Shame and Art: How to Stay Sane in Your Second Job While Trying to Make It as a Photographer

Shame and Art: How to Stay Sane in Your Second Job While Trying to Make It as a Photographer

I am a bartender. After 15 years of slinging drinks it’s still hard to come out and admit that shooting isn't what I do full time. The path I've taken has been a twisted, gnarled, winding thing fraught with frustration and surprise. I've been shooting for 11 years and I never expected to still be behind a bar. But, such is life! I’m here to talk about dealing with that gut-wrenching feeling that comes along with any artist who hasn’t quite made it: shame.

Fritz, a motorcycle fabricator, tattoo artist, and paraplegic.

Picture it: you’re catching up with old friends and they ask what you’re up to these days. “I’m a photographer,” you semi-lie to them. Of course you conveniently leave out the fact that most of your income comes from (insert day/night job here). After the conversation you mentally kick yourself for still being a part-timer.

Well you know what? Stop it.

A fighter demonstrating part of his workout.

The Un-Fun of Being an Adult

You have bills to pay. You might have kids to take care of while being a loving husband/wife to your partner. Perhaps you have student loans to pay off that are stopping you from jumping into photography full time. You may have other obligations that are preventing you from fully committing. Heck, you may just be lazy! The point is you have a journey to take. Your life is complicated and things don't always go the way you foresaw them going. That doesn't mean you can't turn things around and get to a better place. It doesn't mean you'll never make it and your dream of being a pro is over.

A motocross racer outside of Denver, Colorado.

You may never make it as a photographer. That’s the cold, hard, reality of it. It’s a competitive business and sometimes (most of the time) talent isn’t enough. Time, perseverance, and connections are what make or break an artist. Of course there are those rare folks that come out of the gates swinging and shoot to the top in no time. However those people are the exception and not the rule.

Ryan Chris, a local country music artist in Denver, Colorado.

Don’t Forget You’re an Artist

What keeps me sane? Personal work. Do work that matters to you. It’s fine, even healthy, to want to make money. But peppered in there you need to do some work that keeps you fulfilled. Don’t become a robot spewing out banal images to try to make a quick buck so you can quit your other job. There are always going to be those “pay day” jobs, but you can’t let them rule your artistic life.

I love taking photos of real people in a cool way. That’s what gets me going. I also do headshots, weddings, model portfolio shoots, etc. I enjoy those shoots as well. But when I go to put an image on my wall, it isn’t a headshot or a pretty model, it’s a soulful portrait. Maybe for you it’s a landscape or an awesome fashion shot. Perhaps it’s street photography or a perfect shot of that incoming pitch. On your journey to go full time, don’t forget what made you love photography in the first place.

A portrait of Adam Rosenthal, tattoo artist.

Network, Network, Network

While you’re in that second job, especially if you’re in the service industry like me, you have a wonderful opportunity to network. Make those contacts. Always have business cards on you. Many of my favorite images are of people I met while working. While I wouldn’t go as far as saying that talent doesn’t matter, I can’t count the number of times I’ve been hired for a job simply because I made it known that I’m a photographer. People don’t want to do the research to find that perfect photographer. They want them to fall in their lap. You need to take every opportunity to fall in people’s laps. That sounds a lot dirtier than I intended, but there it is.

Fashion Portrait of Jessica N., taken in Denver, Colorado.

With hard work and persistence you can get to that full time status. In the meantime do work that makes you proud, cultivate the relationships you create at your other job, and keep pounding away at it. Put that shame in a drawer, lock it up, and throw away the key. You’ll get there. At least that’s what I tell myself.

Log in or register to post comments

34 Comments

Claude Laramée's picture

I like your honesty, this is good writing ! I agree about the importance of networking and working on personal projects to keep one sane and sound. Keep on shooting !

Hans Rosemond's picture

Thanks!

Next article, how to stay sane at your first job while trying to work up the experience/ability to be able lie to your friends about being a photographer lol.

Great piece though!

Hans Rosemond's picture

potato, potahto! lol

Adam Bender's picture

Ain't that the truth.

Wayne Du Bruyn's picture

Nice article Hans , sometimes nice to hear others take on this common reality.

Sean Shimmel's picture

1. Refreshing candor. We can all relate.
2. Intriguing variety with your imagery. Keep up the vision.
3. Twentieth century poet laureate T.S. Eliot was a banker. We're in fine company.

Anonymous's picture

I can definitely relate. Would love to know more about how you go about planning and executing personal projects. Great images, by the way. I think we have a similar approach to portraits - real people and their environment.

Hans Rosemond's picture

I meet so many interesting people at my job that it's almost impossible not come up with projects. I always have business cards on me. You'd be surprised how many people want their story told. It's definitely a compliment to want to take a photograph of someone and most people see it as such.

Jeremy Pommier's picture

Great article! Also...perfect timing for me to come across it. I've been extremely down about still working my day job and overwhelmed by the feeling that I'll never get out of it. Onwards we must go. Thank for the pick-me-up!

Hans Rosemond's picture

I'm glad you found some value in the post! I didn't expect so much good feeling to come from it, but it's nice to know you're not alone out there.

You have such perfect timing with this article. Honest to goodness. I've been beating myself up for not being where I "should" be, and giving 7 years of my life to a field I don't care about. Thank you, thank you, thank you.

Hans Rosemond's picture

I hear ya! There's no shame in paying your bills, though. It's definitely tricky to balance the time, but keep on plugging away!

Chris Adval's picture

Sadly my day job prevents me from networking outside of work with the amount of time I invest in there, then go home to invest just about every second on my photography business besides networking. The only way I can honestly do that is invest even more time into public events I can either offer my abilities for access and network with event members that are part of my target audiences, if I could. Of course a ton of photographers do this so its survival of the fittest, especially if everyone is targeting high earners and high powered people as their target audience. I've been shooting for about 5 years in business for 2, I got 2 big client commercial shoots (like million dollar clients). All I can do is try to plan as much as I can to ensure I use my time wisely and network with the right decision makers.

