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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49 Comments

Being 37 and having just spent my last day at what was a consistent paycheck in order to go out to do “photography” I appreciate this a lot. I’ve been doing photography on the side for around 7 years, dipping my toes into professional work. I’ve felt a lot of these same things but I started around 30 so there was some of that feeling like I waited too long. Your comment about the older generation calling you a millennial and the younger ones thinking you’re out of touch has mostly been true. What I’ve been surprised about is my own generation that sees millennials as parodies rather than actual humans. There’s ones that think they aren’t millennials. Guess it’s a state of mind kind of thing ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

Overall I appreciate your candor and can relate definitely. Except I love new gear and I love holidays. I guess I really just like spending money.

Scott Choucino's picture

Thanks and good luck on your new venture

My experience is in the commercial side (adver/B2B/magazines) of things not the direct to consumer work (wedding/portraits/etc).
When you are 20-30 many have a lot to learn while others think they know it all, so some find another career, some take off like a rocketship and others just keep on l keepin on.
I think around 30-40 are the most fun as work gets better, budgets grow, photographers hit their style and relationships with clients are solid. Most agency people and clients are in the same 30-40 age bracket, you have things in common.
Ages 40-55 are should be peak earning years. By then you should have most of it figured out. Both the creative and business side. You get hired for being you, not just the low bidder.
After that many photographers start to downsize either voluntarily or reacting to the business climate. Maybe do fine art or local and regional magazines instead the NYT or Fortune. Some retire and some keep shooting because that's what we like to do.
Over 55 can be hard just like in most industries. You keep shooting if you are a superstar, a very hard worker or the retirement plan didn't really pan out...

Scott Choucino's picture

Yeah, I think this is how I expect, or at least hope my next 20 years pans out. I am not sure wha

Will Murray's picture

I am utterly perplexed as to the purpose of this article.

But cool, I'm looking at you, now what?

Justin Braase's picture

A man sharing insight. To some it serves to inspire perseverance, to others it serves as a reflection piece. Surely there's a number of 30 year old photographers reading this that can relate and are probably taking a sigh of relief to know they're not the only ones thinking this way.

Some takeaways he shared from his experience were related to business costs, growth in work, the confidence to produce that work, the nuances of staying relative in his industry, and more tidbits worth reflecting on for full-time photographers.

Scott Choucino's picture

It is observations as to what it is like being a photographer in your 30s.

Will Murray's picture

*slow clap*

David Penner's picture

This is an observation of why it's like being in your thirties not just a photographer.

Logan Sorenson's picture

(Eagerly awaiting Ned Hartwells contribution piece...)

Will Murray's picture

1. Whether I have or will publish in no way alters the value of this article.

2. I'm not a narcissist, who is desperate for attention.

3. When I do publish, it is unlikely that you will read it; and if you do, you are unlikely to comprehend.

Felix Wu's picture

I really enjoyed the article as I am in the same age bracket.

Lee Christiansen's picture

This post made me smile.

When I was 30 I looked back at my 20's and thought I was wiser and somewhat older - I'd have to take it easy.

Until I reached my 40's and then I realised I didn't have a clue when I was 30 and that decade ago I'd had much more energy anyway.

Then I reached my 50's and I knew I had only just started learning anything, and I wished I was 30 again every time something felt stiff.

Actually I can hardly remember being 30, and if I hear a 30 year old complaining about "feeling old" I have a distinct urge to give them a slap.

I'm sure the writer was well meaning by commenting of how turning to this milestone of an age, things are different. I'll bet 20 years from now, he look back and wonder what all the fuss was about. Certainly as I head towards my mid 50's I bet I'll look back when I'm 60 or 70 and remark I had no idea when I'd turned mid century. :)

Motti Bembaron's picture

Well said! Same here. At 57 I realize I have so much to learn :-). I just hope I have the health and stamina to keep absorbing things and most importantly, learn from them.

30's, what 30's? Like you, I can't remember much from 20 years ago. Cheers.

Scott Choucino's picture

I hope I can forget most of my 20s.in 10 years time! haha They are mostly embarrassing.

John Skinner's picture

Well said Lee.

It's an odd thing that with every decade that passes by, you look back and think...'I had no clue'. And then that bring around those days when older people would look down their collective noses at us -- try and pass advice along -- only for us to fluff it off.

I think the largest take-away from this (for me anyway) is AGE and all that it brings is not replaceable. And either are our body parts which seem to play a larger role in who we do these jobs daily.

Errol McGihon's picture

Well said old man!:) I'm 54 btw

Scott Hussey's picture

Being a photographer at age 50 is pretty much the same, except you need an extra 10 hours of sleep each week, you're probably going to be on one or more blood pressure medications, and everything hurts constantly.

Enjoy your youth kid, it's waning faster than you realize.

Scott Choucino's picture

I can fully get on board with the extra sleep!

Scott Hussey's picture

Oh, you're not actually going to get the extra ten hours of sleep... You'll just *really* need it. ;)

Felix Wu's picture

Love that haha

Being an older wedding photographer had both advantages and disadvantages.
I had the solid work and experience to sell myself.
Young brides didn't want their " grandfather" shooting their wedding.

Choose your clients wisely.

Scott Choucino's picture

Yes I can imagine that different niches have different issues

Alfred Anheier's picture

So, the upshot of this is that you should form a partnership with a younger photographer to pool the creativity of the younger person with the resources and wisdom/experience (?) of the older one? Perfect synergy, no? Personally, I found that the gambit of founding a family changed my risk assessment so much that I didn't feel safe to gamble on my skills to find paying work, not if it impacted people other than myself. And that changed the game. I know some folks who managed that transition well, but I've never been much of a risk taker on that score.

Scott Choucino's picture

The dream. I am not sure that I am in a position to do that right now, but certainly worth considering.

Carl Murray's picture

"You can afford the gear" Hahahahahah oh I wish.

Scott Choucino's picture

Well, more than in your 20s. I am certainly not flash with the cash haha

Being 68, I can relate. Never been a pro photographer, but the same applies to pro film & video. In the 20's, not much respect. But from 30-45, no problem. Some of it is learning how to act like you know what you are doing. Guys in their 20's try too hard. Once you have put in a decade, you actually do know what you're doing and don't have to try. Then in my 40's, starting my own company in post and rentalso. I figured out if you are working by the hour, even if it's a high wage, it's still a stupid hourly wage. Start a company, hire people to do all the work you used to do, and make TONS more money. Then just do a few projects you really like, or work for a few clients who demand your services. Now you're working less and making FAR more. Hourly? Nope, I'm making money even when sleeping. Working by the hour SUCKS. Seriously. Bite the bullet and become the BOSS. Ha!! Now I'm retired and still direct, shoot, and edit, because I'm good and I want to do it. It's fun!

Scott Choucino's picture

I am glad I am not alone in his.

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