Dispelling One of the Biggest Myths About Becoming a Professional Photographer

Dispelling One of the Biggest Myths About Becoming a Professional Photographer

A recent comment on one of my articles has become the straw that broke the camels back. Now, I feel the need to combat a common myth which dissuades many photographers from becoming full-time professionals.

My decision to become a full-time photographer (I use "full-time photographer" and "professional photographer" interchangeably) was not an easy one. I had job interviews lined up and knew that any one of them would yield substantially more bank than photography would, and they'd do so instantly. Despite how important the financial ramifications of starting a business were to me, there were a number of more abstract considerations. The chief concern from this category was regarding my relationship to photography itself. Namely, would I cease to enjoy photography?

Over the years, I've heard this as a very common reason for not pursuing photography as a profession. Honestly, there are myriad reasons why you might not want to pursue photography for a living: they range from the average yearly wage of a photographer being extremely low through to the industry being incredibly crowded, particularly at the entry point of a photography career. One reason I simply will not abide is that you might stop enjoying photography, and it's a myth I want to dispel.

Let me unpack my reasoning behind calling it a myth a little before the comments come flooding in about their friend who loved photography but now vomits at the mere sight of a DSLR. I'm not saying that people don't pursue photography as a career and fall out of love with it. I'm also not saying that you may not have a better relationship with photography by not becoming a professional photographer. What I'm saying is that if it's a concern of yours, know this: you don't have to end up losing your passion.

Taking test shots for an editorial with Afrojack in Paris for FAULT Magazine, May 2018.

The primary reason for not enjoying photography as a professional is you're not taking images you're proud to take or passionate about. This tends to be for financial reasons, in that the area you're passionate about doesn't pay well, and you need to utilize your ability to earn some cash. There's nothing wrong with that; we've all done it. I'll still do it if the money is right. However, if you find yourself only taking pictures you don't have a passion for, then you need to reevaluate in the following ways:

Firstly, did you become a photographer to follow your passion? If you did, then what on earth is the point of only shooting pictures you don't feel anything for? To earn money. Well, you might as well get a better paid job than that and keep photography as a hobby.

If, however, you can't quite make enough money in the area you like and are shooting mostly the areas you don't, you need to recalibrate. No one became a photographer to be rich, so work out how much you need to do to survive, then pump the rest of the time into shooting what you love and then promoting it, marketing it, and networking for it.

The truth is, you can make a living being a photographer and not fall out of love with it. I am surrounded by photographers who I speak to every day who are professional and love what they do. I am one of those. Yes, there'll be times where you're working on projects you don't love and wish you were spending more time on the projects you are passionate about. But remember there's an important distinction between not always enjoying photography and always not enjoying photography.

Please, if what is holding you back from following your passion is the fear of sacrificing it, know it doesn't have to be that way. If you're conscious that using your camera as a mere tool for cash is a slippery slope and you need to make sure you're still shooting all the things you love to capture, you won't fall out of love with your craft. I edit photography articles, I write photography articles, I watch photography videos, I listen to photography podcasts, I consult on photography and media, I teach photography, and this is all in-between being a photographer; I love it as much now as I ever did, and I'm not alone. I even asked whether my colleagues here at Fstoppers still love photography and was met with a resounding "yes" expressed in many different ways.

What are your thoughts about the relationship between a professional photographer and their love for the craft? Share in the comments below.

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9 Comments

Angela Schneider's picture

Thanks for this. It was one of my hesitations against turning pro, but I did it anyway. The differnce is, I've carved out a niche, combining my passion for photography and dogs. I make pets the focus of family portraits and it fills my heart with joy every time someone asks me to make these memories for them. I couldn't be more honored to give them these gifts of everlasting memories.

jean pierre (pete) guaron's picture

I think that some people confuse the road bumps they hit along the way, trying to do photography as a business, and end up blaming photography instead of looking for a smoother road. Whether it's clients letting them down, or some expensive bit of gear in fragments, or something else - they start using photography as a "cop out" or "excuse" for other problems or issues. And end up hating photography - if that's where that takes them.
Photography has always been a challenging way to earn a living, for a whole variety of reasons. And the onslaught of cellphones with "cameras" built into them certainly isn't helping.
When I was a young guy starting out, people often used to give you advice that you should not turn your hobby into your business. I guess part of the reason for that is there's a wealth of difference between doing whatever you like to do, and being constrained by having to produce what the client wants you to do. That kind of clamp on creativity could have a deadening effect. An extreme example is the story of Michelangelo's "David" - he got that block of marble as a young man, but was compelled to spend years in between that and creating the sculpture we all know, in the service of the Florentine Medici family and in the service of the Pope in Rome, where he lay on his back painting the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel for years on end. Finally, he was able to create "David".
And some people these days have such a sense of "self" that they might not be able to endure that kind of clamp on their creativity.
That said - it would be quite wrong to blame the outcome on photography. They could shut their photography business, if that's where it led, and do it (at least in part) so they COULD keep their interest in photography!

