A basic formula to attain a fulfilling photography career does not really exist. The industry is abnormal, so your life climbing into it will be too. Whether your dream is to be the go-to photographer in a small town or to be a world-traveling journalist, this is what you can expect in a life full of photography.
When I talk to people about being a photographer they rarely know what this entails aside from the fact that I own a camera and when I began to work towards a career in the industry, I hadn't the slightest idea what I was getting myself into either. Life would have been a bit easier for me if I would have read something like this when I was first starting out. I would have been much less overwhelmed if I knew how much of my life I'd be giving to this, so I want to share it with you. I had no one to ask "what is this really going to take?"
After five years of devoting my life to photography, I finally feel confident answering this question. My answer on the surface is simple: photography takes everything. It takes the complete nonstop dedication of your mind, body, and soul to do it.
Sacrifice Becomes a Normal Part of Life
In order to have the time, energy, and mental focus to actually build the career you want in photography, you will likely have to sacrifice greatly to get there. At first, I didn't believe it, I thought I could have everything all at once, but this is definitely not a career where having it all is easy. Sacrifice and the willingness to do so has been crucial for my career. If I wouldn't have given up these things in life I wouldn't be here. I have lived in rough neighborhoods so that I could afford the equipment and devote my time to photography instead of a job. I have ended relationships to relocate for opportunities. I have lived away from my family for years to gain the experience I needed and lose a lot of sleep. Whether the sacrifices are major life changes like mine, or something as simple as driving long distances for clients, they have to happen.
You'll Learn to Be Comfortable as an Outcast
While you work towards a fully realized career and even after you've reached a successful point, many people will not understand it, which is fine because a career in photography isn't as simple or as socially acceptable as going to college and applying for jobs. It is both a career and lifestyle that most can't wrap their heads around because it is greatly different than a 9-to-5. So many people in your life will dismiss, discourage, and flat out not accept your choice to pursue it. Even though I work harder for photography than I ever did in college, many people in my life still feel that my hard work is not the right way to pursue a career. I have to remind myself often that most people don't understand the industry or any part of the process to be a success in it.
In order to maintain my positivity and continue pushing, I surround myself with just a few people who support my career completely in order to prevent discouragement and feeling as if photography is wrong. The few friends and significant others in my past who didn't believe in my work and success as a photographer did absolutely nothing but hinder me, their doubt rubbed off on me until they were out of my life.
Hard Work Is Never Ending and You'll Never Be Satisfied With It
When you start working towards a full-time career in photography, the insane amount of work will be the most obvious, important, and time-consuming portion of your life. In addition to perfecting your art, you'll be building, maintaining, and marketing a business from nothing. It takes so much to make it in the industry; I am not yet where I'd like to be in my own career so every single day and often night, little by little, I work on it. When a rare day comes that I feel I can relax a bit, I don't turn on the TV, I go out and take photos of new things or learn new tools online.
All this work is freeing though because there are few rules, boundaries, or definitions of success in the art world. This is one of my favorite things about creating, but it's also what challenges me to most on a daily basis. The endless possibilities of imagery and the blurred lines of success in a career make it impossible for me to ever feel like I can stop working. Luckily when I get that feeling when you take a great photo, one better than any you've taken before, I want to do it over and over again. As long as you love it you'll fall asleep each night feeling thankful that you did the work.
Money, Achievements, and Satisfaction Come in Waves
Photography is one of those careers where every little bit of work you do is a success, a step closer to the larger achievements to come down the road. This is what makes the hard work so difficult sometimes because you might not see the results of your efforts immediately like in other careers. It takes time to be successful, it doesn't happen overnight. Most careers have a luxury of consistency, you go home from work knowing you still have a job in the morning and will make the same amount, but this is not the case in the art world.
The work I do each day can often seem pretty small and insignificant compared to the daunting goals but trust me, it always sporadically leads to some sort of money or success that you can build from little by little. Even though the hours of work I put in daily is pretty consistent, clients, income, and opportunities in this industry are as rocky as a bad relationship. However, I could never leave photography for something else, no matter how unstable it gets
I commend anyone who has enough passion and ambition to pursues a career in photography or any other art form for that matter. I know all too well how hard it is, how much it takes from you, sometimes without giving anything back. It may be the most difficult journey you'll ever set out on, but as long as you love it enough, I promise the windy road with no end or limits insight is completely worth it.