The Harsh Reality of Being a Full-Time Photographer

The Harsh Reality of Being a Full-Time Photographer

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.

Closing Thoughts

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!

Illya Ovchar's picture

Illya aims to tell stories with clothes and light. Illya's work can be seen in magazines such as Vogue, Marie Claire, and InStyle.

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Sounds interesting John, I would love for you to elaborate on this :)

The harsh reality: is for those who have to starve every day, lose people and their beloved animals due to illness or have to suffer due to other things.
Our world is very chaotic right now. I believe that every day we wake up healthy again is a blessing. I recognize myself here and there in your blog. But it's great to have made it this far, isn't it?
Who knows what tomorrow will bring.

You are correct in saying that! Being Ukrainian, I understand my privilege compared to other people from my country.
Then again, I am focusing on the harsh reality of being a full-time photographer, not the harsh reality of life and the world in general.
Thank you for reading, and sharing your work, Nini I love it!

I know what your blog was about. No worries. And please don't take it personally. But that's only because there's so much going on in my head and life.
I'm very sorry about your country. I cried a lot when I saw all the pictures and videos. I couldn't look any further because it's heartbreaking. And now about Israel. Why all this?
I'm currently in the process of writing my own blogs. I have too much on my mind. Thank you for your compliment. I just don't understand why the picture looks so blurry here. It is usually sharper.

One thing is consistent among every financially successful photographer I have known. Each one is a business person first, photography comes second, third or fourth on the list of priorities. The craft of photography is important. But they all focus on their business first.

I was a full time photographer for many years. Often, less than 10% of my time was actually engaged in photographing anything. Running a business out of passion is commendable. But don't be deceived into thinking photography is any different than running any other small business. Keeping the lights on and customers satisfied takes time.

Business is definitely something they don't teach at art school, which is why I avoided that path altogether.
It's something we all have to learn, sure. But even if have the business skill of Jeff Bezos, you won't be able to be a good photographer if your work is rubbish. Don't get me wrong, business is critical, but your work is what you are essentially selling. Be a nice likable guy and be good at what you do - the rest will follow.

Great piece Illya Ovchar . I agree on your points. It's an incredible blessing to wake up and do what you love. I am often in awe that I get paid a fantastic amount to make art every week. As you say though, there are SO MANY sides that don't end up on the polished upbeat Instagram reels. Running a business is hard, it takes emotional strength and tons of stamina.

Thanks so much for tuning in Michelle. It is indeed a blessing. I often wake up and think to myself that I am living by doing what I love, which is something others can only wish for in most cases. Sure it is not as high-paid as I wish it to be, but so is any career at the beginning.

At around age 40 I decided I wanted to be a professional photographer. Upon investigation I realized that it would be a long time before I would earn enough to support my family, so I gave up. Now that I am approaching retirement the pucture is different. It will still be difficult to earn a good living but since I will have a nice pension, the money won't matter much. So now I can finally realize my dream and not worry about all the down-sides. Life is good.

I can partially relate to your story in terms of family support, James. It's a pity you were in that situation.
On the other hand, when you can pursue photography just for the sake of it, and not worry about using it to keep the lights on, it becomes much more enjoyable, I hear.