If you’ve made the transition, or are planning on making the transition from photography as a hobby to photography as a job, you’ll invariably come to a point where you’ll just want to throw your hands in the air and give up. These bouts of self-doubt and frustration will likely occur many times and seem to appear not only during your lows but even at the highs. These feelings are normal, and it is those that rise above them time and again that end up successful. I recently hit one of these rough patches myself and strangely enough it came at a time where everything was seemingly going well. I was riding a wave of success and had tons of photography and retouching work coming in. Simultaneously I felt like maybe I chose the wrong path and became overwhelmed with it all. Here are some pieces of advice that helped get me back on my feet and will hopefully serve you well when those periods of self doubt creep along.
You’re a business owner, not a photographer
Remember, it was your decision to start making money from your craft, and the day you did was the day you went from being a photographer to a business owner. Every business owner runs into rough patches, which is why the success rate for small businesses is so low. Until the day when you can afford to outsource a good chunk of your administrative tasks, you’ll have to play the role of bookkeeper, marketer, secretary, social media manager and your own personal psychologist. Unless you want to go back to the confines of a 9-5 job, these problems won’t go away. Every business takes time and there are few overnight success stories. Just remember that all your hard work is merely a facilitator for doing what you love. Without it your photography will remain a part time hobby and nothing more. As you struggle with day to day marketing and admin work, remember that you’re doing it for yourself and nobody else. It’s your brand your building and all your efforts will have a lasting and residual benefit down the road.
Most of us shy away from uncertainty and cling to the familiar. There’s little doubt that we all appreciate a steady pay check and comfort in knowing that we’ll be able to pay the bills, but with this also comes monotony and predictability. Think back to your 9-5 job. You were probably comfortable but were you happy? If the job had fulfilled you, pushed you and excited you, would you be doing what you are now? Uncertainty is what you signed up for when you went out on your own, and uncertainty is what will ensure that every day is different from the last. Uncertainty brings risk but it also brings reward. Sadly we rarely get the latter without the former.
Savour the Small Victories
The path of a photographer is riddled with challenges and victories. The problem we face is that we observe young rising stars like Joey L, Miller Mobley, Lara Jade, etc., and think that their success and notoriety came over night through that “big break” moment. We in turn begin our own pursuit of that defining moment and stop appreciating the milestones along the way. Those victories that once made us happy seem like little more than small steps in a long road ahead. What I’ve learned though is that success is the culmination of all those small steps. A lot of us never get that big break, we simply take each victory and use that as a springboard to the next one. If that big break does occur then all the better, but until then, savour the small wins and use them as fuel to drive you forward.
The joy of owning your own business is that you answer to no one, maintain your own schedule and can do what you please, when you please. So we all initially think anyway. Before you know it you feel overwhelmed by 12 hour days and 7 hour work weeks. This is the problem we face when we don’t have someone breathing over our necks or restricting access to social media sites. We pop on to Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, etc. to do our daily “marketing” a few times a day, and before we know it, we’ve worked for hours and accomplished nothing. My suggestion is to use a scheduler to break up your day into the daily chores you have to complete. Blogging, social media, email marketing, photo editing, everything should have a time slot in your calendar. During that time, close all unnecessary tabs in your browser, set the phone aside and focus on the task at hand. This sort of self discipline isn’t easy, but it’s critical for maintaining your sanity and leaving you with time to relax and recharge.
Talk About Things Openly and Honestly
As I’ve said, these challenges aren’t unique to you, we all go through them. Surely in your circle you know a fellow photographer or business owner, so take advantage of that friendship and have a frank discussion. One of the things that got me back on my feet was a random conversation I had with a fellow photographer. He messaged me out of the blue and congratulated me for a recent workshop that I was running. This sparked a longer conversation about the fact that I was feeling frustrated, and lo and behold, he immediately understood my position. He told me about some of the challenges he himself faces and they were identical to mine. This conversation alone was enough to get me back on my feet and begin to re-evaluate things and carry on. Sometimes all we need is someone that understands, sympathizes and can offer up some works of advice. This may seem like a logical thing, but too many of us are afraid to talk about our challenges out of fear that it makes us look weak. I myself wouldn’t have asked for the advice if it hadn’t come out of the blue, and had I not, perhaps I’d be in a different place today.
Look Back and Step Back
It’s too easy to get lost in the daily chaos of tasks that have nothing to do with what you were initially so passionate about. Photography and the love you had for it becomes but a fraction of your workload and stops feeling fun. Sometimes we just need to step back from it all and reflect on why we started in photography in the first place. Think back to what you were doing before it? Were you really happier or were things just easier and more convenient? Turn off your computer and step outside with just your camera and one lens, walk around the city and just shoot something for the fun of it. Don't worry about having to capture something great, or whether it will be popular on social media, or how you'll retouch it. Just shoot for the sake of shooting. It will help clear your mind and bring back the joy of photography.
Don’t rely on passion alone
I often hear that photographers are driven by passion. I say forget about being “driven by passion” and just be driven. Passion is what helps us become great photographers and create beautiful images, but remember, you’re not just a photographer any more. It’s drive and determination that will propel you forward as a business owner and carry you over the hurdles ahead. Put ‘passion' into your images and marketing, and ‘drive' into your daily pursuit.
Remember that what you're doing is difficult. It's not for everyone and it's probably more work than you thought. Beneath it all though is the joy of creating beautiful images, and with a little reflection you'll likely realize that you can't imagine yourself doing anything else.