When You Should Quit Photography

Photography is a tough profession, but a very enjoyable hobby. Not everyone is meant to be a professional photographer, though.

It is great having dreams. Mine is to be a professional cyclist and to ride Paris Roubaix. However, I can't walk away from my job, as I have responsibilities and I am accountable financially to several people. 

A lot of online advice is to follow your dreams, and to an extent, I fully endorse this. However, what these articles and videos tend to forget are the realities of life: your mortgage, kids, debts, recessions, and also pandemics. Motivational videos are great, but once they are over, you still have to pay your bills and put food on the table. Deciding how much to risk and how much to put those around you through is a really tough decision.

In this video, I offer some more practical advice on if photography is a good idea as a profession for you and when it might be time to call it a day and to try something else. Although photography is for everyone, professional photography certainly isn't. And in some circumstances, it just isn't the right time right now. 

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10 Comments

Rob Sheppard's picture

I can relate to this. Long story short, I spent 5 or 6 years working my way up (part-time) in the fashion photography industry in London. Had a few successes (e.g. got published in British Vogue), but realised that what I really liked was avant-garde and innovative design and doing my own thing rather than trying to fulfill a client brief. I also kind of hated the industry for its focus on consumerism and I didn't really fit in with the people I met. So when crunch time came I gave it up, concentrated on my day job but still shoot catwalk shows like London Fashion Week (when its on) for the excitement and to supply images to picture and news agencies. Have also started doing product photography for stock in a very narrow niche and occasionally do a creative fashion shoot just for fun (luckily my day job can easily pay for gear, studios, models and even higher-end fashion pieces). For me, being an amateur, literally doing something for love rather than payment, is a purer form of photography because it allows me to create an image to my own vision (within my abilities). Maybe once I have "found my voice" or signature style someone might be interested in paying me to apply that, but it will be on my terms.

Richard Hart's picture

I agree with Rob. I think there are a lot of amateurs who want to be pro because they see it as the same. When in reality being a pro photographer ends up being a job doing things that you do in every job. Rose tinted lenses?

An important lesson is to be in a situation where you always feel inspired and want to create work or are creating personal work. Each shoot should give the opportunity to create images for yourself. The personal work may however end up leading to opportunities that you are more interested in.

I am sure the general public are more interested in a fun iPhone shot of a doughnut or an aerial shot of a beach than pro images that take a lot of planning and a lot of post production.

Alex Yakimov's picture

Great insight, Scott. Thank you. It inspired me to create a list for making it as a ___ (choose your profession of liking)

1) Goal is to create an attention-grabbing versatile images (any product, service).
If you choose photography: Breathe visual art, not (only) gear reviews. Study light & color, composition and dramaturgy - all are prerequisites of making an attention - grabbing images. Attention is what images are for anyways.

2) Next one must be committed and financially responsible. One must learn to monetise attention from #1 if your own survival and prosperity solely depended on it.

3) Burn your ships. Build your brand.

voilà!

Benoit Pigeon's picture

For me, I have come to realize that I like the challenges as I am not much into the art. I have acquired a good versatile inventory of lights so I can take most unexpected jobs that come to me, but it doesn’t mean I will take anything. For example, despite not being a wedding photographer, last summer I took a wedding six hours from home at the Outer Banks. My motivation was beach, short and small wedding and fair pay, but mostly, they wanted sunset images on both the the sound and ocean side and that challenge was enough to say yes. Otherwise I do a lot of repeat work, that’s my stable income, but still comes with a bunch of surprises and short deadlines that push me to take risks and speed up my work. I know I could not do what I like by I waiting for the perfect jobs to come to me. Diversity, finding satisfaction in the most expected situations thrown at me are just a necessity in my case, but to me that’s photography because in the end, if the client calls for more, I achieve many goals at once.

Ryan Cooper's picture

I opted to let go of building a professional photography business when I realized that I was working extremely hard to build a career that required I work longer hours to make much less money. Moreover, the kicker for me was as I realized that my dream was false. The sorts of shoots I hated to do were the ones that brought in money while the ones I loved were unsellable. I realized that my dream for what I wanted to be as a pro photographer just wasn't tenable. Rather, I would be forced to go down a road that I didn't even like. Finally, the true breaking point was the eventual realization that to be a professional photographer I had to be a salesman, marketer, and customer service rep first and foremost. Photography was a minority in my day/week. For every hour I spent shooting, I had to spend 8-10 hours selling and dealing with customer requests. Salesmanship makes me miserable.

This is why I chose to step back and kick back photography to being just a hobby. I am so much happier for it. I have nicer gear now and I no longer have to pinch pennies. I only shoot what I want to shoot with whom I want to shoot. And most importantly, when shooting the only thing in my mind is to create an image I am passionate about. I'm no longer worried about adhering to a consistent style, creating marketable images, creating a commercially viable portfolio image, satisfying client requirements, etc. I get to shoot, just to shoot. It is such a liberating thing.

I have nothing against those who choose to continue forward in the realm of pro photography, but it definitely isn't for me.

Benoit Pigeon's picture

I have read a long time ago that 70-80% of any business activity is the same no matter what the field is, leaving the specialty with what's left, 30 to 20%.

Ryan Cooper's picture

Exactly. Well, at least for a long time. I mean I do recognize that eventually, assuming I do well, I can hire staff to do all the stuff I hate, but we are talking potentially decades before reaching that point and most photographers never get there.

Side note, boy am I glad I stepped away from shooting pro before Covid hit. I'd be in such dire straights right now.

Benoit Pigeon's picture

Covid = fear of losing your clientele, certainly, but as a business, you break your leg and can't show up, you can lose the client the same way. If someone in an agency leaves and the replacement choose to use a photographer they typically work with, you are out. It's a more stressful life than most people who envy photographers can imagine but there are good sides too.

Ryan Cooper's picture

I think breaking a leg and needing to take 6-8 weeks off is very different than being legislated not to work for a year or more.