6 Reasons Why You Should Never Become a Professional Photographer

6 Reasons Why You Should Never Become a Professional Photographer

I hate to be the bearer of bad news but being a professional photographer is not always as amazing as you may think. Here's why choosing something else as a profession may actually be a better option.

Talking about being something other than a professional photographer or bashing the industry are two popular topics of conversation that come up regularly when I speak with my peers. Could this be more to do with the type of people I surround myself with and not the profession as a whole? It's possible. Although, I do also hear similar noises from many other industries that are not photographic related. The consensus always seems to be that turning a hobby or passion into a profession can suck all the joy out of it. Let's take a look at some of the reasons why this may be the case.

1. The Image of a Professional Photographer Is Not What You Think It Is

If you believed everything you saw on social media, you'd probably have an incorrect image of what it's like to be a professional photographer. Glamorous photoshoots, exotic locations, celebrity subjects, and prestigious brands knocking on your door every day. While all of the above can be true, it's far from the average. What you don't see as often online is the boring photoshoots, the controlling clients, the art directors with no imagination, the horrible locations, and the monotonous days photographing the same thing over and over and over again. The main thing I want would-be professional photographers to know is that it's not all glamorous. Quite often, you are given strict briefs that allow very little input. The worst is when a client will hand you a tare sheet of some other photographer's work and you're told to recreate that image exactly. At this stage, you are little more than a camera operator in my opinion. I personally find that the bigger the budget and the more people involved, the less I'm able to express the real me creatively. This isn't the end of the world, and many of you may like these restraints. On the other hand, if you're used to being the boss and making images on your own terms, you're going to be in for a bit of a shock in the commercial world. A fellow photographer I know described it best when they said: "Being a professional is like doing the hobby you love but on other people's terms."

2. The Money Can Be All Over the Place

Being a freelance photographer can be feast or famine at times. I have earned five figures working with a big client for several weeks. I have also earned close to minimum wage when I factor in all the unforeseen work involved in some shoots. The number of days you work will vary too. Some months you'll be block-booked, while other months you may have very little on at all. All these numbers are going to vary dramatically depending on which area of the industry you work in. One thing which is more universal when being a photographer is that the job can be a hard slog both physically and mentally. The hours can be unpredictable and there are definitely easier and more consistent jobs out there. If a routine and regular income are important factors in your decision for picking a job, then being a professional photographer may not be the right profession for you.

3. You May Stop Making Personal Work

When you're working every waking hour to be a successful professional photographer, it can be hard to find the time or motivation to make work that is just your own. This phenomenon doesn't always happen overnight but I have seen it creep into some photographer's behavior over time. Some photographers may feel guilty doing something for themselves when they could be doing "real" paid work for a client. Obviously, this is the wrong approach to have as it's vitally important to carve out time to make work for yourself. Clients like to see it and your skillset will always benefit from doing new things. Still, the last thing many working photographers want to do at the end of a busy week is even more photography. This means personal work can go out the window.

4. Your Skillset Could Suffer

Being a professional photographer can bring great variety but it can also bring a lot of repetition. Many photographers will have several regular clients they work with often. While this is mostly a desirable outcome, it does come with a downside. If you only work with the same few clients your skillset will stagnate if they always ask you to do the same kind of stuff. There is nothing wrong with being a one-trick or two-trick pony but it can restrict who you work for in the future. If you're passionate about photography and you want to become a master of your craft then doing the same few lighting setups over and over is not going to help you progress.

5. You'll Spend More Time Being an Accountant, a Website Designer, a Computer Administrator, and a PR Specialist

The ratio of days behind the camera to doing other stuff will vary from photographer-to-photographer. One thing I would say with some confidence is that the numbers are usually stacked toward non-picture related tasks. Unless you work in-house for a company, you'll be working for yourself. This means doing all the paperwork that is involved with that. Filing tax returns, maintaining websites, doing meetings, chasing invoices, and trying to get work are just some of the things which will eat into your working week. The majority of your time is not behind the camera which is something that came as a surprise when I first started out. I always understood there was housekeeping involved, but I didn't think it would take up so much time. I am most happy when I'm behind my camera so anything that takes me away from that is not good. My strengths are not as an accountant or as someone good at schmoozing prospective customers or clients to get work. If the sound of these additional roles makes you want to run a mile then being a professional photographer may not be for you.

