SHOULD YOU BECOME A PROFESSIONAL PHOTOGRAPHER?
It’s a question that who picks up a camera asks at some point. But how do you know if a career in photography is right for you? As you and I have never met before, I don’t know your personality and I don’t know your work, I will tell you that I can’t definitively answer if you should become a professional photographer or not. Even if I did, the decision of what is right for you can only be made by you and just by you. Having been a professional photographer since 2014, there are questions you can ask of yourself to make a better decision.
Are You Self-Motivated person?
A career as an artist is completely different from any other. It’s not a profession where you wake up, pack a lunch, go to work, then spend the day regretting and wishing to have another job . Being an artist is a marathon of continually getting yourself up, plan new projects to be succeed on a daily basis, then spending nearly every waking hour putting those plans into motion. If you fall short, there’s no one there to yell at you. You’re never going to get fired. No one is going to dock your pay for showing up to work late.
You have to be the type of person who gets themselves out of bed, works hard out of sheer principle, and can apply self-discipline to their daily actions. No one will be there to push you but yourself. So, it’s worth considering whether you are the type of person who needs to be pushed or whether you are a self-starter who does the pushing himself or herself.
Do You Love Business as Much as You Love Photography?
You’ve probably heard this enough but if you want to be a professional photographer, you have to remember that you are not only an artist but also a business owner. Even if yourself have success, it is more than common that the most of your life will not be taking photos, it’s far more probably that your job will be spent marketing, getting clients, managing production costs, billing and everything else that it’s necessary to run a business.
You have to love the business part as much as the photography part in order to sustain yourself and continue to do what you love. Without any doubt, the joy of creating images is the “why” of the equation. But consistent business practices are the “how” you will be able to go from photographing for fun to photographing for a living.
But while almost everyone who falls in love with photography can dream about what it would be like to travel to amazing locations and take unbelievable photos and get an amazing paid, but sometimes can be a lot harder like to wake up at middle of the night to fill paperwork, to send emails, to do a cost-benefit analysis and to decide if the assignment it’s ideal or not in order to meet a specific business objective and hit the fiscal goal.
If you love doing the business side as much as you love taking photographs, the career of professional photograher might be right for you. If you prefer that photography would just be about the images, you might want to consider partnering with someone who is good at the business side or perhaps leaving the photography to be a hobby.
Are you okay with creativity by committee?
Part of being a professional photographer is going on the long and arduous internal journey of defining your creative voice. Learning the exposure triangle and how to use camera and artificial or natural light. But doing the psychological work to understand yourself and how it affects your work is what differenciate you from the competition. You get to a point where you know exactly what a photography means. The world clearly identify your photos from the others photographers without the need to look at the caption.
Then comes the day where the client tells you to change your lighting to expose an image in a way that you wouldn’t choose to photograph. The change in lighting predictably results in what you feel is an horrible image. Of course, you have no choice but you have to to what client are asking.
The larger your productions get, the larger this problem becomes because the number of opinions you are have to consider. You’ve been hired for your creativity but expect to share your opinion with the team. As a commercial photographer, you are part of the team. You are not alone.
Photographing for yourself versus photographing for a client differs completely. In commercial photography, just like any other business, the customer is always right. It might boring for you to have to give their vision. You might argue for your vision to prevail. But, at the end, it is the costumer who writes the checks.
There are, of course, exceptions. If you are photographing independently, the client’s choose to buy or not the final result. Then you are in a position to judge yourself. Or if you are photographing campaigns, editorial content or to personal commissions, then you have to keep in mind that you have to serve somebody.
How Comfortable Are You With Instability?
Remind you a simple lesson, no matter how well established you become, every photographer will eventually go down one day. It doesn’t make you a bad photographer but the market has ups and downs and even the best photographers in the world aren’t necessarily have work all the time.
The bigger your jobs get, the more sporadic they come. You might be able to consistently photograph X number of portrait sessions a week but it’s improblably that you will photograph multiple ad campaigns every week. The income depending on the type and business model of photography you choose. And you will face significantly more uncertainty than if you would have chosen a traditional eight-to-five job where you know exactly where your salary will be come at each month.
Do You Have the Financial Skills to face the Unknown?
Talking about risk because the words “certainty” and “career in the arts” rarely fit into the same sentence, it is important for you to be able to know how to balance your finances as balancing a gimbal. Strong financial planning is a must in order to face those predictable and unpredictable ups and downs in revenue.
2020 it’s a prime example. The sudden stoppage in production across the board reminds us the importance of having a day fund. But pandemic or no pandemic, having a good plan for how you are going to handle your revenue and expenses is the key to staying in business no matter what. To have a plan for how you will continue to fill the pocket during the lean months, especially if you are starting, could be the difference between a successful business.
To be or not to be a good photographer shouldn’t be the key determining factor to go or not to go into business as a photographer. Being extremely good with a camera is the minimum expectation to succeed as a photographer. But just because you are extremely good doesn’t mean that you have to be a professional photographer. It is perfectly straight to keep a daily job or another career you love and leave photography to be the spare time.
But if you are truly decided on turning your love of photography into a business, take a moment to consider the above questions and set your own plan to create the career you want and the life you hope to achieve.