The Secret to Longevity in Photography

The Secret to Longevity in Photography

Whenever an aspiring photographer asks me for the secret to beginning their career, I always respond with the same answer: Step one is to remember that photography is a marathon and not a sprint.

But, what does that mean? I’m positive that more than one person that’s heard me say that has left the conversation unfulfilled by my response, finding it a trite way of avoiding answering their query. What does it mean for photography to be a marathon and not a sprint? How is that an action item?

But, here’s the thing. Human nature is to wish for all of our life's desires to be bestowed upon us immediately. It’s natural that, when we think of great stories, we see only the finish line and not the journey. But a career in photography, like life, is a marathon made up of a thousand little steps. Crossing the finish line is but only a brief moment in the race. To aspire to a career in photography, you have to understand that you are aspiring to the journey, not the result. You are in search of the pursuit. Whether or not you ever finish the race is but a mere afterthought.

Once you understand that, then it is far easier to understand that the photographer you are today doesn’t have to be the photographer you will be tomorrow. Just because you are shooting with an entry level camera today doesn’t mean you are doomed to never be able to afford an expensive one. Just because you are in a specific market niche now as you make a name for yourself in the industry doesn’t mean that once you get your foot in the door that you won’t one day find yourself reaching a higher level. You have to start somewhere.

One of the main reasons people don’t start running marathons is because they don’t think they can finish. They have ruled themselves out of glory before ever giving themselves a chance to succeed. They look upon those who do complete the impossible as if their success was somehow preordained.

But those who have run a marathon will know that the journey is filled with moments of doubt. With every mile marker comes the legitimate concern that it will be the last hurdle you will ever clear. There is pain along the way. Your feet will swell. That old knee injury you suffered in college will suddenly reappear. You’ll regret not drinking more water as the lining of your mouth begins to dry.

It’s never hard to find an excuse to stop running. With every step, you have the option of pulling up, removing your number from the lineup, and returning to a life where every step isn’t such a struggle. You may even convince yourself that you have no choice but to stop. You may tell yourself that to not quit is to risk having your legs cut from beneath you on a permanent basis. You’d love to complete the race, but your body just isn’t willing. But the truth is that it’s usually our minds that give up far before our bodies. Most people who fail to complete a marathon do so because they decide to stop running, not because they are literally unable to compete. 

Those who finish the race have met those same moments of doubt. But instead of seeking shelter, they have pushed through the pain even in the face of uncertain glory. The journey is the point of it all. A winner’s medal is but a tangible object that can be lost as easily as that one sock that always seems to escape the laundry. But knowing that you faced insurmountable odds and pushed through? That knowledge can never be taken away from you.

When you choose to sign up to obtain your dream in life, whether your dream is to be a photographer, or a doctor, or a lawyer, or anything else, you are choosing the journey. You are choosing to fight the fight every day. You are accepting that some steps will be more challenging than those that came before. You are also realizing that there is a certain boundless joy provided by facing one’s obstacles and knocking them down one at a time. You will find yourself smiling at points during the race. You will find yourself crying at others. But you don’t stop running, because at a certain point, you realize this is the most valuable part of the race.

Photography, like life, is a marathon and not a sprint.  It takes courage to start. It takes courage to finish. Take it one step at a time. And never give up.

Christopher Malcolm's picture

Christopher Malcolm is a Los Angeles-based lifestyle, fitness, and advertising photographer, director, and cinematographer shooting for clients such as Nike, lululemon, ASICS, and Verizon.

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I am currently celebrating thirty years in the business as an independent commercial photographer:

I looked at your work, damn, you got some killer work especially your portraits.

Congrats! Jeff's comment intrigued me so I checked out your work. Very impressive. I am just a hobbyist but looks like you are very talented.

I think getting into photography as a business is a bad advice. If someone is obsessed and must then yes, it’s normally not a joyride and you have to sacrifice living standard compared to other options. And it’s a business, you need to have a mind for and instinct for it. Or stay poor:)