6. It May Destroy the Thing You're Most Passionate About

Being directed and micromanaged for years by unappreciative clients and art directors with no imagination can really suck the joy out of being a photographer. When you combine that with all the other things mentioned above, it's understandable that some people begin to associate all these negative issues with the art of photography itself. I've seen many photographers become so fed up with the industry that they leave and never pick up a camera again. This really is a great shame as I'm sure many of those people used to really love the act of making pictures. Unfortunately, turning something you love into a job can change how you feel about it in negative ways.

So there you have it, some of the reasons why becoming a professional photographer may not be a good idea. My intention in writing this article was not to try and put anyone off following their dreams. I just want people to be aware of the less glamorous side of the industry which is not always talked about. I also want people to know that just because someone can't label themselves as a "professional photographer" does not mean their pictures are any less worthy. In many ways, having a different kind of job can give you the time, money, energy, and breathing space to become an even better photographer than some of those busy "professionals" that are stuck on the same well-trodden path. There have definitely been times in my career where I have longed for a more regular and structured job. For me, it's always been about making pictures and I try hard to stop any of the negative aspects that come with being a professional photographer to ever cloud that.  

Do you think being a professional photographer is a good idea? Any of you already tried and not liked what you saw? I'd love to hear your thoughts in the comments below.   

Log in or register to post comments

69 Comments

Paul Parker's picture

Im sure this is going to evoke some hearty debate. Be interested to hear both sides of this argument.

Let’s keep it civil though!

Joshua Boldt's picture

Pretty much sums up my entire experience! :)

Paul Parker's picture

haha! thanks for stopping by Joshua! hope you enjoyed the piece...

Robert Nurse's picture

Currently, photography isn't my day job. But, once I retire, I'd like it to be a source of income. To be a pro, I think you should probably like every, if not most, aspects of the job. If you don't something will suffer. As the author stated, don't let your photography suffer.

Paul Parker's picture

That's exactly it Robert. I genuinely believe the best photographers are those from different areas/fields. Those experiences can really enhance things and help people to come at problems from a very different and interesting tangent. I wish you all the best with your plan! : )

Jonathan Kull's picture

This article could be about any (commercial) creative pursuit. I've been a graphic designer for 20+ years and have experienced all of these things. Doing design work for a living also killed any desire I had to be creative in my free time. I took up photography as a hobby a few years ago to try to reclaim that.

louis heredia's picture

this is just a list of what it's like running a business.

Paul Parker's picture

anything missed off the list?

louis heredia's picture

Working with awful clients/customers

Paul Parker's picture

I do talk about "controlling clients and the art directors with no imagination" in point 1, but you're absolutely right that awful clients/customers should really have been its own point.

I have had many awful clients over the years. I do try to filter them out where I can. I hope you don't have too many awful ones yourself?

Paul Parker's picture

Great to hear you found another creative outlet Jonathan. I know lots of creatives with a similar story to yours. Graphic designs loss is our gain! thanks for stopping by... : )

David Blacker's picture

Quite agree. I spent almost 30 years in advertising as an illustrator, art director, and eventually creative director, and it killed any desire to draw or paint in my off time. I'm also a writer, and I wrote and published a novel some years ago, but I did it at a time when I was unemployed. The rest of the time, being in a creative day job sucked all desire to be creative at other times. I started photography as a hobby, and a couple of years ago I quit advertising to write and shoot full time, and having a two-pronged approach (which means I'm not only doing one thing) has helped to keep the passion alive in both areas.

Paul Parker's picture

It's reassuring to hear others feel the same about their creative jobs. I think some may think their are the only ones who feel like this so your story will help others. The two prong approach is great btw! Why I always have to projects on the go so when I want to procrastinate I do it with the other project... thanks for stopping by. : )

Nick Bentley's picture

I feel a little like posts like this are a bit of a way of pros trying to put of competition. It’s up there with if you have a low price you lower everyone’s prices. Sadly that’s called business if your more efficient or more skilled at the business stuff you will be more competitive in pricing. These articles are a bit dull now we must get one a week I know people need to get articles out but really ?

Paul Parker's picture

I hear what you're saying Nick but it was never my intention to put people off the profession. I'm just trying to give people a better picture of what it's really like. I truly believe that a rising tide floats all the ships and that is why I've written almost 200 articles for FS. It's my way of giving back to the industry...

