There are always an abundance of lists explaining misconceptions and lies about being a professional photographer, but there are almost none telling you which rumors are true.
Like any given profession, it's easy to idolize the concept of that career without the facts. In my experience, photographers blindly and naively plummeting in to a photography career overflowing with optimism is rarer than the majority believe. What I see as more common is instead — rather sadly — the converse of this: the over-inflated industry is going to crush them and they'll make no money and die in a penniless puddle. I may have got carried away there, but nevertheless, the propensity for negativity towards a career in photography appears to outweigh the optimism.
As is often the case with dichotomies, the truth lies somewhere in between. The fundamental problem for photographers out of the loop but trying to get in to it, is that it's difficult to tell the wood from the trees. That is, identifying what is true and what is false from the ceaseless barrage of information is nigh on impossible. One established voice in the industry will tell you that social media is your gateway to success, YouTube wil autoplay a related video, which will be an equally established voice insisting that careers are built independently of socials. I remember how frustrating I found this some years back (when it was arguably less confusing than now) as I stepped in to the full-time photography arena, and I've written many times on areas that might demystify the leap for some.
Well, recently I've noticed an uptick in pieces about the lies and myths of becoming a professional photographer. While they're helpful, they merely take away information you might have had, and leave you to infer the antithetical position which is not always the case. So in this article, I will present five rumors about being a professional photographer that are — at least in my experience and the experience some of my colleagues — true.
1. There Are a Lot of People Trying to Make It as a Photographer
There's no getting away from it, there are more photographers than ever before. Photography is simply more accessible, it's a quicker process, and there are fewer steps involved. There is no qualification entry point, there is nothing to stop anyone listing themselves as a professional photographer and looking for work, and it's an attractive profession to be successful in. That said, there's a lot of work out there and most people don't try particularly hard to consistently get better and build a proper, fully functioning business. So, yes it's true that you'll be battling away against lots of other photographers (at least to begin with), but that shouldn't put you off.
2. You Do Spend a Lot Less Time Taking Pictures
I oscillate between thinking this is depressing and a good thing. When you're a hobbyist, taking and editing photos is everything you need to do. When you're a professional photographer, it's not even the bulk of your work load for almost everyone. You are running a business and that means there is a lot you need to do to keep it ticking over. There's emails, networking, admin, accounts, invoicing, expenses, canvassing, social media, blogging, and the list really does go on.
On the one hand, it's disappointing that you're not spending all of your time taking pictures like you used to. But on the other, time with your camera now feels more like an event and thus more enjoyable. In addition, there are rewards other than the images themselves. Finally, you can still shoot in your spare time!
3. You Can't Have G.A.S
When you're working full-time, Gear Acquisition Syndrome is a bad habit, but generally fun. When your photography is your business and your livelihood, G.A.S can be terminal. Every penny has to be accounted for, but moreover, it must be justifiable. Buying lenses, cameras, and accessories on a whim is a dicey game to play and one that invariably will not be rewarded, in fact it will probably be punished. You'll often hear "you can't just buy shiny new stuff if photography is your job" and that is wholly true; it can damage your profit margins and the viability of a long and healthy career in photography.
4. Mobile Phone Photography Is Hurting Professional Photographers
This one is contentious and has multifarious caveats, but is true. Now, mobile photography doesn't affect vast swathes of photography niches and sub-genres, but it does hurt a number of areas. The worst affected is most likely to be stock photography in which mobile images are usurping more and more of the landscape. With the impressive quality phone cameras can put out now, many start-ups and small businesses opt to photograph their products themselves. In a similar vein, family photography is arguably less popular now, although this is a very recent change and the evidence is anecdotal. So this sentiment, while usually more aggressively and exaggeratedly expressed, has a fair amount of truth to it.
5. If You Love What You Do You'll Never Work a Day in Your Life
Let's end on a high. This is a bit of a call back to my recent article "Dispelling One of the Biggest Myths About Becoming a Professional Photographer" in which I vehemently rebuke the notion that becoming a professional photographer causes you to fall out of love with photography. The quote attributed to Marc Anthony is a poetic absolute which if explored, would come apart at the seams simply because it's absolute, but the sentiment is correct to my eye. That is, if you love what you do, it won't feel like you're "working" constantly, even when you are. I still have days where I work 18 hours, carrying heavy gear, on my feet 90% of the time, concentrating intensely, missing meals, and so on. Those days are seldom enjoyable, but they're a means to an end, which is having a career I love and find fulfillment in. The result is that most of my time, I don't feel as if I'm working, even though I work more hours per week than almost anyone I know.
Professional photographers, what did you hear about being a full-time 'tog that turned out to be true? Those of you aiming to make the jump, is there anything you want to check the veracity of? Share them in the comments below.