Why Having a Regular Day Job Could Improve Your Chances of Being a Successful Photographer

Why Having a Regular Day Job Could Improve Your Chances of Being a Successful Photographer

It doesn't matter what stage your career is at, having a non-photographic job could increase your chances of getting better clients and earning considerably more money.

I am continuing on from last week where I talked about how printing could make you a better photographer. Today I wanted to share my thoughts on not quitting the day job and how that too could actually benefit your career.

So you have decided that you want to be a photographer full-time. You have been patiently buying a kit, doing tests to build up your portfolio, and carefully studying the market you want to break into. Hopefully, you have done a few paid photography gigs on the side and now all that is left to do is tell your current boss to stick it.

Sound familiar? For a lot of professionals, this very generalized sequence of events is probably how things played out. There is nothing wrong with this age old progression, but taking the leap in this way could actually damage your photographic career in the long run.

As much as it might pain a lot of you to read what I'm about to say, keeping your regular job could actually be the best thing to do. Now before you dismiss such a bold statement, hear me out as I have a compromise and that is to go part-time instead.

Going part-time is a great way to phase a photographic career in and minimizes many of the risks. Even if you already are a full-time photographer, you could also help accelerate your career by having a different job on the side. So without further ado, here are the benefits of having a part-time job.

1. A Part-Time Job Gives You a Guaranteed Regular Income

This might be an obvious one, but having at least some money coming in regularly will not only keep your bank manager happy, but it will take off a lot of psychological pressure. Once you actually go freelance the stress of knowing when the next photography paycheck will come in is something you just have to learn to live with. There are times when invoices are months late, or worse yet, the clients never pay at all. At least with a small job on the side you give yourself some protection and minimize the sleepless nights.

2.You'll Be Able to Filter the Bad Clients

That guaranteed income from your part-time job also allows you to turn down photography work, and this is actually a good thing. If you're not familiar with Pareto principle then I recommend you read about it, but in a nutshell, this concept states that for a lot of things in life, roughly 80 percent of the effects come from 20 percent of the causes. This 80/20 rule really can be applied to many areas of the world of photography. So for example if 80 percent of your headaches are coming from only 20 percent of your clients then filtering those bad ones out will not only make your working life a lot happier but it also makes space for more good ones. Having that buffer of a part-time income really does allow you to say no to jobs. Quality, not quantity, is what you're after with clients and this concept can be hard to practice when photography is your only source of income and you haven't been paid for a few months.

3. You'll Be Able to Demand Higher Rates of Pay

In the same way, the safety net of a part-time job allows you to filter out bad clients, it also allows you to hold out for the better rates of pay. This isn't about being greedy but being paid what you deserve. There is a real danger with accepting low rates of pay that it tends to stick. If you do a job for someone at a low rate you can quickly be known for it and before you know it you are railroaded into that price bracket which is almost impossible to break out of. Having money coming in from somewhere else allows you to stick to your guns when someone tries to hire you for less than the going rate.

4. Having Less Time Actually Makes You More Productive

Believe it or not, having some form of punctuation in your working week is a good thing. It is a cliché but tomorrow never comes and when you are doing photography full-time you'll postpone personal projects because technically they can be done at any time. When you have a part-time job taking you away from photography for a percentage of the week you become more conscious of time passing. As a result, you'll somehow manage your life better if you want to get things done. It really does focus the mind.

5. Working in a Completely Different Industry to Photography Will Enhance Your Practice

Being a freelance photographer can be quite solitary. You'll spend 80 percent of your time alone doing paperwork, chasing clients, answering email, and all the other office housekeeping that is crucial to keep your business going. You're in a photography bubble and the 20 percent of the time you are actually shooting it's with other people in the same industry. With a part-time job in another sector, you'll meet all kinds of people and be exposed to different walks of life. Maybe a co-worker is a talented artist who you could collaborate with or your place of work has an awesome space which you now have access to for a shoot. Just being outside of that bubble, even for a short amount of time, will really help stop you getting stale, open up doors, and put you in contact with things most photographers are not. In such a competitive market such as photography being able to come at things from a different angle than most is what will help you get noticed.

