront about what it is I can bring to the table that other photographers can’t.

Finding a mentor and building a network are often cited in studies as a major factor impacting one’s success. Do you have any advice or lessons to share regarding finding a mentor or networking in general?
When it comes to networking, email people you want to have a coffee with to try and sit down with them to get to know their story a bit better. But be humble and ask questions. You are there to learn more about them, so even though you may be hungry for work, it is unflattering to come off as desperate. In the end, you’re doing yourself a disservice by giving them the impression that you need something from them, even if that’s the case. If they can help you, they will, but only if they think you would be a good person to work with.

Contact Info:

Image Credit:

Photo of Jenna Schoenefeld by Michael Kortlander, Jenna Schoenefeld

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