Should You Become a Professional Photographer?

This is inevitably the question that pops up in the minds of most photography enthusiasts and amateurs. In this video, a photographer who has gone from I.T. to photography to YouTube recounts his story of how he got to where he is now and gives some advice to would-be professional photographers.

Joris Hermans' path to — and within — photography is a winding one. Not unlike many other photographers — myself included — he started out in a completely different world. What differentiates him, though, is his own unique story. Yes, we all have unique stories, but for those who are indecisive or curious about becoming a professional, it helps to hear as many of these stories as possible. Sometimes, you'll connect with some small detail, and, if you're lucky, something will click, setting you off on a new and exciting path.

The major influence in Hermans' story has to be his decision to go to photography school. As he explains, it's certainly not for everyone, but he credits it for setting the foundations for who he is as a photographer now. My own main takeaway from the video is how Hermans' insistence on following his creative passion led him to where he is, and he appears to be happier for it. He didn't follow security or money; he took some chances and kept following his heart. Of course, not everyone has this luxury, but if you really want it, you'll find a way. It may take longer, and, unfortunately, you might fail, but the worth is in the effort. Personally, I would hate to live a life of regrets, but whether or not you choose the professional route, the important thing is to weigh the pros and cons for yourself in order to make an informed decision. 

Are you thinking about turning professional? Have you considered going to school for it?

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10 Comments

Ivan Lantsov's picture

must have real job this not it

Johnny Rico's picture

Ah yes, let us take advice on becoming a professional photographer from a person that is not one.

"Being a photographer is hard..." and clearly he couldn't hack it, and it is why he has a Patreon, sells books and LUTs. There is nothing wrong with being a YouTuber/content creator, but lets not pretend what you are not.

Jerome Brill's picture

Let's be honest, photography is a hobby until it's not. I say if you're willing to commit more than a few grand then give it a shot. Pun intended.

Me personally, I've been fortunate to I have more expendable income to put towards this hobby. I still don't consider myself a professional photographer even though I've sold a few things. I honestly don't want that pressure.

I do commend people who do give it a go. I learn a lot from those who do.

I am with you in almost all points. The only difference is: in my actual job as an IT professional with my own small company I got pressure and responsibility which is far bigger than any pressure I felt while doing jobs as a photographer (I did weddings, concerts, performances, company related stuff). But I agree again: Give it a go. My advise only is: keep your current job as a main income source. The start as a photographer is tough!

David Love's picture

"10 reasons on why you should become, are not going to become a pro. SUBSCRIBE now to take lessons from my weeks of experience. I'll show you how to:

Use dramatic lighting for no reason at all
Use colored gels
Become another youtube spamming the same videos for likes and subs
Convince people you're a pro without showing real work

S u b s c r i b e N o w."

Jacques Cornell's picture

A question properly worded will often answer itself. One doesn't "become a professional photographer", and there's certainly no "should" about it. One gets paid for selling or licensing photos one has made. The question is "Can I get enough psychic and financial remuneration from producing and selling images to make it more rewarding that other ways of supporting my desired lifestyle?" For most people, including most graduates of photography education programs, the answer turns out to be "no".
Because the financial rewards are so meager, ya gotta really WANNA.

Dan Howell's picture

My perspective as a 25+ yr professional publication photographer is that I would not want to be starting out a career in this environment. The career of professional photography has had it's height in the past and we are rolling downhill. As long as I have been familiar with photography there has been an abundance of photographers and a deficit of paid photography opportunities. The difference in when I was starting to now is that there was still a rising scope of paid opportunities and a rising fee for different sub-fields within photography.

From my observation, we hit a peak as far as fees about 10 years ago (if not 15). The fees were static for a period of at least 5 years and now we are truly seeing downward pressure on fees. This is a perspective that seem to only be visible from working in the industry during that time. I don't see or hear any perspective like that coming from hopeful or neo-professionals. When I have shared this information I have most frequently seen the lack of appreciation for the fundamental negative outlook it shows for the industry.

I too suffered from the 'Yeah, but I'm going to beat the odds' syndrome when I began. And I was fortunate to beat many of them. I worked on assignment for more than 100 magazines over the years though I still never shot on assignment for Conde Nast. Now magazine publication is simply not a viable career path. Along the way I started shooting small to medium catalog assignments. I began after the height of the direct mail catalog boom of the 90s. The fees I worked for were just below the height of the day, but I have seen them contract and contract. Now with the advent of Ecommerce, catalog shoot days have zoomed past editorial rates and are knocking on assisting rates from a decade ago.

Electronic publishing simply hasn't filled the gap left by print medium. Electronic impressions are valued at a rate of 1/10th than that of print impressions used to be. Those advertising budgets are what funded editorial budgets. They just aren't there anymore. Most editorial I have seen lately is unpaid submissions. While I have been happy to work occasionally under those conditions, it is not a sustainable path.

Though I don't have hands-on experience shooting weddings, my observation is that the height of fees for weddings is in the rear-view mirror. While the low to mid-level weddings pay more than they might have 10 years ago, the upper strata hasn't changed from what I gather. These are tea leaves for that industry.

But what do I know...?

I think the have been shooting about the time period, there used to be a lot of assignments ranging from low to medium to high. I never really more than medium high at the peak.
But now the medium jobs have become either low priced or the clients bundle 5 medium shoots into into a priced job. So there's room at the bottom and the top but for us folks in the middle...well it ain't as easy as it used to be.
Instead of just taking photos and getting money, a lot of photographers do workshops, blogs, sell crap to other photographers, push their "brand", get sponsored and followers...in addition to creating content for themselves or whoever will pay them....

Most people should not be professional photographers. Hell, most professional photographers shouldn't be professional photographers if they actually care about making a decent living. It's an extremely saturated profession where you are not only competing against other professionals, but also weekend warriors. Like the rest of life, the middle class is dying out with the landscape segmenting into those who can nail those high paying jobs and the starving artists scrapping for the crumbs.

We also live in a time where photography is becoming ever more devalued. It's becoming more important for companies to produce quantity to fill the social media cycle than it is for them to pay a premium for quality so that certainly doesn't help. I think that the part that really kills most photographers, however, is the fact that being a professional photographer isn't just about being good at photography. It's also about being a business person, which is something that a lot of creatives are just not good at. To an extent, you need the discipline to push your passion for photography aside to make smart business decisions if you are going to be successful.

If you've got that combination of talent, will and discipline, go for it. If you're just a "pretty good" photographer who harbors turning their passion into a living, you might as well just go and do something else. Photography is a wonderful hobby, but it can kind of suck as a profession.

Yes and no. Photography has more value at the top end than ever. But the lower end, there are a lot of free jobs.