Are you a photographer full time?

Nick Bentley's picture

I was I’m 60/40 at the moment I shoot sports well cycling mostly and I’m lucky I had something else I can do to keep my going as covid took 40k off our order book. It’s just a feeling a I get lately that some pros are trying to keep people out. I’ve had a few interesting DMs on it and in my favourite discipline to shoot there is for sure a cartel type atmosphere with people being shouted down and mocked publicly just to keep the status qou. I really think it’s something our industry struggles with I come from an engineering background and I try and bring some of that to my business and how I work with people. I was told early in my engineering career that you will never know everything but you can always find some one who knows what you need. It’s all about collaboration and that’s what I try and do with my business.

I also stand by the saying find a job you love and you will never work a day in your life. I think any of us who fair paid to take photos can really appreciate that !

Paul Parker's picture

I'm sorry to hear you have personally experienced other shooters trying to put you off shooting. I'd try and take it as a compliment that they may feel threatened by you and others. There are definitely groups out there that treat their corner of the industry as a bit of an exclusive club.

I personally love seeing new photographers climb the ranks. It keeps me inspired and motivated to stay on my game. I'm sorry to hear about the effects of Covid on your job but am happy to hear you have your engineering. I genuinely believe the best photographers are those from different areas/fields. Those experiences can really enhance things and help people to come at problems from a very different and interesting tangent. All the best going forward! : )

Nick Bentley's picture

I’m of the mind set of what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger ! Thanks to covid I have found some new clients and way better pricing techniques. As well as some amazing customers who stick by us. As well as some writing work. So if you work hard there is always a positive.

To be honest my criticism wasn’t direct purely at you more at the atmosphere that seems to be creeping in.

But Paul thanks for your kind words and for the dialogue. It makes the difference.

Check out our work on insta @man_down_media or www.mandownmedia.co.uk I’d appreciate your comments

Paul Parker's picture

My pleasure. Keep shooting sir. Website looks great. Its clean and the images are big! The pictures should do the talking which is the way it always should be... :)

Nick Bentley's picture

Thanks yeah we are in the process of changing it and updating to reduce some of it down and add online booking thanks happy shooting to you to !

Jeff McCollough's picture

3. Is very true for me. However, I just bought a Fuji camera (I use Canon for work) to use as a personal camera to do more creative work.

5. This is also very true. The paperwork is endless.

Paul Parker's picture

Hey Jeff, thanks for your input to the conversation. Are you finding the Fuji fun to use? I've shot Canon all my life but several years back I got back into film just for fun. It really helped my professional practice when I go back to Canon. It seems to reset me and helps me to see though different eyes so to speak. I think having different systems can be healthy for this. Thanks for stopping by!

Jeff McCollough's picture

I haven't received my Fuji yet. I'll get it in May when I'm back in the US. I'm traveling in Bolivia right now.

Paul Parker's picture

ok cool, well I hope you enjoy it. Safe travels! : )

Stefan Gonzalevski's picture

I agree with these statements. I'd like to add that you lose a part of your photographic and creative freedom. I sometimes proposed some different approaches or lights for some shootings (product or portraits). And it ended with the same flat dull light as usual. Depending of the domain, but most of the time, it's art directors and client who have the final decision. And everybody knows that clients are scared of risks and novelties.

Paul Parker's picture

You hit the nail on the head perfectly Stefan! Clients, AD, Etc all hate risk. I also think many of them can actually SEE the difference or understand what we are doing. Many also don't care. It can be demotivating for sure. Hang in there brother, keep fighting them!!

Stefan Gonzalevski's picture

Yes, it's true that sometimes some have the understanding that newness may be the good thing to do. But that's a minority. And you're totally right when you point that the more people involved in a project, the less you have your word to say.
About the advertisement world, there is a great french movie called "99 Francs". Worth the watch !
I slowly plan to move from photography business and keep it as a hobby.

Paul Parker's picture

Will check out the film recommendation thanks for that! I think variety is the spice of life so your plan to transition the business sounds like a healthy plan. I've spoke to a lot of photographers about going part time to do something else. For some of them it's a win win. All the best! : )

Paul Parker's picture

Just watched the trailer for 99 Francs. Hilarious! Many thanks!

Stefan Gonzalevski's picture

Hopefully, you can find it in English somewhere !

More comments