Perhaps you have been photographing for a while. Regardless of the genre, you’re quite good, everyone around you thinks so (and not just your mom and partner/spouse, they don’t tend to be impartial). Maybe it’s time to take the show on the road and go pro?
The question then becomes should you become a professional photographer? The usual answer is yes, right? But what if there are other options? Consider the following …
Do you like being told what to do and working long hours?
Often as a professional photographer, you don’t get to pick and chose what you shoot. Sure, some stick to their guns, but they have already paid their dues, done the hard work and made a name for themselves. When you are just starting out, it is hard. Sometimes you have to take jobs and photograph things that are NOT your preferred choice.
You also can have to deal with some really long hours. Sure there is the photoshoot and the edit, but that is just part of the job. There are accounts and bills, chasing invoices, advertising/marketing and so much more. Running your own business (whether it is photography or not) can be hard work.
Do you like a lack of creative freedom?
So you can pick a genre to shoot, but you don’t always have the creative freedom to shoot how you like. If you are lucky you can, but more often than not your client will dictate what they want. Especially in the field of product or food photography.
Granted they usually come to you because they like your style, and once a relationship has built up, they can often learn trust you to do what suits the subject best.
Working with portraits is not always as glamorous as it seems, working with children and babies can be fraught without its own perils too. Sure the end results look cute and happy and sweet, but ask any family photographer and it’s not all kisses and rainbows.
Do you like begging for work?
Oh, the early days of being a professional photographer, it feels like you are begging for work, you give away far more than you should. You even cut your prices to the bone, just to compete with the two million other photographers in your area. And it feels like you are working for nothing.
There is the glittering promise of making loads of money and a name for yourself. It’s a bit like Hollywood — everyone wants to be a star, but not everyone does.
But wait, there’s more …
I know I paint a bad picture, but it’s not all doom and gloom! If you actually have a great job and love it, there is NOTHING wrong in being a super keen amateur and just taking the occasional paid gig. That way you have the security of your normal 9-5 job and the fun of picking the choice work you actually DO want. Often you can build up a clientele that in turn could turn into a profitable career, or at least have fun doing what you love and maybe making enough money to fund that new lens or piece of camera gear.
Alternatively, if you really want to become a professional photographer, go for it. There are loads of photographers making a decent living, why shouldn’t you be one of them? This might just be the ticket for you. Perhaps you’re possibly more flexible than me, or more a workaholic. So are so dedicated to being a professional that you are happy to take the good with the bad, that’s great. But if not, there are other options.
Do you have something more to offer?
Think about this … who teaches photographers? Who educates them in anything and everything? Maybe you have something more to offer than nice photographs.
I spent several years trying to ‘make’ it as a photographer, I was forever being told I was so good people should be lining up to my studio door and I should be picking and choosing my jobs, sadly that was not always the case. Truth. But when I switched from a professional photographer to a professional educator, it suddenly became quite different.
Are you an effective teacher?
I have a unique photographic style, and I am also quite good technically with gear and software. People are always asking me how I did this, how I did that. I have been told I explain things in an easy and understandable way. I make learning less stressful and even fun. In short, I am an effective teacher. So becoming an educator seemed a natural step. Don’t get me wrong, I found it quite difficult at first. My first workshop was small and I was terrified.
But I found out really quickly, that I did, in fact, know WHAT I was talking about. Word of my workshops spread quickly, much quicker than being a photographer. In no time they were booked out. So I offered larger workshops, they also sold out. I started adding a variety of workshop styles and themes, from still life to creative portraits. They still sold out. My following increased and I started getting asked to be a guest speaker at camera clubs and photographic societies. Fun but also VERY scary.
You have to enjoy it
I am not saying it’s not a lot of work — it is. But it is also the kind of work I enjoy. The best educators, in my opinion, are the ones who truly love what they are doing. Nothing makes you learn more and faster than being an educator. I NEED to know more than my students. If I don’t know something I am completely honest, but endeavor to find the answer.
The saying, “don’t bullsh*t the bullsh*itter …” don’t try to teach something you don’t understand. People can smell a phony a mile away. Be honest and truthful. But don’t be afraid to jump in and continually learn new stuff. People love that you are ever-expanding your repertoire.
So, should you go pro?
Well, to be honest, it’s totally up to you. If you really want to be a professional photographer, then do it! Just make sure you have a safety net, financially. This is one business that can take a while. But, if you are not sure, then don’t. It is a bit of a gamble, to be totally honest.
But that doesn’t mean you can’t be a professional. Take your passion and your voice and turn it into something else. There is always room for bloggers, vloggers and educators. Do what you love and you might be surprised at what follows. There ARE options.
Not everyone finds their fairy tale happy ending. Don’t get me wrong — I still like doing the occasional client shoot, but I don’t give away my time and my craft. I have more fun teaching and creating fun new themes to run, than I ever did just taking portraits.