I love photography. From the first moment I looked through the viewfinder of my Mother’s Canon AE1 I knew this was more than an easy high school credit, it was a passion. Nearly thirty years later I still feel the spiritual thrill of taking photos. Like many who follow their passions, I’ve sought to capitalize on my passion. After all Confucius said “Find a job you love and you will never work a day in your life”, and let me be unequivocal in my reply: “Confucius is full of shit”.
First and foremost, anyone who believes being a photographer is not work, and HARD work, is not doing it right. Spend eight hours grinding your way through a wedding and come back to tell me how it’s not work. Stand in the baking sunshine shooting a big outdoor event, stooping, squatting, kneeling, chasing shots, sweat pouring off your body and steaming up the viewfinder and remind me how easy photography is as a job. Ask a photojournalist covering breaking news story in a dangerous environment staggering out of a tear gas cloud if she feels as though she’s put in a full day for her pay.
This is predicated on finding someone willing to PAY you for your services. Scroll the “photographer wanted” section of Craigslist and you will see “TFCD“, meaning the person posting this would like your talents but has no intention of compensating you. It’s a great deal really, I spend thousands of dollars on equipment, years learning a skill and invest time out of my day to take photographs for you and in return I get “images for my portfolio”. Well, damn that is mighty generous of you! I only have twelve thousand photographs in my digital archive, this dozen will surely be the ones offering me that Big Break! There are also the random emails I get each week from some company or designer building a website asking to use my shots. Their offered compensation: “Great exposure”. Wow! You mean the infinitesimally small photo credit at the bottom of the page no one will ever see will bring me riches and fame? Gosh, I should do that on my website! I’m fortunate they offered, most of the time the image is just stolen outright.
I don’t make a living from my photography, it’s a sideline where I am incredibly fortunate to pick up the occasional a few hundred dollars. Every job is a gift, a little extra cash to flesh out bank accounts or reinvest in equipment. I appreciate every client who offers me work or buys my images because they are feeding my passions, not my profession. I am able to continue doing something I love because random strangers see the time, energy and talent I pour into the effort. I exist in the widening gray area between full-time professional photographer and semi-professional photographer. (For lack of a better term.) When asked to choose between passion and profession, I chose passion.
I grounded my choice in this matter firmly in reality. To “Make the jump to pro” as the photography blogs bleat, a photographer needs to understand some things about themselves before they make a decision. I think the most important and least asked question: “Do you suck at photography?”. Based on my research very few people ask this question before they become a “professional“. Only slightly less important is: “Are you willing to treat this like a business?”. By this I mean have a business plan, investment money and the willingness to struggle as it grows? I believe most people think their passion is all they need to make photography their profession, allow me to disabuse them of this notion. If you go into a business, any business, with passion alone IT IS GOING TO FAIL. Sorry.
Finally, if you answered the previous two question properly, I ask the final: “Are you sure you want to give up this passion for money?”. Once you trade it away, there are no promises you will feel it any longer. I’ve taken jobs where I hate every second I am shooting. Standing in uncomfortable clothes while people eat rubber chicken dinners and listening to bad speeches while snapping shots of some old guy rambling at a podium is hardly the compelling original imagery I love. All it is is a painfully boring and a paycheck. Nothing kills passion like a paycheck. I answered the first two questions in the affirmative, the negative answer to the final `keeps me safely on the part-time side.
I guess I can summarize my point by contrasting two people. The best photographer I know takes photographs I would sacrifice my testicles to capture. He blends technical sophistication and pure talent to make hands down some of the best photography I’ve witnessed outside of masters of field. Steve, for that is his name, could be a top professional photographer anywhere and any time, yet he chose passion over profession. (To be fair, he is also a doctor which means he spent years building a career in medicine. If he is one half as a good as a doctor as he is a photographer he must be a medical genius!)
On the other hand, we have Blackwolf up there. Here is a man who made his passion his profession. I leave it to reader to infer what they will.