So there you have it, just a few reasons why going part-time might be a good idea. Obviously, parts of this argument will be more relevant to some people than others. It just depends on which part of the industry you are in. If you think doing something other than photography could damage your brand than it is probably a good idea to leave it off your LinkedIn page, but don't let that stop you as I do think there are lots of benefits to having another job. It also goes without saying that it's important that a second job doesn't take up too much time or energy from your real career either. If you can get the balance right between the two it could allow you to transition into a full-time photographer role a lot more successfully. Quality over quantity is what you're looking for in your clients and by having a safety net of an additional job you give yourself the best chance of achieving this.

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Paul Parker is a commercial and fine art photographer. On the rare occasion he's not doing photography he loves being outdoors, people watching, and writing awkward "About Me" statements on websites...

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I think this is really bad advice. .

Please elaborate

Can you elaborate? It's definitely one of the safer ways to get into the industry.

Any way to minimise risk is a good idea, especially in this current climate.

People who say don't do this or you must do that, without explanation, are probably the same people who give great images 1 or 2 stars without providing feedback. For what it's worth, I think it was great advice, and echos much of a plan I am hoping to follow. As it stands I work full-time but it means I can be choosy about my weekend portraiture.

Thanks Nick! Sounds like a great plan. Quality, not quantity...

Good article and good advice. It really isn't necessary to jump into anything with both feet before testing the waters, and that applies just as much to photography as it does to anything else. Security of income, of savings for retirement and of health insurance (in those few countries that still rely on you to provide it) goes a long way towards improving the quality of your life. If a non-photographic job provides those benefits why abandon them while getting up to speed with your professional photography? It's a far less pressured route.

Excellent points Richard! I actually overlooked the heath care benefits in my article as I'm not from the U.S.

They really should have been mentioned as that is a big deal. Thanks

Great article and couldn't agree more with all the points.
I'm visiting homes and businesses on a daily basis and in the past that's got me leads on potential photography jobs just from chatting with people.
Its also helped with my tax too

That's great to hear Karl! When you say: "...visiting homes and businesses" is that in a capacity other than photographer?

Yes, I'm an Openreach engineer

Oh cool! Speaking to people face to face will ALWAYS beat any email or fancy mailer you can post. Really glad it is working out for you!

Awesome advice! Especially the parts about quality over quantity and having the flexibility to say no to headaches :)

Hey thanks, so glad you agree! Having that flexibility really puts you in a strong position all round...

Yeah good points in the article. Being known as a good photographer in your day job means you'd probably pick up a few gigs too here and there. It's probably not going to be high end fashion shoots but I reckon you could network a few baby/wedding/engagement/prom or formal occasions. It's happened to me a few times without even really pursuing them. The world still needs good photographers, and people like to deal with who they already know.

I never shoot for people I work with. I wouldn't want a negative interaction to impact my day job.

Valid point yes. "There's that prick Phil. Totally ruined our wedding day by not getting a photo of me and Aunty Stella." Let's rubbish his budget proposal today."
I guess it would annoy people if you were too active in the workplace advertising for weekend shoots too!

Aunty Stella was too busy drinking everyone's drinks and chasing the waiters...

That's a good point Patrick. Keeping SOME distance is probably best. It could also be awkward when people want cheap gigs or even worse a freebie...

Thanks for your comment Phil! That last line you said about people like to deal with people they already know is worth its weight in gold. Face to face interactions and referrals beat everything! I hope you continue to get many more...

Thanks Paul!

I totally agree with the article, but I am biased because I work full time in different industry and photograph weddings as a side business. Fortunately for me, I like my day job and photography is just an adventure to keep life a little more exciting.

