Quitting Your Job to be A Photographer Isn’t an Awful Idea – It’s Just Not for Everyone

Quitting Your Job to be A Photographer Isn’t an Awful Idea – It’s Just Not for Everyone

Let me preface this article by saying that I LOVE Billy and the rest of the team at Resource. I’ve shared quite a few hung-over mornings with you guys at misc. photo conferences and I wouldn’t trade it for the world. I would also like to note that I disagree with much of the article that they just ran.

With that out of the way, I’m going to say this candidly – being a photographer isn’t f*cking easy. You’re absolutely right! There are days where I wonder, "What in the hell am I doing?!" and "Who am I kidding? I should probably quit while I’m ahead." See… Those are the days that I put on a suit, get up at 6:00am, make the commute to midtown Manhattan, and stare at my old office building and remind myself why I’m doing it. Proof of my trips to my old job (sans suit and NSFW language).

 

MY STORY

Here’s a little story for all of you: At the age of 22, I worked as a contractor for a Private Equity company. I made great money for my age and I had enough disposable income to purchase “toys.” I was interested in buying a motorcycle around that time and the receptionist at the front desk recommended that I speak with this young 27-year-old guy who rode his Ducati into the office. His name was Ronan.

At 27, this young man was the Vice President of the Real-estate division for a 27-Billion Dollar private equity company. He was a also a Penn State graduate with top honors and three degrees. Now, if you’ve ever worked around people in finance, (unless you’re watching the movie Wall Street), motorcycles are kind of frowned upon because they’re not “professional.” Riding into work with a helmet was a big "FU." This guy didn’t care about what people thought because he loved riding that much.

None the less – Ronan and I spent about fifteen minutes chatting about bikes on a Friday. When I came in for work the following Monday, I was informed that Ronan was killed while riding his Motorcycle for a short ride around the city (RIP Ronan).

 

Why is that important to know? Because that was the day that I learned this little life lesson: NOTHING IN LIFE IS GUARANTEED. It doesn't matter how many degrees are on your wall or how much money is in your bank account - NOTHING IN LIFE IS GUARANTEED.

That's the ONE thing that EVERYONE seems to forget.

Shortly after that incident, my contract for that assignment ended and I started a full-time job as a regional sales manager for a company. Two years later, I was laid off, yet again.

That was the day that I decided to commit to making photography a full-time career. That was July 2012. Work relating to photography (both shooting and teaching) has been my sole income for the last 4 years.

 

WHAT IT ACTUALLY TAKES...

In order to make it possible, I’ve learned to sacrifice and also to cut my expenses. I sold three cars, which may not mean anything to “non-car” people, but it was a sacrifice to me. One of those cars was a classic that I restored from the ground-up with my grandfather.

Let me also be clear: I don't have kids and my only expenses at this point are business related expenses, and the cost of my feeding my dog. I don't have many liabilities to my name because I chose to focus on my business. I've been fortunate enough that my grandfather has been kind enough to care for my dog, while I travel.

EVERYTHING that I've been able to accomplish in the last four years: Shoot for major publications, write a book, fly around the world... all of it, has been ONE HUGE SACRIFICE. I'm honestly to a point, where it's pointless to quit, because of how much I've sacrificed up to this point. I'm passed the point of no return.

 

IS IT WORTH IT?

Abso-F*cking-lutely. Why? Because I look back at that conversation with Ronan and I ask myself every single day: "Would he have given up doing something he loved for something that was 'guaranteed.'" If I had a corporate job, could I look at my face in the mirror every single morning and slump my way to work and be happy because it was "Guaranteed?"

NOTHING in life is guaranteed Billy.

Thinking otherwise is why people who are willing to sacrifice make it ahead of everyone else. Because they're willing to survive and have tremendous amounts of heart to make it happen. When people start realizing that, they can start making a conscious decision on whether or not, they REALLY have the balls to commit to this lifestyle. And you're right, it's not easy - It's hard work.

Hell, I've even mentioned that in the past: 3 Reasons Why You're Failing as a Photographer.

If you can't tell already, I'm in love with what I do. It's ingrained in my head and in my heart. I don't feel the same exhaustion that I did working that 9 - 5 job, all of those years ago. I've remained sane because of that.

 

IF YOU WANT TO MAKE IT WORK...

While everyone's circumstances will be different, there are many things that people can do to plan for a successful career.

Would I recommend someone who is the sole provider of their family to quit their full-time salary and focus solely on photography? Absolutely not. Would I tell the single guy who has some money to fall back on to quit his job and try and make it happen? Absolutely. What do you have to lose at that point? Money? Time?

