Doing photography full-time is anyone's dream. Full-time is regarded as a sign of making it in the business. Unfortunately, that is not the case. Here are some of the blessings and curses of being a full-time photographer.
I consider myself a full-time photographer. It's easy to see why. I don't have any other job besides photographing, educating about photography, and writing about photography. At the end of the day, I can easily say that I do what I love and make money from it. If I had a second job that had nothing to do with photography, I would not have been able to call myself full-time. However, under these criteria, I can. Here are some of the curses and blessings that I've come to enjoy and hate about the lifestyle and career I chose.
Let's start with the most obvious one. Photographing fashion is a darn good job. Without thinking about it too much, it can be condensed to having models come to your studio and pay you to shoot them in swimsuits or something like that. I get to be creative, hang around celebrities, go to fancy parties, and experience all the joys of being in an industry filled with young and new people.
Then, to add to that, if you are doing studio photography, you get an adult playground where you have loads of fancy kit all at your disposal, ready to go at a moment's notice to the next adventure. Photography is essentially a hobby that some are lucky to make a profit from. The blessing of being a full-time photographer is that you can do just that: make money from your hobby. Doing what you love is anyone's dream, and there are many people that don't achieve it.
The other blessing about being a full-time photographer is the recognition and the admiration you get. Everyone loves getting their ego stroked. In photography, once you get to a certain level, very few people will say to you that they think you make bad work. Sure enough, there will always be critics, but most will love your work by default. The more recognition you get, the higher your ego gets, and the better you feel about yourself. How does this tie into being full-time? Well, because full-time is a huge choice we are all faced with at one point or another, and if you are constantly getting the confidence ego boost about having great work, it will seem to you like the right choice.
The last blessing of being a full-time photographer is never getting tired of what you do. Because you love the work you're doing, there will almost always be a new, exciting thing to try out and create. Sure enough, burnout exists; we have all experienced it or will experience it, but I urge everyone to take holidays and breaks from photography every now and then to avoid burning out completely. It is better to do one job that pays a thousand than a thousand jobs that pay one.
The first curse of being a full-time photographer is the constant need to compete with other photographers — at least, the constant perceived need to compete. The reality is that most photographers deliver a unique product that can't be replicated, meaning that you are the best at your thing, and nobody can do it better. Then again, there are genres such as headshot photography or press photography where your voice is not as important as being in the right place at the right time or having the right network.
Another curse of being a full-time photographer is, of course, the constant need to network and socialize. This is easy for the ones that enjoy it, but I am yet to meet many artists who consider themselves social butterflies. Somehow, most artists seem to be closed-off people and want nothing more than just creating. The curse hides a blessing. You will have to learn to be a nice and approachable, if not likable person. You can't build a full-time photography business without working with other people, even if you are photographing landscapes and love being alone with your Phase One. It will be people that will be buying the images from you. Many artists fail to make this step and end up being unrecognized and unsuccessful. On the other hand, people like Jeff Koons have managed to build a business empire by just being a nice dude you want to be friends with.
Funny enough, one of the other things that I find bad about being a full-time photographer is the lack of coworkers and the general toxicity of the photography community. This makes you quite lonely in your craft. There can sometimes be nobody you can talk to. I urge any photographer that is feeling alone during this time to reach out to their friend, seek professional help, or alternatively, drop me an email! It's always fun talking to other creatives. Being lonely in the office can be quite depressing. This is something I've also struggled with; however, I have learned to appreciate the alone time and spend it being creative, writing, or doing something productive. A midday nap is also an option. If you are really antisocial, get a studio pet.
I won't go into details of my financials; it would suffice to say that I had really rough periods in my financials and know firsthand what baked beans on an inflatable mattress next to light stands taste like. This is a job you do for the love of doing it. Photography takes years to be a high-paying job. Be cautious of your investments, spend as little as possible, and don't shy away from Heinz baked beans if you need to. Skip the coffee meetings if you have to, and don't eat out as much as possible. There are dry months, and you have to build up savings. Again, do as I say, not as I do. There were times when I had to ask for advances and negotiate loans. While not a life-or-death threat, it's still preferable to have savings as a cushion.
Being a professional photographer is a wonderful career choice; it's a fun job with many perks. Don't let the curses of being a photographer discourage you from choosing this. If you feel like it's the right choice for you, pursue it. As long as you're not a burden to anyone, feel free to pursue it. I can only imagine how much harder this gets the older one gets, which is why I recommend every young creative, such as myself, to go for it and see where it takes you.
Over to you, what is your experience being a photographer? Have you gone full-time, or are you still keeping your day job next to it? Let us know in the comments below!