Sounds like a great balance Tim. I know lots of people who have fallen out of photography when it became an actual 'job'. Quality, not quantity...

It's a good article and it works that way in my life. I work a full time job. I definitely wish I could shoot a little more though. I normally complete three or four well thought out productions a month.

Glad to hear it Aaron! Maybe your current employer might let you loose a day from your contract? That's what I did and it worked our great. I am all about quality over quantity too. So like you, I'd rather do 4 well thought out productions then 10 quick ones...

I have been definitely considering it. Normally one or two gigs would make over that single work day. I'd probably be a lot happier too lolol.

Great article and thanks for posting. Very true in my case and provided some clarity. So thank you.

Glad it was of some help Heather! If you have any questions feel free to ask. All the best on your journey...

I concur, also you have networking opportunities at your day job (I also have a generous 401k plan, and insurance) ... to Patrick's point, perhaps not while working together would I recommend a wedding or something important like that, but people do come and go and once they're no long working with, they still remember me when they have a need.

Great points Lynda! You really can't beat face to face interactions. That can be hard to do when you're too busy chasing invoices in your office alone...

Really interesting take. It's so easy to just say "You can't excel as a photographer until you can commit to it full time" but there are so many advantages to having a source of income outside of one's creative endevours.

Great read!

Thanks Eric, you're so right! Clients are rightly looking for social proof when picking talent. If it isn't a recommendation or a face to face meeting to see your work, it might be your social media presence. The term part-time seems to worry some companies as it wrongly suggests that you're not good enough to do it full time.

Quality, not quantity is what really should be considered. I know lots of full-time photographers that are so burned out they have stopped caring.

Someone part-time (having the skillset is a given) will probably bring so much more to a shoot, especially if they have other points of reference outside the photography bubble...

Similar advice given in this B&H speech by event photographer Jeff Cable, but I would say its simply another example of the oranges and apples that we each have to deal with daily. I would say slackers are slack and do'ers always do, so it doesn't matter if you have one job, two jobs or three jobs you will get what you get by the type of person you are. Some people are worker bees while others are business owners. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=B-Xbr6-I00w

Thanks Lenn, I'll check it out. Totally agree about the do'ers and the slackers. What I would say though is having the luxury to filter bad clients and hold out for better rates only comes from having some form of financial safety net.

I think regardless of personality or work ethic this buffer can really shape your career...

Even better? Being a staff photographer in a specialized industry and having freelance clients in the same industry, without conflict of interest! I actually don't charge as much as I would were I full-time self-employed as I find the contacts I make to bring more business and better clients. I guess one could say I'm a 1.5 FTE.

Haha glad that's working out for you Cesar! Don't work too hard ;)

This article couldn't have been posted at a better time. I just accepted a job today and was feeling down about it in terms of my photography.
I feel a little better about the decision now.

Hey congrats on your job offer Josh! Financial security can only be a good thing! The fact you're reading Fstoppers tells me you'll be keeping one eye on the photography so don't worry about a job affecting things.

Remember it's quality, not quantity in all that you do...

Thank you, Paul.
I'm still definitely keeping my eye on photography. I'm not sure anything could get me to stop.

That's great to hear!

I work full time and have been do some photography on the side for the last about 9 years, my full time work is also creative thankfully as a graphic designer and the two go very well together, I know I wont ever do photography full time....and I ok with that.

Sounds like a great combination! I'm sure both practices enhance each other...

I definitely needed this article today. I quit my job last year to go full-time with photography and I was feeling like kind of a failure today because I might have to go back to the old job because of income and health insurance. This article puts it in perspective. Sometimes you just have to get that paper and make sure you're still tending to your photography on the side.

Thanks for the insight!

You're very welcome Iris, don't ever feel like a failure for having to shift gears regarding your career.

Variety is the spice of life so let other jobs enhance yours or at least give you some handy distance to see things.

Even if you do take up another job remember that nothing is forever. You could phase it out and go full time again someday soon...

All the best