Becoming a Professional Photographer: Is It Worth It?

I wrote this article a year ago but wasn’t ready to release it into the world.
I think it’s time…

professional-photographer-france

Sometimes, when I’m up late at night, editing images or answering emails, I begin to wonder if it’s all worth it. If it’s worth pursuing a career or business in your passion and really going for it. I question the time I spend working and ask myself if the rewards are worth the price you have to pay. I never question whether I will continue to pursue my passion, the question is at what level. Why not just be an advanced amateur, rather than a professional striving to make a living and life as a photographer?

Have you ever asked yourself that question? Maybe when rent is due and bills need to be paid? Or perhaps when you have to deal with insurance agents and private healthcare? Or it could be when you’re up at 1 am still working, when all you really want to do is crawl into your comfortable bed and get a full night’s sleep?

Of course, for some, there isn’t much struggle. They pick up a camera and are an instant success. They open a Twitter account and immediately have 10,000 followers. Their Facebook page is full of friends and they have to start a new account for all their fans. Often those are the photographers held up for all to see. They’re teaching workshops and seminars (sold out, of course) and blog about their globe-trotting escapades. All the while, you’re at home buried under past due images and orders that need to be processed. (I may exaggerate a bit, but not much.)

While I’m not discounting or minimizing their success, I will be honest and say that they are not the rule. They are the exception. And as the exception, that means we’ve got to stop setting that standard as the norm or expectation for success and forward progress. Reminds me of a saying from the 90’s “Stop the Insanity!”

Is anyone with me? Certainly I am not alone. So what can you do when it feels like you’re sacrificing more than you’re gaining, whether it’s time, energy, security, or even money. I’ve come up with three strategies for transforming my vision and outlook. Perhaps they’ll work for you…

Cultivate your vision: A primary reason I get discouraged is losing the big picture of why I’m doing what I’m doing. So don’t let that happen to you. Start by making sure you have a crystal clear vision of where you’re going: whether it’s as specific as the number of clients and gigs you want or more about the lifestyle you want your business to support.

If you haven’t done this yet, stop reading right now and take five minutes to write down or even draw a picture of where you are headed. I won’t get into all the psycho-babble about why you have to write it down, but I will tell you that if you do write down your goals, you’ll be in the top 2 – 4% of all Americans (depending on what study you read). Now that is one way to start differentiating yourself right now!

Make it plain: Plain doesn’t mean boring, it means keep it in plain sight, somewhere you can see it every single day. You’ve heard that before, but have you done it? Don’t tell me you keep it all in your head because that is not the best place for it. As photogaphers, most of us are visual learners, which means that the more we see something, the more it will create a memory and connection in our minds and hearts.

So post your vision where you can see it: right above your computer monitor, next to your bed, on your bathroom mirror. This is easy and powerful.

Stop the insanity: Has this ever happened to you? Your day is going great, you’re feeling productive, so you take a quick break to hop on Twitter, Facebook, or browse a few fellow photog blogs. Then you see someone’s post about their amazing, super-fabulous, uber-incredible photo shoot and everything starts to unravel… no motivation, no inspiration, no energy. It is so easy to get derailed by one email, blog post, or tweet. So don’t let it get to you. Know your weaknesses and set up and maintain clear boundaries. Protect your creative spirit, it’s the only one you’ve got. If you don’t, who will?

As I continue to pursue my passion, I am constantly learning how to put the above three steps into place. When I remember them, I’m so much more fulfilled and content with who and where I am on the journey. When I let myself slip, I find my creativity sapped and my momentum start to fade. Don’t let that happen to you. Let’s commit together to make a change in our habits today. Are you with me?

If so, would you accept this challenge to do all three of the above? I’d love to hear what your vision is in the comments. I’ll be writing more about this topic and my ongoing professional transformation in upcoming articles. If you’d like to stay inspired, get updates and find out about DAILY DELIGHT with free wallpapers for desktops and mobile devices, it’s easy to sign up. Would love to have you join me for the journey in 2013!

Image Note: The image above of the photographer with the massive lens was taken in August 2012 near Chateau Vincennes, a stunning castle on the outskirts of Paris, France. It took us two days and countless metro rides to find this lake, at once both stunning and simple. A lake is a lake. Or is it? At first, I wondered. And then I began to photograph the budding fall colors of the trees reflected in the still pools of water and I knew. I understood. But more on that later.