William Howell's picture

I tried to become, not a professional, but a person who made money from photography, and it blew chunks. For instance I just watched a video, yesterday, by Robert Hall, you know, the one where he shows a three light set-up, with a white background.
The photography was terrible, just awful, now it was not Robert’s fault, he is a good photographer. It is what the client wanted and that’s cool.
That’s what happened to me, I took these corporate head shots several times and they were not good and people complained!
The only time I liked what I did was the first time I took head shots, I had a seven light set-up and they looked edgy and cool, to me. But, and it’s a big but, I did not make any money! By the time post was done, my time was worth nothing.

So now I just do”work” for me. Because I know that to make a decent living from photography, you must price your work as if it is a skill trade.
Let me give an example; where I work, my son’s masonry restoration company, he has a minimum charge of $700. 00, and his overhead is about 30%. And he doesn’t have to do post processing!

I’m still dreaming of becoming a professional photographer though.

Hmmmm....

Good solid advice Robert for the serious amateurs thinking of going it alone but...

I’d quote what you said yesterday in one of your many articles on here..’Editor for fstoppers’.

Does that make you part time photographer, part time article writer and maybe throw in a bit of teaching too...?

It’s tough breaking into any trade as a self employed newbie so doing several different things, all ‘kinda’ related to photography is good..... or is it...?

There are two camps here, one says yes today you need a bit of everything to pay the bills, the other says if you stopped diluting your time and talent with ‘other stuff’ and concentrated fully on just one discipline you’d be better and more successful at it....

Both equally valid I suspect but there is something inside me that’s says, go with the latter and soon you won’t have time to write articles or post pics to social media because you’ll be to busy taking photos for clients.

G

Glad I left the industry. Several decades as shooter and one as a vender: the market is becoming more and more negative for us and clients will only become increasingly budget oriented as the years go on. You can keep your love but the financial outcome of full-time shooting has already proven to be unsustainable in multiple sectors.

Only advice I give when asked is, find another profession and stay a part time artist.

Can not disagree more with this article.

At Patrick..... very true, it’s tough creating value in your work....

Remember the old joke..

‘What’s the difference between a large pizza and a pro photographer..????

A large pizza can feed a family of 4...

Jordan McChesney's picture

Great article, it's nice to hear a positive story, with so many "horror stories" out there. I think photography as a career, like many other careers, is different for each person. Much like being a doctor or a pilot, some people only think of the positive points going into it and are shocked to find out it's a job, and a really tough one at that. That being said, it's no reason to dissuade people from trying something just because you personally didn't like it. I have a related situation, regarding my job. If you ask me about my job at my company, I'd tell you it's amazing and that "I can't believe I'm actually getting paid for this". However, if you ask someone who quit after one month, I'm sure they'll tell you it sucked and would not recommend working there, because they couldn't quite get things going. The crazy part is I actually avoided applying for my company because someone I knew told me it was terrible and never to work there. I've been there for 5 years, and it's the best job I've ever had. All this is to say, it's OK to talk about the ups and downs, but I don't think anyone should be actively telling people not to go pro because they personally hated it. Everyone is different.

As for me, I don't think being a full time pro is quite for me, at least not in the general sense, because I'd rather do things on my terms. I don't plan on quitting my job, because I like it a lot and it's a reliable source of income. What I would like to do is get into a position where I can more or less fund my photography through my photography. I'd like to sell prints, run workshops, give talks, have art shows, and I'm hoping to make a book, albeit in the distant future due to the content of the book I'm hoping to print. Essentially, I want to be creative while being able to support that creativity through my creativity. Of course, I'd be open to shooting locations for clients, here and there, but commercial isn't quite for me, as far as I can tell.

My personal frustration with photography actually stems from it just being a hobby, so I have to do it around my 50 hour work week, and raising my daughter, which usually gives me one day a week to go out and shoot. So when every single Tuesday and Wednesday is cloudy while every work day is amazing weather, that's what kills my passion. No one can tell me I would hate photography if I had more free time to actually go out and get the images I've had in my head for weeks, months, or sometimes even years, but just haven't had the time or luck with weather to capture.

Anyway, I'm glad to hear you've kept your passion while turning it into a job.

I retired from another profession to be a full time artist and photographer. I do believe every profession has its requirements which are less than love worthy. The architect may really hate doing "another" bathroom or deck. The painter may despise the studio bills and management and so on. One continues to love a chosen life work because of all the myriad of other things it provides. That love, I believe, is enduring.

As some who was a pro nearly 3 decades ago and moved to cinematography, I learned a lot back then. It was a good education but the money was poor even back then unless you became a star in the field. Now just slap Photography after your name and now you are one. Its ridiculous the amount of competition thats out there these days. Its far more about people skills and salesmanship now than it ever was. A lot of good shooters, and even more bad or medicore ones fighting for the same work. glad I got out.