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I’m A Quitter, And You Should Be Too!

I’m A Quitter, And You Should Be Too!

Quitting gets a bad rap. There is a certain stigma attached to the quitter as if they have somehow failed. We offer them compassion instead of congratulations. We imagine they are haunted by countless "what if's" and regrets. We muse that perhaps there were circumstances beyond their control. What if I told you that quitting can be the ultimate form of regaining direction and control in your life?

Pride and ego can be powerful motivators that push us humans to achieve the pinnacles of our imagination yet it is that same pride and ego that can hold us back from achieving our full potential. Sometimes we are just too darn stubborn to realize that something isn’t working and that there is absolutely no shame in admitting defeat. Sometimes we need to take a step back in order to take two steps forward.

When it comes to pursuing a career in photography here are 5 areas where I have chosen to be a quitter.

The Dreaded Client

Last year I had a client who I was afraid to let go. It was volume work, on a fairly consistent basis, and paid pretty well. In fact, they were my bread and butter for a while. As grateful as I was for the work, it was painfully obvious that the client was what nightmares are made of. Constant delays, last minute cancellations, missed payments, and a LOT of unreasonable requests; this became the reality of my life.

I think a lot of us get into this kind of mess sometimes. We find a client and we are momentarily happy. To us it means we have success, but being in business is not just about FINDING clients, but rather finding the RIGHT clients. We let the happiness of finding a client cloud our judgement, especially in the beginning stages of our business, and we bend over backwards to please and retain them. Eventually as stress builds up, the demands grow, and the requests become more and more outlandish, that is when we begin to see many fellow photographers HATE their craft. Their clients are actually slowly killing their passion!

Sometimes all it takes is to recognize a poisonous situation and take charge by dropping a client from your roster. It may seem counter intuitive but the weight that will come off your shoulders is incredible. You will shed the stress, free your time, and regain the lost passion for your craft.

Don't look at it as lost income, but as gained time which you can use to find new clients.

The Niche

Catalog Photography Clothing Apparel Commercial

We are often told by our peers and educators that carving a niche for yourself is a sure fire way to success. Trimming the fat from your work and focusing your efforts can indeed prove beneficial, but try to stay open minded when you do so, as it may help to go in the path of least resistance.

When I started out in photography a few years ago I quickly saw the importance of focusing my work. The glaring mistake I made was focusing on the WRONG things. I was fixated on a niche which I had built a plan for in my mind. I kept at it for years creating content and knocking on doors. There weren't many takers for what I was putting out. It was all about persistance I told myself.

It is very easy to become fixated on a goal and incredibly difficult to accept that the goal may be unreachable. For years I turned down work in an effort to blindly "build a niche". The irony was that the work which was actually coming my way ended up being my niche, and it was not what I had planned for at all. As soon as I accepted this I experienced success in my career.

Don't look at it as a failure to get what you want, but rather a force that guides you in the direction you need to go.

The Equipment

We all fall into a lot of traps when it comes to gear. Some of us are hardcore DIY’ers. We are obsessed with finding homemade solutions to all our problems and insist on building things ourselves. While the ingenuity is admirable, we can’t deny that this can often come at the cost of our creations having some quirks. When you are on a paid commercial gig nobody wants to watch the photographer fidgeting with their homemade gear every 30 minutes because it is falling apart or not working properly. The admiration for ingenuity can quickly turn to frustration. How much of everyone’s time will you waste?

On the flip side of this are the folks who overspend their budgets on all the latest toys and gizmo’s. While it can be a wonderful luxury to have these things at your disposal, ultimately, it is a luxury. If you get into a habit of overspending on equipment you will become a slave to it. You will find yourself frantically accepting any gig you can just so that you can pay off your credit cards on time.

It is imperative to learn when to quit acquiring new and expensive gear, and when to let go of old or poorly functioning equipment that can suck all the fun out of your job while you endlessly wrestle with the quirks.

Don't look at is as a statement of your superiority, but as the most efficient means to an end.

The Team

In an ideal world we would find a team and grow with them forever. Everyone would always be on the same page and our goals would never change. In reality however people learn and hone their skills at different speeds and it is not uncommon for you to outgrow your peers. As the years go by you may develop new interests and find passions for genres that you left unexplored.

As you grow apart from your team mates do not be afraid to call it quits. Hanging on to team mates for the sake of sentimental value can seem like an honourable approach, but it can keep you locked into a permanent state of limbo that can sour the friendships you have as resentment grows.

Don't look at is as a story, but rather a chapter.

The Day Job

Photography Work Quit

I saved this one for last because it may very well be the hardest thing to quit. It is hard to give up the security, the benefits, and the steady pay check. Owning your own business can mean irregular hours and sporadic income. Compounding the problem are friends and family who think you are crazy for taking such a risk with your life.

I’m here to tell you that there is no shame in quitting your day job. There is absolutely no shame in having slow weeks or even months in the pursuit of your passion. There is no shame in saying you are self-employed. The decision may seem wild and stupid to onlookers but don’t let that hold you back. Don’t be afraid to quit.

Don't look at it as the solution, look at it as a possibility.


Tell me about a time when quitting has helped your career!

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james johnson's picture

Then there is the other alternative: Quit the photography business. Which is not to say "quit photography."

After 15 years, I quit my business and moved on to another, related field. I don't miss it one bit. I still love photography, still shoot for myself or the occasional job, and I still teach it to university students, but I don't miss the business side one bit.

The funny thing is that after I shuttered my studio, everyone responded just as this article stated— as if I had somehow failed. I had to start phrasing it as, "it was time to move on," because if I said I hated and was never very good at the business aspect, I somehow just "didn't try hard enough".