Comments

  1. You’re not a lone at all! I get that sort of feeling all. the. time. Especially when it comes to paying the bills and there haven’t been any clients a in a while. And it’s so easy to get caught up in what everyone else is doing and allow myself to go into a downward spiral of “I suck!” But you’re right, I have to keep the big picture in mind and keep it in front of me so that I can SEE it! I want my business to support a lifestyle that allows for the freedom to travel and see the world, to help pay the bills to live a comfortable life and make it possible to build some savings! I want to photograph 12 weddings and 20 seniors. I try to stop the insanity as much as possible in my life by closing out of Facebook during the day and only checking Twitter twice a day. I think Instagram has become my favorite social media platform because it is visual. Thanks for this post, Tasra! Hope you, Ron, and the kids are great! 🙂

    • Catie! It’s so great that you not only know what you want to photograph, but also that you know the why. That you’re choosing a profession to support a way of life that connects and supports your bigger desires for life. So thrilled for you and look forward to continuing to see your art out in the world!

  2. Katrina Wheeler says:

    Great post Tasra 🙂 You are so great at writing 🙂 Thanks for the encouragement!

    • Thank you Katrina!! That means so much to me. I’m so happy you were encouraged! We all need that more!

  3. Great post. I think many creatives should consider if the pursuit of their passion would best be done “on the side.” Turning your passion into a business can often kill that passion.

    Thanks for sharing your heart!

    • You know we’ve had many long talks about this. Thanks for your constant encouragement and support to follow whatever dream tugs at my heart.

    • This is an interesting and through provoking comment. I often wonder if doing something “on the side” amounts to a decision that it will be a hobby and not a business, especially if the work requires *your* time in order to get done. Nothing wrong with either a hobby or a business, but to make a passion profitable enough to pay the bills usually requires more of an investment of time and money than “on the side” contemplates. I’d love to know what others think too! Thanks for this interesting post, Tasra.

      • Donna Maria, that is exactly what I’m saying. In order to preserve one’s love for their craft, they may be better off keeping it as a hobby, and getting a different job to pay the bills. I know that’s something I’ve even wrestled with personally. I love the craft of filmmaking, but sometimes all the other stuff sucks the joy right out of it. It can be a tough balance sometimes.

        • … And then to complicate things, the passion and joy we feel (and I’m not a photographer, just a fellow creative entrepreneur) can come and go in ebbs and flows. Given any number of situations, with the same amount of stress and pressure, we can feel jubilant about our creative work. Other days, we feel sucked dry by it. This dynamic situation sometimes makes it hard for us to make a decision about whether it will be a “real” business or not. It’s not a static thing. This is where I have found it helpful to hire people to do the part of the work we hate. Of course this often means raising prices, dealing with increased tax burdens and last but not least, other people’s personalities. I have been very blessed with good assistants and they do a lot of the work I don’t like to do so I can focus on what I like. It’s not easy, but every time I think about that office I once worked in .. and talk to my colleagues who are still there, I realize that I’m right where I’m supposed to be. Everyone has to choose what works best for them.

          And by the way, this blog is so cool! Tasra has changed it since I was last here. I love the images. You guys do amazing work. Everything you video and photograph and edit is beautiful! Happy New Year!

          • You’ve hit the nail on the head… it’s not just one or the other, passion or profit. Even the passion has a natural up and down flow to it. So if you’re dealing with issues that mess with that natural flow or you’ve got profit pressure and a passion slump at the same time it can be extremely detrimental to a creative mindset and output!

        • He’s speaking truth here. I can attest to that.

  4. Teresa Blunier says:

    Tasra, I have these thoughts too, but I have written down my goals and none of them include “superstar photographer” so I’ve taken that off my plate! I have two solid goals…shoot 30 $2500 weddings per year. (Yes for the first time ever I actually turned down 4 brides that wanted to book me for $1500!) Scary! but it doesn’t meet my goal. Someone else will come along to fill those spots (I tell myself and hope that it is true!). My other goal is to meet as many interesting and fun people as I can this year. It doesn’t matter what they do or what they can do for me. It’s about filling my life with people I love to be with. That’s it. And I’m still working on the “stop the insanity” part. I’m not sure that is possible with a full time job, a studio, three kids, and a husband that travels a good part of the month. I am so easily sidetracked by FB too! I check it incessantly, but that is how I connect with many of my brides and I am lightning fast with my responses back to them and that gets noticed, so I guess it’s not all bad!

