Being a Photographer in Your 30s

Being a Photographer in Your 30s

I am now well into my 30s, having started my photography career in my early twenties, here are a few gems that you have to look forward to.

Throughout my 20s I felt like no one was taking me seriously. In hindsight, my behavior was the key factor, not my age. Now that I am in my 30s, have children at home, and my fair share of gray hair and a constantly retreating hairline, I am given a new level of respect. Which is odd, as I still feel like I am 16 inside and I will totally steal everything out of the sweetie jar on a shoot. Here are some key points to being a photographer in your 30s. A lot of this wont apply if you have only started photography at 29, but say you have been going for a decade, you may be able to relate to some of this.

Working Hours

When I was in my 20s, I could go out and get blind drunk, start work 6 hours later and pull a 48 hour editing marathon to meet a deadline and carry on the following day with few consequences. I remember people regularly telling me that once you hit 30 you wont be able to work like that anymore. I laughed it off and carried on. Now that I am in my 30s, I can’t drink and I certainly can’t work for 48 hours with 6 hours sleep. A very stressful shoot will often mean taking a day off after just to physically recover. I now realize that I have a finite amount of time that I can work each week, I break it into units and I get 10 units of brain powered work a week. I then plan those into my diary with the hope that nothing too big lands on my desk last min, in between them I do menial tasks around the studio and generally keep on top of chores. I take weekends off like a normal person now and I often don’t work in the evenings (although I am writing this at 8:30pm). I assume things will only get worst from this point on and that my caffeine intake will increase proportionately. 

You Find Your Stride

I guess this applies to all aspects of life, but I feel like I know where I am and where I am going. Granted, some of my bigger dreams have now been realized as impossible, but generally speaking my life and career are exactly where I want them to be with room to improve over the next 30 years whilst I am still hopefully working.

You Have Confidence in Your Profession

Throughout my 20s I was terrified about the career choice I had made, throwing my academic background in science to the side to follow a career in photography. Constantly having my prices knocked down and being conned into working for free. Now I am a bit older and wiser, these problems seem to have disappeared. I say no to more jobs than I say yes to and I feel completely confident in the quotes that I send out. After a decade of anxiety, I feel that I can more than hold my own in any meeting. 

You Can Afford the Gear

If you have been going since your 20s, the stress of buying gear will have now been replaced with the annoyance of having to part with money for gear by 30. Although you can probably afford which ever pro camera you want by this point, you probably want to spend that money on golf clubs or a new bike, maybe even a holiday! Photography is a career that snowballs. After trying to find a few $$$ for a budget lens in year one, buying 3 pro cameras ten years later isn’t such a big step financially, but its not really something that I want to spend my money on anymore. Now I am in my 30s I have just about finished procuring the gear that I need in order to  do most jobs without having to rent every time. But this was after 10 years of hard graft. I now want to enjoy my photography money in other areas of my life.

You Know What You Like

After a good decade of photography and 30 years of being about generally making an abundance of mistakes, by your 30s you probably have a clearer idea as to where you are going. I didn’t specialize into my current niche until I was 30. Before that I shot weddings, portraits, and pretty much anything that would pay the bills and required a camera. I even shot the odd music video. But having that bit of gray hair and a few more years in the industry means I have the confidence to say no to jobs that are not for me and have had enough time to get to the jobs I like.

You Still Feel Too Young

Photography is an odd game, the younger professionals have all of the creativity, none of the budget and few contacts, but once into your 30s you feel a bit out of touch with the kids, but you have some of the budget yet you are still far younger than most creative directors so you are met with a certain amount of un-trust, which is probably valid in our profession.

You Are in No Mans Land

The young kids think I am past it and those older than me call me a millennial and hipster, which I assume is meant as an insult. It seems that no matter how old you are, someone has a problem with your generation, I imagine when I hit my 40s I will be seen as over the hill, out of touch with trends and generally uncool, whilst those in their 50s think I am from a entitled generation who has no work ethic. But such is life.

Age does make a difference in a profession of freelancers. I am certainly guilty of judging people based on their age. When clients are trusting you with tens of thousands of dollars of shooting budget, being past your 20s is certainly a bonus as it instills a trust and level of security in their investments.

Now that I know that I can’t work as hard as I did in my 20s and that I have a lot more confidence and greater understanding of direction, I plan to really focus on what I want to be doing from the age of 40 - 50 and put in the time now to secure my place in the industry for later. Then hopefully carry on working as long as my body and eyes allow me to.

How are you finding being a photographer as you get older?

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Previous comments
Alex Yakimov's picture

Sounds great. You've made it. Care to share your company's website?

Oh, and this writer, Scott, really is honest about it. I like the way he tells the truth. Being in the 30's is MUCH better than 20's, as far as work. Being 30 something, is a still a kid!!!

