Most of my original articles are positive in nature and giving advice I've learned over the years. So to change it up, I'm going to list the 10 worst things about being a professional photographer.
I ought to preface this by saying I love what I do, and can't foresee that changing any time soon. That said, with all careers, no matter how much you love them, there are negatives. Here are what I consider to be the 10 worst things about being a professional photographer.
1. Working Hours Can Be Difficult or Anti-Social
This is for a few reasons, for me at least. Firstly, I work with clients all over the world. I'm based in London, and at this very moment I'm working with clients in the U.K, Singapore, China, and the U.S, which is a lot of timezones. Often if I want to have a Skype meeting or there's something that needs addressing, I'll have to work non 9-5 hours. If you want to work 9am to 5pm, or even just the standard 37.5 hours per week, I wouldn't recommend professional photography. Actually, I wouldn't recommend running your own business at all.
Similarly, a lot of my shoots fall on evenings and weekends; that's just par for the course. However, my girlfriend works long hours but Monday to Friday, so it can really obstruct our relationship at times. If you're an events photographer or a wedding photographer, you're in for a lot of that.
2. Low Average Wage
There's no getting away from it. Few people get in to photography to get rich. The stats on income for the United States that I can find put the average photography annual income at around $43k, and the median (yes I realize that could be problematic, but it's for salaried roles only I believe) annual income for the U.S across all industries is $47k.
Now, that's not to say you can't earn good money, but it's certainly a tick in the "con" column if you're looking at getting in to photography professionally. My aim had always been to do other things as well as photography, so I wasn't as concerned, but it is undoubtedly one of the worst elements of photography as a career, in my eyes. In the early days of my career, I was offered a lot of very low paying jobs and it's easy to see the options as taking a low paid job, or taking no job at all. I recently wrote an article on why this can be a potentially terminal mistake for new photographers.
Before you all reach for your tiny violins let me unpack this one a little. Before being a photographer I worked in an office or at a university. Whichever scenario was playing out at the time, I was always surrounded by people, for better or worse. Deciding to work for myself was an exciting and difficult decision to make, and one factor that didn't enter my head once was isolation, but it's relevant.
I'm somewhat of a lone wolf and enjoy my own company. However, there are weeks — particularly following busy schedules of shooting — where I am at my desk, in an empty building, and I won't see a living soul for days on end unless I make a conscious effort to do so. This is countered by arranging meetings, lunches, social events, and so on, but it's worth being aware of it. You often have to spend time at your computer — more time than you may expect — which brings me on to my next point.
4. Way More Time Spent Not Shooting
I knew this going in and this is one of the most common warnings photographers pass down, but it is true. Paid projects invariably take more planning and time to conduct than hobbyist shoots. As a result, they become more of an "event" and before you know it, between planning, liasing with the client, and editing the final shots (that list has been condensed severely!), you're soon left with time ratios you might not have envisioned when you decided to go pro with a camera.
That said, you're the captain of your ship; if you want to shoot more, then don't only shoot paid work but shoot for yourself as well.
5. Competitive Industry
This — in conjunction with low average wage — was my biggest sticking point as I stood at the precipice of full-time photography, wondering whether to take the leap or not. There are a lot of photographers out there, almost all of which aren't full-time. In the early days, it made life difficult, and occasionally it still does. It is one of the worst things for new professional photographers, however, I'd like to end the section with two notes:
1. There's always room for another good one.
2. The higher you climb in the industry, the less it's an issue.
6. You Have to Specialize
I have blown this horn to death, but it's crucial and it ties in with the above problem. If you want to make good money and have a chance at real success, you're going to need to specialize. That is, find a niche and dominate it. The reason I put this as one of the "worst things about being a professional photographer" is that it has a few knock-on effects. Firstly, the money might not be where your passion is. Secondly, you might have to shoot more of a certain genre than you'd like. Thirdly, you can grow to loathe your specialty and feel trapped in it. That hasn't happened to me, but I know photographers it has, so be aware.
7. The Necessity of Non-Photography Skills
Photography as a career has long left the port of a few necessary skills; photography, marketing, and people skills for instance. Now, for a chance at making a success of your photography career, you also need to know about blogging, social media, SEO, and so on. The digital revolution made our lives much, much easier, but then it added in a lot of extra skills to be learned. Essentially, it's an extension of the marketing skill us photographers have always needed, but now it's busier and much further reaching, meaning your income will likely hinge on it.
8. Getting to What a Client Has in Their Head
This is a problem most creatives will be familiar with, but it can be infuriating. Whatever genre of photography you do, you will get clients who have conceptual expectations of what they want the results to look like. With Pinterest, moodboards, briefs, and the right questions, you can bridge the gap between your mind and theirs, but on occasion, it can feel impossible. I had a client some years back who wasn't interested in doing any sort of moodboards and was confident in my abilities. Despite the red flags, I went ahead and after delivery of the images, they were surprised the results weren't like they had in their head.
9. You Often Have to Travel for Work (Double-Edged Sword)
Similar to working hours being difficult or anti-social, you will also often have to travel for work. Even if you live in a major city, the likelihood is, you'll have to move around a lot for shoots. There are times when that's great, for example getting to go abroad and be paid to do so. However, there are many times where you have to travel to boring domestic locations which is time consuming and tiring. Shoots with travel time rolled in can often end up being 18 hour days. As I say, this can have its perks, but if you want to make money from photography but don't want to leave your immediate area, you're likely to have a tough time.
I live just outside London, and even for me, travel can be an issue. For example, when I take meetings in London to discuss potentially working together, it doesn't just cost me time, it costs me money to get there and back too.
10. Income Instability
This is true of many freelance or self-employed businesses, but it's certainly one of the scariest when you pair it with a below average annual income. In the first few years, I truly though I was going to have a meltdown on occasion when clients hadn't paid me and my bank balance was dwindling. There were many times in the first 3 years of me being self employed where I was sure I was going to throw in the towel. My advice for countering this would be to diversify where you earn your income (stock, ad revenue, digital products, tutoring, and so on), save every penny you can, and cherish any sort of guaranteed income.
What are the worst things about being a professional photographer in your opinion?