Photography is enjoying more love than ever before. So many people get into it and so many markets are constantly growing. A few years ago, I thought it was going to be just a passing trend, like so many others, but it looks like I was wrong. At least it’s a trend that seems to be going on for a lot longer than I anticipated. Without a shadow of doubt, this collective desire to be a photographer is rooted in the birth of digital. I’m quite sure that if everything still relied on film, things would look different, even with the Internet as present in our lives as it is. It’s not the case, so it’s not worth getting into at this time.
We all know someone who bought a decent camera, had some satisfying results with their vacation photos and decided they wanted to pursue it as a way to make a living. It might even be you. There is nothing wrong with that and thankfully, a lot of extremely talented photographers emerged this way. But talent doesn’t seem to be the major concern these days. Instead, the real question is that of profitability. Most people want to make a decent living, and the ones who dare, try do so while doing something they love. And photography is very easy to love. I don’t think it’s fair that it has become as accessible as it is, so easy to practice, so different from the amount of effort it takes to create, let’s say, a drawing. Yet photography is not all easy. The tools have just made the process entirely different than it was when everything first started.
I’m not going to argue over the benefits of the democratization of photography. I may do so in a later article, but for now, I just want to shine a light on the question that haunts many aspiring photographers: is it still worth it, as a career? Like all difficult (and good) questions, the answer can’t come in one line, nor can it be the absolute truth. By now you probably know that between black and white there is a lot of grey.
Whether we like it or not, we, the fortunate who live in civilized societies are all, to some extent, career oriented. As I mentioned before, we all want a decent living, and often the joy of doing a good job and doing what you love, surpasses the financial reward. The very first thing in the attempt to answer whether or not photography is still a good career choice, is to acknowledge that the supply is far greater than the demand. There simply are a lot of new photographers, and the lines get thicker day by day. Some of them will probably not last very long, but others will soon realize that it is indeed their life calling. That means another person will have a day’s bread taken away from them. It’s just the ways things go and change isn’t really an option. Adaptation is.
Knowing this less favorable truth, it’s normal to ask yourself if what you’re doing, diving head in into a photography career is the right thing to do. It depends on more than one factor. The market still has a lot of room, but not for all genres. Weddings and events will always be in high demand for photography, simply because people have a tendency to ignore all external factors when it comes to getting married. As you may probably guess, things are quite different if you’re specialized in concert photography or senior portraits.
Photography is also about investments. The gear is being upgraded at the fastest pace so far and because quality is spread everywhere, the absolute best is demanded from serious clients. That costs money and sometimes it takes longer than expected to absorb the investment.
So is it worth it, going into photography full time? I’ve met people from all walks of life and professional backgrounds who put their families as well as their own well being at risk to make the leap. Bankers, teachers, designers or merchandisers. All of them very passionate and full of life. Some made it, some didn’t. There isn’t a particular landmark that says you made it or not, at least nothing other than the ability to make a good living and achieve the appreciation of clients and peers. And last but not least, your inner sense of fulfillment.
There is no real answer because it depends on where you live and work, what the people around you are like, the amount of support you get from your loved ones or if you have enough determination and inner strength to do it all by yourself if you have to. It has a lot to do with talent, but it has more to do with business skills. Sad but true. Can it work? Most definitely.
I think the most important question is if it’s the right career for you. Photography is great, but it’s not for everyone. Nor is advertising, accounting, sales or medical school. It depends on what you expect from life, what you are willing to give up and what makes you “tick”. The life of a photographer is usually that of a freelancer, and that means less security than you would have with a corporate job, or any kind of job for that matter. No paid vacations, medical insurance, dental, etc. If you want any of that, you have to pay for yourself. On the other hand, the working hours are at your own free will, although expect a lot of sleepless nights, especially in the beginning.
Financially, it has to do with what you’re doing, where you’re doing it and how you let people know about it. I guess that’s the only straight answer I can give on the subject. There is no recipe, no “fail safe” method, so don’t let anyone throw sand in your eyes. Ultimately, photography is a good career if you want it to be. Like any other career it involves risks, sacrifices and loss of free time and even a certain amount of damage to personal life. I, for one am not in favor of working a lifetime in a corporate environment solely for the purpose of financial gain, but that’s just me and luckily we are all privileged to live our lives the way we want.
It’s probably not as easy as it used to be thirty or forty years ago, but that again, back then, you would have had an entirely different set of difficulties to overcome on your path to success as a photographer. Nowadays, you have to be a lot more than a photographer. You have to be good at social media, sales, PR, and business. Back then, you had to be a good chemist.
At the end of the day, it’s a lot like any other career: highly competitive, it’s very hard to get to the top and there are huge amounts of work and sacrifice required. It’s also one of the most rewarding things you can do, if you really love photography.