Why I Became A Professional Photographer

Having spent a long and exhausting, but fruitful and necessary, weekend going about the chore of reorganizing my overly cluttered garage, I found myself with time to think about a basic question. Why exactly did I become a professional photographer?

Creativity

When I was a kid, while other little boys were playing war games with their G.I. Joes, I instead chose to break mine up into football teams. Each team had their own logo, custom-built stadium, and uniquely designed uniform gently applied to them using masking tape and different colored permanent markers.

When I was a bit older, at seven years old, I wrote my first song, “C304.” The name was the result of my mother’s decision to take an afternoon computer class at the local community college. Having to take my sister and me along, but not being able to take us into the classroom, we were left to wait in the car for the hour she was in class (times were different then). She stressed to us that if anything should happen, she would be in room C304. I guess the room number got stuck in both of our heads because, before we knew it, my sister and I had composed, performed, and somehow recorded our first musical single which was sure to take over the pop charts. We even went so far as to hammer out a business contract stipulating the dispersal of royalty rights from the song once it hit big and she was opening in Madison Square Garden opposite Madonna. I was really more of a behind-the-scenes guy even then.

Not that either of these instances make me a more creative child than any other. But seeing as though my childhood was filled with creative activities on a daily basis, it’s no surprise that I would grow up into a man who puts creativity at the center of everything I do. So while my G.I. Joes may no longer live in the house, having taken up residence in a box in the garage ready to be passed to the next generation, I still have a basic need to create.

Photography is, in many ways, the perfect career for someone like me. Aside from photography, I have a number of other artistic pursuits; Writing, screenwriting, filmmaking, even acting from time to time. My musical aspirations are mostly limited to the shower these days. In addition to exploring creativity, those pursuits also help me to make a living in addition to my professional still photography. But, of all my artistic pursuits, photography is by far the most immediate. Whereas it might take months, if not years, for a film project to come to fruition or for me to finish writing a book, I can create a photograph in 1/8000th of a second. Even if it’s not for professional purposes, there is absolutely nothing that can stop me from simply walking outside and creating art any time that I want to.

I am a photographer because it allows me to put my natural tendency towards creativity to work every single moment of every single day. My career allows me to share those stories and emotions that bubble up inside of me with a wider audience. It allows me to share myself with the world.

Community

I am an introvert. So long before a public health outbreak forced many of us to spend countless hours quarantined at home by ourselves, it was not actually all that uncommon for me to have chosen to do so on my own. This is not to say that I don’t have friends. Rather that I am the type of person who really needs to put a lot of mental effort into psyching myself up for social situations rather than having those things come naturally to me.

That reticence has never really applied to photoshoots, however. Morning, noon, night, evening, or weekend, I am pretty much always in the mood to create art. And because I do the type of photography that requires the participation of at least one other person to be my subject, if not dozens more behind the scenes as members of the crew, I think it’s fair to say that my photoshoots are often my most involved social engagements of the week. But unlike the prospect of meeting friends in a bar when, firstly, I don’t drink and, secondly, I am an early bird who is usually sound asleep by the time most bars get going, being on set surrounded by a lively and engaged team makes me feel right at home.

I think also, because I’m an introvert and don’t inherently crave frequent social interactions, through the years my work as a photographer has been more than enough to fulfill my human need for social interaction. Aside from the financial uncertainty, this was the biggest hurdle for me during the work stoppages imposed by the pandemic. I may not need a lot of social interaction. But I do need some. And being forced off set for a period of time took away not only work but access to many of my friends (in person at least). Hopefully, as the world begins to slowly recover, we can all not only revitalize our businesses, but also our connections to one another.

Money

Well, this one is simple. I make my living as a professional photographer. Being so, one might think that this should have been the first thing I listed as being a reason why I am a photographer. After all, making a living is pretty important when it comes to things like filling a refrigerator and paying the mortgage. But the fact of the matter is that no matter how much I love my job, there are multiple ways I could have chosen to go about making a living. The corporate day jobs I had for years before being able to go full time as a photographer may have made me miserable, but they did serve the purpose of making a living. And, in pretty much any way I choose to look at it, a steady corporate job offers a much steadier and easier way to make a living than running one’s own business. Especially a creative one.

As one of my favorite lines from Citizen Kane goes, “It’s not hard to get rich, if all you care about is getting rich.” Fortunately, or unfortunately, depending on how you look at it, money has never been my main motivating factor. Yes, we all need a certain amount of money to survive and provide for our families. But I chose to take the harder route of making my living through my creative passion because I wanted more out of my life than just to get rich. Not that I’m opposed to the idea of being independently wealthy, mind you. But, as a very well-known, well-respected, and well-established photographer once told me before walking back to his modest compact sedan, if you decide to become a photographer because you think it will make you rich, you might want to reconsider your options. This is not a job you choose because you think it's an easy way to get rich. You choose it because you're so passionate about it that you can't envision doing anything else. So, while money is definitely one of the reasons why I am a photographer, it is far from inhabiting the top spot.

But these are just my reasons.  And these are only three of a multitude of reasons that I might offer if asked on a different day. But I think that when we decide to do things in life, it’s often worthwhile to take a moment to reflect on the reasons why we’ve chosen to do something as well as what that choice gives us back in return. These may be my reasons, but I’m sure you have some of your own. So how about it? What is it that makes you pick up a camera and create?

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2 Comments

zave smith's picture

35 years ago. I became a professional photographer for one good reason. Photography was about the only thing that I was good at!

Lee Christiansen's picture

When people ask me why I got into the world of media, I simply reply: "Lobotomy at birth..."

Whether I'm good at it remains to be seen after 30+ years as a pro in TV / Photography. But I'm probably rubbish at everything else and no one wants me to teach. Next career path... early retirement - ha.