What Are You Willing to Go Through to Become a Photographer?

Nico Becoming Photographer Portrait Studio

This is the most simple and basic component of life: Our struggles determine our successes. Hence, what pain do you want in your life? What are you willing to struggle for? As Mark Manson tells us, the question that determines your success isn’t "what do you want to enjoy?” The question is “What pain do you want to sustain?”

I read an article recently by Mark Manson titled “The Most Important Question of Your Life” and it brought back the times when I was figuring out if photography was going to be my thing in a professional capacity. I remember the fear and the excitement, the back and forth dialogue between the rational and the emotional: the human that needs to eat and the crazy artist that can live on dreams.

That was 13 years ago and I have learned a lot since. So, this is for the ones that are thinking of or making making the jump.

The question of pursuing our passions is pretty fashionable in our generation. The Vikings of start-ups are our modern heroes. "Get out there! Do your thing!," they say. "If you believe in it, you will make it!" We are baby-fed with success stories, but when we are busy fantasizing on our future fame, we don’t always consider what it really takes to get there. In particular, we overlook the most important factor: in order to be successful, we will need to get good at those things.

Before you take the big leap, don’t just focus on the reward: the pretty picture of you shooting celebrities, driving to your set in a new flashy Ferrari, having the time of your life on every assignment and being BFFs with your banker. Before you will be the star of that feature film in your future fantasy, you will need to love the struggle of getting there. Now, you might be thinking: “Aw, c’mon! Why are you killing the buzz?”

I promise you I’m not. You will be hyped by the adrenaline of finally doing what you love and you might even be the lucky one that never has to go through the hardships that come with the job, but let’s face it, we don’t live in Disney World. At some point, you're going to have to pay the entry fee. It’s not about discouragement; it’s about being ready for what’s coming, knowing how to handle it and using your assets the right way. As Mark Manson says:

If you want the benefits of something in life, you have to also want the costs.


  • Having a 9 to 7 daily schedule is not in the cards.
  • The concept of retirement might be questionable.
  • You will never get the security that comes with a first-of-the-month paycheck; your finances will most likely have to go through some rollercoaster fluctuations (get good at saving up for the harder times).
  • What you ultimately will want to do (ex: shoot celebrities for Harper’s Bazaar) might not come as fast as you want it to and you might need to get good at supplementing your income with anything else you can get your hands on (ranging from working the night shift at bars to doing pack shots in your cellar).

Complex: The feeling of accomplishment will be fleeting. You know that warm feeling of satisfaction (that's done). Don’t count on it.

  • Your portfolio will never be finished. It will always needs to be updated.
  • Your client list will never be final.
  • You will always need to upgrade your skills: lighting techniques, film, digital, retouching, marketing, branding, client relationships, etc.
  • Hence, the percentage of the time that you will spend actually taking the photographs you want to might be surprisingly and frustratingly low.
  • Yu will be asked by your family, friends, and acquaintances to retouch or photograph their visual needs without getting paid for it. (“I'm so happy you are coming to my wedding! Can you take some pictures when you are there? Oh and can you make me slimmer in them.”)

Most of these characteristics are not particular to the photography business; they apply to any entrepreneurial life style. Nevertheless, photography adds a specific component: You are not just selling any product; the product is you.

The inclination to take rejection of your photography work as a rejection of your personal value is high. Get good at separating your business and your passion.

Choose the field of photography you want to get into, whether its portraiture, weddings, nature, still life, fashion, documentaries, or something else and the style of photography you want your name associated with by being very honest with yourself; your personality needs to be an asset. If you are shy, a perfectionist, and do your best work when you have peace and quiet, working in the music business, where you have five minutes to get the shot might not be the best idea. If you are outgoing, outspoken, and super connected, but not very organized or interested in technical aspects, deciding to be a still life photographer might wear you out.

We change and we adapt and by adding skills and testing different things. In doing this, you might discover aptitudes that you never knew you had. Just keep in mind that getting your name out in the “big bad world” is a challenge; you don’t want to shoot yourself in the foot on top of it. If you want to minimize the struggle, be in sync with who you really are, not with who you wish you could be.

There is no guarantee that if you do all the right things, you will get to be the new star on the horizon. Sometimes, it’s all about the luck, even if most of the time, it’s all about the hard work and the talent.

At the end of the day, enjoy the ride that photography provides. It’s a beautiful journey and the uncertainty makes it exciting!

To photographers out there: what were the struggles you had to face? Let us know in the comments!

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Martin Van Londen's picture

I think knowing when the time is right is a big struggle for me. I have been planning on dumping my day job for a year. But in the past year I've seen multiple opportunities slip away because of a lack of time I have due to working 40+ hours a week for someone else. I just have to have faith that I will find similar or better opportunity when I do make the jump.

Anna Dabrowska's picture

Hi Martin, yes it's a tough choice. There will never be the right moment. A moment that reassures you. Thats why it's called taking a risk. Use the time you have to prepare yourself,but if you don't try you will never know if you can make it. Good luck!

Stephen Baldwin's picture

This is very insightful. Thank you.

Brad Delaney's picture

Yeah really tough question, when do I make the leap from day job to photographer ? I did a workshop last week and it was the main question everybody was asking. I don't think there is a definitive answer. It has to feel right for you. There is a commercial reality to life. You have to know where you sit in that space. If you are happy eating two minute noodles and living in a tent on the beach then( presupposing that you some talent that people are prepared to pay for) you should be able to make the leap fairly easily. However if you have a wife, 2 kids and a mortgage then the timing is more crucial. For me, well I was different again, I got cancer at 40 years old and couldn't work for 12 months, my wife was from a foreign country and didn't have a visa so she couldn't work either. When I got out of bed, we had no income, so I didn't have any income to replace. It was more the decision, I don't want to do anything but take pictures from now on.

Anna Dabrowska's picture

Thanks for sharing!

Jason McNeil's picture

I live in a dead area for finding talent. A lot of flakes and unreliable people. I have to often go to NY, NJ and my home state of Wisconsin to find dependable people to work with. I have a part time job and I really want to leave to just do photography forever.

Currently, my season for shooting here in Maryland is over and I won't really be shooting much at all. Mostly for test shoots.

Did I also add that I have access to work with new faces for a modeling agency? However I have no dedicated MUA or Hairstylist in the Maryland or DC area to work with it. I literally considered learning basic make up and hairstyling techniques to remedy this.

So there you have it. I know I am very talented, but with no supporting cast I can't get very far.

Anna Dabrowska's picture

Hi Jason, yes a good crew is essential of you are doing beauty or fashion. But you can still work on a creative portfolio when they are not around.It will teach you how to make magic out of nothing. And that is valuable! And when you can, move to the places that supply your needs.