Sometimes, Photography Sucks

Sometimes, Photography Sucks

Photography is a fun, creative field, where we get away from the tedium and soul-sucking nature of the 9-5 to chase our dreams, to be creative, to be our own bosses. It's amazing, right? Meh, sometimes. Sometimes, it sucks.

Before I sound like an entitled and ungrateful millennial, let me say that I'm tremendously thankful and aware of how lucky I am to be working in creative fields. That being said, it's not always perfect; hell, it's not always even good. I'm not writing this article to complain about my own personal struggles. I'm writing it because we tend to only show our very best sides and life events to the outward world (a phenomenon bolstered all the more by social media), so when we see nothing but good things happening to those around us when things aren't going well personally, it can make our own misfortunes or failings hurt all the more. It's important to remember that all of us struggle or go through periods of less-than-stellar work, low income, or the like. You'd be surprised what the private lives of even your favorite, most successful photographers, musicians, or whoever can be like.

Coming Back Without the Shot

This is perhaps the most straightforward of all the things that can ruin my photographic day. Sometimes, you can do everything to set yourself up properly or the perfect conditions can arrive, and you just miss the shot for whatever reason. I love to keep my drone in the trunk of my car and pull over whenever I see a great potential shot. I have four batteries, which gives me about 1.5 hours of flight time. I normally only need one or two of them to get the shot I want. 

I have way more throwaways than I do keepers.

There's a lighthouse I really love, but rarely does the Cleveland weather cooperate to give me a compelling photo. Once, I spent almost two weeks watching the weather, and finally, the potential for the right conditions came along. I drove out there, waited about 40 minutes, and boom, there it was. Four batteries and 90 minutes of flying later, I realized the composition I had been envisioning all this time wasn't actually that great, and all the other ones I desperately tried to create were decidedly mediocre. I went home and went through about 600 photos in Lightroom, tried my best to edit and will a working photo into existence, then realized I had wasted six hours and an opportunity and binned them all. I wasn't frustrated so much as I was disappointed in myself; it certainly deflated my confidence in myself a bit. 

Internet Vitriol

The relative anonymity of the internet lets people act in ways they wouldn't dream of in person. In some ways, I think that's better, as we see people's true colors more often. But it also gets tiring dealing with people. Just the other day, a photographer said some rather unkind things about me and my work simply because I politely asked him not to refer to me as a "moron" and a "POS." If that photographer has half a brain for business or half a heart for not being an unnecessarily cruel person, I guarantee you he doesn't speak to clients or other photographers like that in person. But because he can lash out on the internet with relative immunity from consequences, he feels he's entitled to treat others however he wants. And to be honest, that's quite a tame encounter; you'd probably be shocked if I shared some of the really inappropriate comments and messages I and my colleagues have received. I have thick skin; I did spend five years in music school and work on the internet, after all. That doesn't mean I particularly enjoy reading these things, though. 

Your Work Will Get Stolen and People Will Want It for Free

If you're halfway decent with a camera and you do this for a reasonable amount of time, your work is going to get stolen. This doesn't just mean some random person liking your picture and taking it for their Instagram. This means companies actively profiting off your hard work by commercializing it. The worst part is that mostly, it's not even malevolent intent; they just don't know better. What most people won't tell you is that a lot of the time, it's not worth the money or effort to go after them. Not only does this take away from your bottom line, the general attitude of entitlement a lot of people have toward photography can really wear on you. 

Your work will get stolen at some point.

Speaking of that entitlement, oh boy, do I hate the requests for free work or the insulting lowballers. And don't get me wrong: I have a ton of amazing clients with whom I have symbiotic relationships in which we value what we each bring to the table and subsequently work together over multiple projects, and I absolutely love working with them. It's when I get a random Facebook message from someone wanting me to cut my price by 90% if I shoot with their camera instead of mine or the unsolicited message wanting me to pay them for the privilege of taking their photos (yes, you read that correctly). People are always trying to get something for free or cheap, and constantly having to assert your worth can be exhausting.

Variable Income

The model of my incoming clients.

It can be feast or famine in any creative or self-employed field. You can do a lot to mitigate this issue, such as practicing good saving habits, but that doesn't change the fact that you're likely to experience a bit more worry over your income than someone who knows they'll be getting a paycheck for a certain amount every Friday.