At this point in my life, I have many photography students who want to quit their full-time professions to focus on photography full-time. I've had lawyers, doctors, police officers, and other professionals all tell me the same thing. Here's my real world advice, if you can afford to keep up the lifestyle you're happy with and make ends meet while doing it... go for it.

Your post is written on the premise that the person who wants to quit, doesn't have any business acumen whatsoever. Here's some basic math for those of you who want to quit your full time career to pursue photography.

Say you currently make $60K at your current job. That's a $5,000 per month salary. Minus taxes, you're left with about $3,500 a month. With that you're able to pay bills and feed yourself. Now, as a photographer, you're your own boss. You have to find a way to make $5,000 after your expenses in order to make the same amount of money. So, let's say business related expenses are $2,000 per month. That means you need to come up with $7,000 per month to stay afloat. If you're currently only booking two jobs a month... that means they better be for $3,500 a piece or you're going out of business. Now, If you reasonable believe that you can book one job a week at $1,750, then you're able to maintain your lifestyle and stay in business.

The point of this is that you don't need to be a genius to be a photographer. ANYONE with a small bit of business acumen, realistic expectations, and who is willing to work their ass off can make it happen. The problem is that you need to be willing to put fourth the effort.

Nothing, I've mentioned is outside of the norm, especially if you start thinking like an entrepreneur.

 

REAL WORLD EVIDENCE

Here's a little food for thought... the private equity company I worked for? The two founders left LF Rothchild in 1988 and converted an initial $500M investment into $23 Billion by 2010. It's now worth 27 Billion in 2016. One of the founders passed away, January 1st of this year. His advice? “In life you have to keep moving to stay ahead. Don’t stand still.”

The first company I worked for in New York City? A data recovery company owned by a retired 30-year old IDF soldier, who took his earnings and turned it into a multi-million dollar business.

These aren't gurus. They're not fakes. These are REAL WORLD examples of people willing to make things happen. 

 

TO THOSE OF YOU WHO WANT TO DO THIS FULL-TIME

Let me be VERY clear...

ENTREPRENEURSHIP ISN'T FOR EVERYONE, but when you know that it's in your blood - you can't help but make things happen. You have to be honest with yourself, DO I HAVE THE TENACITY TO MAKE THIS HAPPEN? The truth is that most people don't and that's okay. Not everyone is meant to be an entrepreneur. 

Remember, that you're not a failure if this isn't for you. However, if you REALLY WANT THIS, then it's time to HUSTLE and get Sh*t Done.

 

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30 Comments

Matthew Odom's picture

150% truth. My last at Child Support and I absolutely hated going to work, I would cry in the car before I walked in. When they laid me off (which was a blessing) I told them thank you and just channeled all of my energy into making photography work but I also had to get over the hurdle of accepting I wasn't going to make much cash ( at that time I was a 100% wedding photographer) fast forward 2 - 3 years and I'm doing pretty good as a commercial photographer, won a few awards, and a few national ads. It all comes with hard work, a little luck, and being humble....you have to be relentless and patient in order for it to pan out

Jaron Schneider's picture

I think you and the Resource article are in basic agreement. Billy's main point in that article was to not just drop everything, quit, and become a photographer. The main issue that was being addressed is that there are countless instructors who preach "believe in yourself and just do it!" which is kind of a fallacy when you don't look at the bigger picture. You can't survive on believing in yourself alone, no more than you pay rent with "exposure."

As someone who quit his day job after five years of preparing and planning, I agree with both of you.

Also, we at Resource love you too Jeff :)

Jeff Rojas's picture

lol I know we both agree on that. I just felt it necessary to mention how hard it actually is from my perspective, especially since I've been on both sides of the fence. p.s. You know that I love you guys. Always have. <3 ;)

Juanma Carrillo's picture

Everytime I read/hear something like this, like quitting the job to pursue a dream, it reminds me that scene from Batman, The Dark Knight Rises, where Bruce Wayne has to jump with no rope to get out from the pit. Sometimes you only succeed if you have no other option.

Guillermo Fierro's picture

Hola Jeff, esto quiere decir que vas a dejar de hacer fotografía? He visto varios videos tuyos dando consejos de cómo mejorar como fotógrafo y me han servido mucho, pues estoy iniciando mi carrera como fotógrafo, pero este artículo que escribes me desconcierta mucho. ¿Es posible que tu sueño de vivir haciendo lo que más te guste (fotografía) se convierta en tu peor pesadilla?

