How Important is Passion in Professional Photography?

How Important is Passion in Professional Photography?

It's a bizarre question that can be applied to any of the arts. Typically, creatives are seen as passionate creatures, but is it essential to a career in the industry?

A while back I discussed a brilliant piece of insight from writer Stephen King that I believe is applicable to photography: "Amateurs sit and wait for inspiration, the rest of us just get up and go to work." I value these words because hobbyists can afford to wait for those times of inspiration, but those people who want to take their art (whatever it may be) seriously — be that for financial gain or otherwise — cannot do this. However, one unhappy implication could be that taking photography (for instance) seriously means that you forgo your passion and love for what you do.

I wrote just a couple of months ago about how I do not believe that turning your hobby in to a career means losing a lot of that affection for it. It was met with mixed responses from fellow professionals; some agreed and some didn't. More and more I enjoy the dialogue that opens from my articles, whether I stand alone in my view or well supported. Just a few days ago a great discussion started on what skills are important for hobbyists to focus on. Well, now I want to return to passion and open up a forum on what role it plays for professional photographers.

Quality of Work

One of the greatest benefits of passion for me is the results I create. I've taken great photos when uninterested in what I'm photographing and I've taken throwaways when euphorically one with my camera. This argument isn't to say that passion has a constant influence on results, but it does affect the averages and the upper echelons in my experience. When I'm impassioned and fully invested in a project, my best results are created. That is, I believe that my greatest shots I've ever taken in all genres have been when that sensation of fervor for photography is present.

Longevity of Career

This is again a subject I've discussed at length because it's what I want: a long career in photography. So far so good, but to have decades under your belt in any field, whether you love or hate it, requires a resilience and drive. Of course, you could be motivated by fear instead (losing your income and lifestyle) but photography is seldom a highly paid career choice so I'll discount that here. For me to be truly driven enough to continue in a career which — however much you love it — can be taxing in a number of ways, passion for the art form and what you create cannot be underestimated.

Aptitude for Growth

Perhaps this subtitle isn't most clearly expressed, but an aptitude or a willingness for growth is not a constant for anyone. There are periods where you are invigorated and seek knowledge like a bee seeks pollen, and then there are times were you feel at a temporary capacity. What I've always been acutely aware of, however, is extended slumps in enthusiasm for improving in something I'm interested in as it often serves as a death rattle for my involvement in it, long term. We all try new things, lock in to that subject intensely, and then see our momentum wane, drifting away from the area sometimes indefinitely. For that not to happen — and this ties in nicely with longevity of career — I believe a consistent passion is necessary.

How Important Do You Believe Passion Is?

What are your thoughts? Do you think that passion is integral to a successful career in photography? Or is it a nice but optional attribute that runs essentially independently to a person's career and work?

Lead Image courtesy of Ahmad Odeh

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Gaetan Osman's picture

In my experience, enthusiasm and excitement is short lived. There has to be something present that extends beyond passion. I love photography, however in times when I need the extra push, it is my responsibilities that put me over the edge such as the people that rely on me, my family, my greater goals..etc.
Anyway, loved the article. It's a great interesting topic since it brings many aspects of one's career into highlight.

Jeff Walsh's picture

Building a photography business, at least one wherein it's your sole income, takes hard work. Often, that work is frustrating, daunting, and time consuming. Without passion for that work, or without a deep love for the process, I don't see how anyone could make it to the point where it becomes their career. It wouldn't be worth the effort unless it was something that the individual desired so badly that no effort was too great.

With today's earnings, if you're not passionate, you'll end up being a depressed photographer...

Ken Flanagan's picture

I hate the word passion, as it is used I think too much. That said, I don’t really know what else to call it. A lot of people of come up to me saying how passionate they are about photography but I always go back to the question of why. I’ve been a photographer for a long time, and I’ve been doing it long enough to make a lot of money, then lose it all, then the slog of crawling back only to lose it all again. There are a lot of days that it just feels like a job, and there are days that I can’t imagine my life without it. I would say that the word passion should be left alone to those to describe who you are and and not as an adjective to describe yourself. Just a thought.

Simon Patterson's picture

Passion is a massively overrated concept. Better we back our previous life decisions, regularly re-evaluate and consider opportunities as they relate to our values, and get on with it. If we feel passion at any given time then great, if not then charge on regardless.