Hans Rosemond's picture

Maybe the thing to do (and I'm obviously not a marketing expert) is to go after the other people. Separate yourself from the vultures and do something different. There's a living to be made out there for sure, and maybe a change in tactics is called is what you need.

Chris Adval's picture

I don't know from my experience in both commercial and non-commercial photography is I've spent a whole lot more money, time, and energy into the non-commercial and I got a lot less back than I got from commercial. Just finding the right people in the commercial is much more difficult than non-commercial and selling myself to them. Obvious where commercial clients looking at a pool of talent (photographers) to working with [or ad. creative agencies] I know I could not compete in skills/talent and equipment, but I am looking more into the local commercial potential leads a lot but they all cost money or patient networking to access the decision makers. Just in case you're unsure what I mean I mean networking events that cost $ to enter (i.e. chamber of commerce) and getting access trade for pics is not possible. Other things as well that I'm held back due to lack of capital is doing mailers to possible leads, as I can't simply do a walk-in into these giant million companies around me, cold calling I haven't done too afraid to make a bad impression but I've done cold emailing which I got 1 hit years ago and got my first million dollar company client. On a regular basis work, freelance as a business in my area, its impossible right now for me honestly without more capital. Heck the full timers around here are full time purely because they did it part time for 10-20 years so that word of mouth does grow but slow around here due to the population size when compared to other major cities like NYC or philly (depending on your type of photography you do).

Rogan Templer's picture

Hans, like so many people here have already said - Thank you for this it has literally come right when I needed it - you are the man!!! Lovely pictures and wise words - thank you!

Anonymous's picture

I am retired from the workforce now although I still hand deliver publicity leaflets for my son's real estate business.I did weddings from 1975 till now, but only doing about 1 a year now.( About to turn 69.)I had several long term day jobs which was the bread and butter for our family. I ventured full time into photography a couple of times. The first time for 6 months I was very busy but did not make much money.Photography has a constant call to you if you are reasonably good at it to think you can make a living.You so enjoy it you want to be doing it all the time.Maybe I could have made a full time career out of photography but it probably would have been at the expense of my family . Something I wasn't prepared to do.The problem as I see it is that we all have to have food and shelter.Our jobs and professions help us to achieve that. I think for many of us we are looking for something more in life than perhaps the drudgery or otherwise of a full time day job.But for me that does not lie in my profession or being ale to say to someone "I am a photographer' or a "Doctor" or a "Psychologist" etc.When people ask me what I do or have done I say well I have had three main jobs. Not all paid. Government worker, Photographer, and Church involvement in many ways.Plus family responsibilities.
We look for our identity in who we are by what we do.
A trap!
What you do can be taken away from you in an instant.My identity comes from my faith in Jesus Christ.As much as I am passionate about photography it would not be the end of my world if I could no longer do it.I would not change one bit of my career path although there were hard times as well as great satisfaction. Thank you Hans for a thoughtful article.Many good tips here. It resonates with most photographers. Great photos also.
This week I met with a group of photography enthusiasts who have Parkinson's disease.For them they have turned to photography for therapy.Photography is such a wonderful medium for expression and full filling our creative instincts and so much more.I know this is a bit of a ramble but you struck a cord with me. thanks.

I have a day job that I love, and it's just way too good to leave. That gives me the freedom to shoot what I want, which is mostly wildlife right now. I probably have $20k into my gear and home studio, but it's all paid for, so there is no financial pressure. No shame here. My success is measured by my happiness.

Eddie Fowke's picture

Nice article! Since becoming a "professional" photographer I've at times needed to work odd jobs to make ends meet and it's sad how cruel some people are when they find out I need to do that.

And yes networking is a huge key to making it, however it is also an immensely draining one at times. Being a sport photographer based in Australia but mostly working in the northern hemisphere means lots of late nights and early mornings dealing with people in different time zones, these are the times I need to look past the business and at the art and remind myself that is why I love it!

Philipp Monihart's picture

Wow. Thanks for the honest words Hans.
All the best for your journey!

jon snow's picture

This article really resonates with me Hans.
I'm also a part time photographer with my main income coming from live in care. That job gives me the freedom to do my personal work and refuse photographic work if the client wants a cheaper price which often happens. 17 years like this and still going strong. Super article. I think you'd be surprised how many photographers have a double work life

The grass is always greener on the other side. If you have another source of income, it will allow you the freedom to be more selective in the work you do pick up. Being full time has it's highs and lows, especially the longer you are in business.

Thanks mate. Exactly what I needed. You just made me login and leave a comment. I little downside on me though. My "second-job" doesn't have a good reputation, if not all bad, which most of the time it's not even safe to say my name. Sucks. But thanks I'll try again.

Hans Rosemond's picture

Hey do whatcha gotta do! I'm not here to judge. Just sharing my story.

Damir govorcin's picture

Excellent piece Hans!

Man, you just spoke about my life. Thank you so much for this.

There's no shame in being a hobbyist.

Kyle Ford's picture

Very good points! A lot of that is easy to forget when you grind away at your day job and then your photo work at night.

Filip Kowalkowski's picture

Ah man, true words spoken. I've been living the dream of being a full time photographer for about 5 years, had some minor success, couple big gigs and not so many small. I also do environmental portraits, headshots, and general advertising. But had to close the business, because it was not getting enough income and taxes, bills have to be paid monthly. But I still believe that I'll make it, passion for personal projects also drive me, so I know exactly how you feel. Btw you have really amazing portfolio!