Every prospective professional photographer should familiarize themselves with the concept of "barriers to entry". The long and the short of it is that anybody with some experience and not very many dollars worth of camera equipment can enter the field and become your competitor. And that is going to happen every year, year after year, for as long as you are in the business.

Scott Choucino's picture

Yes the entry to the business is easier and easier, but the high end work that pays the big ££££ is getting more and more difficult to produce.

Alex Yakimov's picture

Would "easy entry" increase the proportion of photogs who will maintain a healthy ambition, stay dedicated to the improvement for​ 10 years or more?

There is easy entry, Alexander. Unless those new entrants excel and have excellent business sense, AND find a niche which provides special opportunities to them, then they will quickly lose their ambition and not be dedicated to their improvement for 10 years or more.They will leave the business of professional photography.

Alex Yakimov's picture

Sure it is, no arguing on that, Boy. Since many easy comers will equally easy leave, the real danger would be from the ones who will stay on track no matter what. And I suspect that would be a rare species...

If a photographer is constantly competing with the low bar entry level photographer they need to step up their game and get out of the basement.

In the last 10-15 years the middle of the photo market has faded away or changed. The high rolling top end is booming and the bottom level BOGO Cheapy McCheapskates will always come and go.

Now that I am 63 and having the good fortune of having a successful career and still loving the work, my main concern is that my clients are now often half my age. While I am still getting booked beyond what my calendar can handle, I worry that at some time someone will think I may be losing a step.
My goal is to stay fit and prove daily that I am capable, competent, creative and a tireless worker.

Scott Choucino's picture

I hope I am as busy as you one day!

Scott, I find your articles among some of the most useful of any I see. You have a clear view of the field and are generous in sharing what you have learned. I am confident you will enjoy a great career.
The most important thing I learned is that instant success is the shortest route to instant failure. Also, like the slow growing Oak, a career built with care and focused hard work will slowly build success after success and you will find yourself having to extend regrets almost as often as saying yes.

Scott Choucino's picture

Thanks for the kind words Mark

I am 65 and this is my 45th year in the photography business. I enjoy it more now than when I was younger, largely because of experience and not being scared stiff when confronted with a potential problem or new situation.

I started as a photojournalist in Ottawa in 1975, doing a lot of work for Canada's national magazines. Walking into the Prime Minister's office and having 5 minutes to get a good portrait concentrates the mind and skills wonderfully and was a great way to get started in the business. Now I do architecture, aerials and industrial shoots as well as corporate portraits.

I knew at the age of 12 or 13 that photography would be my profession. I plan to keep working as long as I am able, I am on the the Freedom 95 retirement plan! Retirement is a very recent idea in the history of civilization, I think it makes more sense to ease off gradually and do the assignments that are less stressful, like architecture.

There is always somebody cheaper, trying to chase the lowest price will put you out of business in short order. Develop your skills, find what area you excel in, establish a pricing structure that provides a decent income and let the price cutters squabble over the crumbs being offered to them. Higher paying clients respect you more as well and are less problematic than the cheap skates.

Ignacio Balbuena's picture

I went 5 years shooting weddings, stressful moments, after that doing portraits 6 years in land and 4 in cruises all togheter and this last year with 31 years now I begun to specialize in beauty-fashion photography in a small city full of weddings photographers (being the only one serious I think) make me become like The Dude. The clients are super cool and relaxed, work is smooth shooting in the mornings and editions in the afternoon, most of the photographers of the zone feel curious of how is it. I really like it, I must continue improving thats for sure, get better studio equipment and gear, practice new techniques, etc.

John Stires's picture

At 71 I don't drink or pull 48 hour shoots crawling on my belly at Kafmai of Yellowstone, sometimes I'll even leave my gear in the car if it's going to be a particularly hard, blustery sail and I'm skipper or 1st second. And then I'll sleep for an entire day afterwards and come out of the sausage-grinder less ready to go at it again. But that's the life of an adventure photographer, one slog after another... and FORGET weddings or similar time-sensitive shoots... by now the clock revolves around ME. But lfe happens once, make it exciting.

C Fisher's picture

What if I'm already in my 30s and just starting lmao. I'm already past the not drinking stage 🤣

Don Risi's picture

How am I finding being a photographer as I get older? I'm damn near 69, and doing just fine. Work as much as I want, for who I want, and at this point in life, the money goes to one thing -- fun. Of course you can spell "fun" as "g-e-a-r," "t-r-i-p-s," etc.

Of course, I do have . . . "less knowledgeable" (read that any way you want) photographers underbidding me, but I'm at a point in life where I don't hardly care.

It's too much fun. Seeing my work in a magazine or on a cover is still a thrill, but there's nothing like having someone call who likes your work and wants you to do more.

Happy as can be.