Jeff Rojas's picture

El punto de este artículo en particular es que ser un fotógrafo no es fácil. Es mucho trabajo. Es un montón de largas horas . Para que tenga éxito , tiene que verlo como un negocio.

Guillermo Fierro's picture

Claro, dedicarle más tiempo y esfuerzo a hacer crecer el negocio que haciendo fotos. Eso escucho mucho, dedica el 90% de tu tiempo haciendo negocios, marketing, buscando clientes y el 10% haciendo fotos.

Jeff Rojas's picture

Eso es muy cierto, mi amigo.

gabe s's picture

Last I saw they featured photographers from all over the world on this site. Not to mention Google translate is your friend. Why exclude a vast majority of the world because you refuse to do some work?

Jeff Rojas's picture

Good Translate This:

¿Está realmente tan tonto? Los Estados Unidos y este sitio web se componen de diferentes culturas.

But seriously... I speak fluent English, Spanish, and a small bit of French, Polish and Japanese. I've learned certain funny phrases in Tagalog, Sign Language and misc. other languages. Why? Because I appreciate other people's culture and the melting pot that is my home - The United States of America.

On that note, being PUERTO RICAN, I'm also a "melting pot of culture." I'm African, Spanish, Italian / Greek, Irish, and Native American. I have the DNA sequencing to prove that. I'm a product of MANY different cultures together... much like this website.

So, I think I can say this with all of those parties in mind:

"GROW UP AND STOP BEING A TROLL, YOU NARROW-MINDED HUMAN BEING!"

LOVE Jeff.

Jeff Rojas's picture

We're obviously going to have differing opinions on this subject.... So I'll agree to disagree. I will however exercise my right to speak in whatever language necessary in order to communicate with my audience.

You're having a hard time understanding my sarcasm and rightfully so... you can't read emotion or body language from text.

So... to be clear:

You're right, this is a PUBLIC forum and people find this forum from all around the world. Should they be subjected to speaking English. NO. It's a global forum.

One person commented in Spanish. That conversation was between two people... You intruding and putting your own personal political views is extremely rude. If you wouldn't interrupt a conversation between two parties in person, then don't do it online. That's called manners.

If you have questions comments or concerns moving forward... pull me aside or send me an email. INFO@SAJORFFEJ.COM

Thank you for reading the article and have a great day.

Miguel Quiles's picture

This guy again!? lol

Well written, and I love the point of this article. Thanks for sharing.

Jeff Rojas's picture

Thanks Mate! :)

Chris Adval's picture

Cost of doing business (CODB). I learned that while working on relaunching my business. It helped know all costs to running a healthy sustainable business if I meet my numbers monthly or annually. Part of that expense is my salary or any other employees salary. All under 1 total number goal for the year. If I don't meet it I have to make cuts to certain areas and play the juggling numbers game. I haven't done this in actuality, but this year, as I relaunch on May 1st, will be an exciting year I hope.

Thanks for sharing your story with us Jeff, both here and in-person at photo plus!

Chris Adval's picture

I have entrepreneurial spirit. Had it since I was an early adult. I made plans and goals to make things happen and failed many times...hopefully on my current venture after more careful planning and executing, it will pay off. If not, I'll get back on that horse with my head up high to learn some more! That is entrepreneurial spirit. NOT GIVING UP! Granted some people have more resources, support system, skills, etc... to make things move and go faster for them, which is great for them. For me I do not so I have to build it from scratch and hope to become my own success!

A different point from this article.... sometimes you have to fail to succeed. Even if you tried and fail, doesn't mean you won't succeed. But you have to have the drive and motivation to make it work.

Hell yea!!!

Dallas Dahms's picture

Work (in any form) exists as a means to an end. Work supports life. It shouldn't ever be the other way around. Don't make work your aim. Make life your aim.

I agree with everything in Jeff's article, and I think the main thing is, be realistic. I am a trainee myself, and I was never foolish enough to think that I could just set myself and money is just going to start rolling in straight away. I too worked in Finance, for 5 years solidly, then some contracts, so not earning any money for a few years isn't a problem. It's this ridiculous luxury that has enabled me to start the long process of becoming a photographer who gets paid.