    • I am not at all surprised that you’ve got your goals written down. You are clear and motivated and continue to pursue and dream big dreams because of that clarity. Could you use a little more sanity and breathing room… sure. A little less FB… of course. But I really see you continuing to follow your own path, be true to your personality, and connect authentically with others. Those are things I most admire in you!

  5. My vision will eventually become more specific, but I want to replace my current income, and then some, with my camera. I wrote down my current goals. The first is shooting sports, employing a few photographers to help with sporting events, outsource post-production (a difficult one to let go of) and have online ordering – that will actually get orders! I want to change up the youth sports photography way of doing things, but not sure how yet. I will also continue pursuing senior portraits. I want my studio to be in-house because I want to eventually own a house similar to what I’m renting that has tons of options for shooting inside and out. I want to combine sports and senior portraits.
    My dream would be if I were asked or had the opportunity to shoot professional sporting events and athletes.

    • Yay for writing down your goals. Sounds like the workshop you attended helped you get some clarity, even if it felt a bit out of place. Excited to see where your dreams take you this year!

  6. Your article was very inspiring, thank you for sharing. I consider myself a semi-pro photographer still holding down a regular full-time job, married with three active children. Most days I don’t get to bed till the wee hours of the morning (editing, replying e-mails) but what drives me is the passion. Last year I did 10 weddings, three fashion shoots a couple of fashion shows, countless birthdays and other stuff. In my heart of hearts I would love to do photography full-time and I do know that at some point something’s gotta give as I can’t continue burning the candle at both ends continuously.
    More importantly, I sort of lost focus in the midst of my hustle and bustle so reading your article really made me stop and ponder.
    This year, I want to take jobs that will be fulfilling to both parties as opposed to looking at the financial gain (hope that doesn’t come across a little conceited!)
    I don’t want to get “burned out” with no artistic or creative edge to my work so I feel I may need to pause, regroup and prioritize.
    Even self doubt sometimes creeps into the equation when I’ve viewed works by other photographers but I have a true and genuine passion for photography so, maybe I just need to take things one step and a day at a time…

    • Sounds like you’ve got the right mindset… the challenge will be maintaining it when the calls come in for jobs that aren’t in line with your passion or after long sleepless nights. You definitely want to maintain the passion without getting burned out and being able to sustain a long creative career!

  7. This is really great. I especially love the three steps. Although I know that I need to be proactive in protecting my “creative spirit” and gaining a clearer focus, I don’t because I’m not even sure what I’m doing wrong. Reading this has certainly extinguished that excuse, so thank you! Btw, the images you’ve included in this post are beautiful!

    • You’re so right about the importance of protecting your creative spirit. I’m not sure if there’s anything quite as important.

  8. Seun Idowu says:

    Amazingly inspiring!

  9. Lovely image, Ms. Dawson. Such a peaceful vibe. Well seen and composed. Appreciate the way the foliage frames the upper third of the image and the lake, in 3/4 fashion. As pertains to your article, I hear you. Been there. Still go there every now and then, in fact. But….as long as the passion burns….it will always be worth it. All the best to you.

    Cheers.

  10. Maya Laurent says:

    Tasra, this post is wonderful. Such truth in an industry that feels like “rockstars” come out of thin air and so many hope to be that overnight. Keep up what you are doing…your honesty and passion shine through.

    • Your words are always so encouraging and inspiring to me Maya! It’s wonderful knowing other like-minded creatives like you and your husband as we all pursue this artistic road!

  11. Stumbled upon this article and was so blessed by your honesty. The why has become so much more clear to me in the past year. Focusing on the why and not the “Exceptional” has been such a relief of pressure for me. Not having to worry about being like everyone else or doing what the others are doing gives you the ability to STRIVE on your own. I hope you and the family are doing well.

    • Hi Michelle! So wonderful to hear from you. Sounds like you are doing great. So happy to hear it. 🙂