Conclusion

You might read this and think I hate photography or wish to discourage any interested parties from ever taking part in it. Neither of those is true. Every time I get stressed or start to feel down about this for one reason or another, I ask myself if I'd be happier in a structured 9-5 office job, and the answer is always a resounding no. I wrote this more because I think if we constantly build up an idealized view of this world in our heads, we're going to be let down a lot. Yes, it's great in a lot of ways, but it comes with its downsides too, and being realistic about them makes it easier to appreciate the good.

What bothers you about photography? 

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14 Comments

3 pickles wandered into a field. Only one emerged.

OK people, which posts makes more sense, the original or the nonsense I just spouted?

michaeljin's picture

WTF happened to the other two pickles!?

Jordan McChesney's picture

I’m not concerned. My view on life is “the fewer pickles, the better.”

Will this makes far less sense (believe it or not) with the original post removed that I was responding to.

C Fisher's picture

The worst part of photography is the gatekeeping, followed closely by the brand fanbois.

michaeljin's picture

Truth... That feeling when you wake up early to drive out to a place because you thought you saw something and coming away with garbage because you suck at photography... Then coming home and looking through the latest imports in your Lightroom catalog and realizing that you should have slept in or better yet, you should just quit this nonsense and have a fire sale on all of your gear so that you can take up a pursuit that you actually have a bit of talent in. Then realizing that you have no talent in anything so maybe the answer is to buy the next piece of gear that will make up for your lack of talent. Yeah. It's rough.

Jordan McChesney's picture

I don’t want to downplay the frustration you must have felt for those two weeks of weather watching, but I’m currently about to cancel my Milky Way photography trip for the third year in a row, due to the garbage summer weather here in Japan... but it’s not a competition...

I’m not professional, I’m still trying to “get noticed”, so I imagine the same things bother me that bother everyone in my position, and that’s trying to find out what the hell you have to do to get noticed. But this might be on me. Admittedly, I have a lot to learn on the business/marketing side of things.

Also, since I’m not a pro, never having enough time really bothers me. I have a ton of images in my head that will have to stay there for years, as I have to space my trips out.

Other than that, it bothers me when people call specific locations or subjects “cliches”, as it’s lazy pseudo-criticism. And something I’ve seen here is people saying things like “you’re using your tripod wrong”, which comes across as “my way is right and your way is wrong.”

Oh, and it really bothers me when I see how many bigots follow Fstoppers on Instagram.

All of this being said, I’m endlessly grateful for even having the money, time, and health needed to keep doing photography.

Jacques Cornell's picture

Forget about "getting noticed". Nobody's ever "noticed" me, and yet I make a living. It's up to you to notice your potential clients. Find folks who need photos you want to make.

Jordan McChesney's picture

Yeah that’s a good point. I’m about to move into the “marketing” process. Unfortunately, no one I know personally “needs” or can afford art. Most can’t even be bothered to hit a share button. I’m thinking of doing a small show at an art cafe in Tokyo, but printing, framing, and taking time off work would run me about 150,000-200,000 yen for a one week show, which is hard to justify to my family when there’s no guarantee I’ll even sell anything, haha.

On the business side, I like the idea of doing workshops in Japan, since I seem to be the only foreign photographer living here, so I know a lot of the “hidden gems”. I’m trying to encourage more pros to check out some of the lesser known spots, but I’m a “nobody” so no one listens. I’m 0 for 4 so far, but that was before I had a website, so maybe they thought I was just some crazy guy, shouting Japanese words at them, haha.

But I suppose that’s the biz! Either way, it’s still fun.

Lina Forrestal's picture

Instagram "influencers" who have wanted to "collaborate" with me by getting my photography for free in exchange for "eXpOsUrE" *EYE ROLL*

Andre Goulet's picture

My biggest problem is with myself: I'm always chasing that 'better shot' to the point of never enjoying and always being too critical of my existing work. It's good to want to do better, but bad to not give yourself credit for your skill and knowledge. I've been shooting for 30 years and have exactly zero prints of my own work on my walls.

For socially awkward folks like yours truly photography can be a constant struggle to overcome anxiety. Strangers are one thing but feeling like you can't ask family or friends for a photo can be frustrating, even heartbreaking.

There are so many beautiful moments that have come and gone because of that kind of apprehension.

I have no problem coping with discomfort shooting events but in more intimate social situations I'll place a camera on the table, everyone knows what's up, but I won't touch it. It just feels so invasive. Too self conscious I guess.

Yet everyone has their phones out. It's just odd.

If every shot that you plan comes out perfect, you either are the perfect genius photographer or you need to try harder to challenge yourself.