If you wanted to become a lawyer, a teacher or a nurse, expect training ahead of you that will take a number of years. The way I see it, becoming a professional photographer is no different. Well, the difference is, the 'study' is self-directed and consists of an industry education. I've maybe 2 years ahead of me of making virtually no money, while I intern, assist, meet photographers, train myself independently and shoot portraits and events for free. Only then could I start to charge full whack for my wedding photography - but with no wedding images in my portfolio (these belong to the photographer), I'll probably have to shoot a few for free at the outset.

I have a list here of the sorts of things I do in order to get closer to my goal. http://zoes.gallery/about/ I treat training as a full time profession and I have worked hard for years in a lucrative job I hated to be able to do this without worrying about making ends meet.

I would disagree with something from the Resource Magazine article, that hacks are always coming up with advice like, "Follow your dreams, let your passion guide you". Not so, in my experience of using online articles, tutorials, videos and forums to guide me. Usually people dispensing the advice are as cautious, responsible, realistic and knowledgeable. I don't know anyone out there worth their salt who's saying, "hey, this is easy, buy my book".

I think it's hilarious and brilliant that you go back to your old office building to feel grateful for the life you chose as a photographer. I think I may just do that myself.

Jeff Rojas's picture

Lol I may be a little eccentric at times. :P

Graham Marley's picture

I've been a full-time wedding photographer for the last 5 years and I just took a full time job at an office. I couldn't be happier. Having a bedrock of steady income will let me be able to reinvest in photography in new ways, allow me to take different risks and keep my wife happy. I'll work like a fool, but for now it's the best way for the money to make sense.

gabe s's picture

Another good point is expect to fail once in a while. It won't always be perfect.

Gino Carlini's picture

I started out as a photographer.. Here's a little story for you, at 13 years old I got my first camera, at 15 years old I built a darkroom in my parents basement and was professionally shooting, at 17 years old I was first published in magazines and newspapers. Now 34 years later, Photography is still my career. I always knew from the age of 13 that photography was all I wanted to do. Please don't get me wrong, I'm not trying to sound arrogant or mock anyone for deciding to get into photography later on in life. Most people I know that started out in Film photography started out young and always knew they wanted to take photos for a living and had that creative drive. But Its seems like today, I keep seeing people that all of sudden at the age of 30 decide they want to quit their jobs and be a photographer, and I keep thinking where was your creative drive earlier on and why did it take you so long to finally start shooting?

Jeff Rojas's picture

Some of us had different paths in life, that you did.

For example... I was in every single art class I could sign up for in middle school and HS. Funny enough, I have my HS art instructors as friends on Facebook.

None the less, my mom is one of the most creative people I know and her brother can draw hyperrealistic drawings. They are truly amazing creatives... but both had FULL-TIME careers in other fields. My mom is a human resources director. My uncle is a Union Electrician in NYC. Both make great money. Neither understood how to transform that creativity into $$$. So it wasn't until I met my mentor did I understand that this could be a viable career.

So... Here I am. :)

Congrats on finding your love early. ;)

Gino Carlini's picture

Well although I was getting published at 17 as a music photographer. I had a stubborn Italian father who was a retired pro baseball player constantly telling me what pipe dream photography was and he said I had no clue what it was like to live out of a suitcase traveling all the time like he did...and that I needed to go get a job at Ford or one of the other car companies, that gave insurance and benefits.

But I didn't want to do that, I wanted to be a photographer and at 21, I moved on my own to New York City and was determined to make it and I did.. It was not easy...Although I will say the photography industry was very different in the 1980/90s, There was no internet or social media. I had to go and actually show people my portfolio book and try to network as much as I could. But on the other hand this was long before Getty Images started monopolizing the magazine industry. You could actually call photo editors at magazines and set up meetings and become a contributing photographer a bit easier then it is today. So it was give and take. But I still worked very hard to get where I am today... :)

Jeff Rojas's picture

That's pretty awesome! Well, you keep up the great work! :)

Some people blossom early some blossom later. In my case, I am a Deaf photographer and I tried to setup my business in the mid 90's. The difficulty for me was using TTY to communicate with hearing people. Now with videophones it is so much easier. Plus EVERYONE has email, text, instant communicate is abundant and so much easier for me to get photo jobs today than the way it was in the past. Now my work has improved drastically and making more money from my business.

Miles Bergstrom's picture

I F@*&ing love this post. As someone who is in the midst of making that transition it's just another kick in the butt for me. I've had people all over telling me to just go for it, take that risk, and really understand. I think all of this advice is fantastic and is what I've heard across the board from multiple people in the field. Thanks again for the great advice Jeff!

Sheng Zheng's picture

thanks for ur humble, realistic, and non-glorified advice.