Peter House's picture

Thanks for taking the time to read. That is a very real alternative, but there is certainly no shame in keeping photography as a hobby! Congratulations on finding a balance in life that works for you. :)

james johnson's picture

Oh yeah, I'm much happier. I figured out very late that I was never meant to be a business man, and that is what it takes to really make it and grow.

I also got to a point where it felt like I was at war with my clients. That is not a good feeling, and it doesn't work for anyone. Every interaction I had came down to money. Each delay; money. Each misunderstanding or change in the project; money. Each minute of extra work on the set or in post; money. It was poisonous to me. Now when one of my old clients approaches me with a project, I'm enthusiastic and more creative. Getting the money is nice, but knowing I'm no longer relying on it makes me a much better photographer.

Peter House's picture

I hear you! Money and art are seemingly at opposing ends of the spectrum many times. I think a lot of artists would be happy to simply do what they love without a concern for the almighty dollar.

Jennifer Kelley's picture

I quit photography for a time. Leaving art school already burned out, $80k in debt, and 99% of my work being miserable because I needed to pay my bills was not making me happy. It was the best thing I've ever done.

Quitting a day job is not something that should be done lightly. I have no intention of giving up my day job for the next 10 years or so. If you're a 20-something with little responsibility, it's not as big a deal. If you have an established career and family to support, it is not usually an option. This can work to someone's advantage too. You have more money and more wiggle room. You don't have to take work just to pay the bills.

Peter House's picture

That is very true Jennifer. When I was a little younger I would find myself taking much larger risks. These days, with a family on my mind, I am much more cautious in my endeavors. Having a full time job can certainly ease one of the burden to create for the sake of paying bills. It really is a fast way to burn out.

Matthew Taggart's picture

This is a little unrelated, but a good friend and I once produced a short film that was around 40 mins long. It took a ton of effort, and we poured our souls into it. Once we were done, we realized it wasn't good. Like, beyond bad. So we just shelved it. There was something freeing about just setting it to the side and saying: "We'll make another one." I feel like quite a few of our video pals all looked at us like we were crazy, but it didn't really feel like a failure to me. We learned so much from it, and putting it out for people to see wouldn't do anything, so yeah, we just "quit" the short, and it was liberating. Letting it go made my other projects easier to focus on. Kinda the same thing right?

james johnson's picture

This is something I say to my students: Don't think you have to stay committed to a project just because you started it. If you have a good reason to quit and start over, or simply to walk away from the experience, it's ok. Especially if you learned something from it.

Creating is a process. Sometimes part of that process is scrapping what you've done.

Peter House's picture

Haha, I know what you mean Matthew! Before I was doing photography I pursued a small career in music. It wasn't until I finished the project that I realized I was utterly terrible at it. I too shelved it. It's somewhere in a box of things I will torture my grand kids with some day HAHA. It's still an experience I am glad I had, just like I am sure you look back fondly at the time you spent with your friend to produce that short film. :)

steven spaulding's picture

i went through a bunch of IT contract work, and was laid off. after having issues finding new work. i decided to take things into my own hands and took the plunge and turned my photography into my business.

its been slow, and a huge learning curve. but its my only option, not a second thought now. so i can give it the time and dedication it needs to grow.

Peter House's picture

I wish you all the best! :)

steven spaulding's picture

thank you, its been slow but its too be expected when your a new business.

just been continuing making awesome photo's and bringing smiles to peoples faces.

Corina Marie Howell's picture

I highly recommend a book called "The Dip" by Seth Goden. Talks very simply about when to keep at it and when to give up. :)

Peter House's picture

Thanks Corina! I'll add that to my "to read" list. Love a good book before bed. :)

Ralph Berrett's picture

A niche in itself is not bad the issue is only having one niche. All photography businesses have ups and downs so one needs to be more than a one trick pony.

As far as quitting the day job you need to be honest can you survive with your savings and your photo income for three years. It is said that it takes at least three years for a restaurant to survive as business I tend to view photography the same way. It will take you at least three years to be established and have a steady income.

The other question to ask is do I have the skills and ability to deliver what is promised, learning as you go is not fair to you or the client. If think the M on your camera is for mountains keep the day job.

What I am going to say about equipment will not make a lot of people to happy with me. The biggest issue a lot of new photographers have is they focus on the latest camera or lens and buy it without truly needing it. They view their cameras as PCs and want to replace them with the latest model.

When I buy a piece of equipment I think long term now will this tool last me five years with decent care. The other issue is a lot of shooters are buying gear not because they really need it but because they were told on a forum, podcast or some other place on the web.

A big part of this lack of practical experience and knowledge. This one reason I encourage people to take a real photo course and workshops so the can get some hands on experience and basic understanding of photography and equipment.

Also don't be afraid to buy used gear. Places like Keh, B&H and Adorama are good places for used gear. There are great lenses and cameras that you can buy that will save you at least a 1/3 the price new.

Peter House's picture

Very solid, practical advice. I started my career with second hand equipment. I also agree that workshops can be the best learning experiences one can ask for, especially for those of us who are more hands on. :)

Chris Adval's picture

I'll never quit photography ;)

Chris Adval's picture

is that photo you referenced Peter is yours? If so, do you have a lighting setup of these portraits?

Peter House's picture

Yes it is, and the details were sent via PM. Cheers!

Mark Fore's picture

This article couldn't have come at a better time for me. This Friday is my last day at work, some photographers might think what I do is their dream job, but I need to know I can't make it independently. Thanks for the encouragement!

Peter House's picture

Glad you could find some inspiration here. I wish you all the best on your journey! :)

Chris Blair's picture

Great article! You put into words ideas that have been floating in my head for a while now...we face nearly all the issues you addressed, except the quit your day job one, on a monthly basis. It’s great to see others are dealing with these problems and I like your solutions although some of them are harder to quit than others. We have that nightmare client, but some months, they’re our only client.