Many of us have dreamed of ditching our day jobs and spending our time working as a professional photographer. After all, photographers get to travel the world, taking photos of breathtaking landscapes, amazing wildlife, beautiful people, fast cars, and all sorts of other fun stuff. It’s a jet-setting lifestyle with plenty of time to relax and have fun with no rules! Right?
There are definitely perks to being a photographer, but for the vast majority of people that make a living from their camera, daily life is less about glitz and glamor and more about making ends meet. Here are four things about life as a pro photographer that many people just don’t know about.
Taking Photos Isn’t the Biggest Part of The Day
You’d think that professional photographers spend the majority of their time actually taking photos, but that is a misconception for sure. Before you can spend time taking photos, you have to drum up business - contacting potential clients, working on branding and marketing, maintaining your website, portfolio, and blog, and other marketing-related duties. There’s all the setup that goes into a photo shoot, from getting your lighting ready to unpacking your gear when you’re in the field. After the shoot, there’s all the time spent in post-processing, working with clients on selecting the pictures they want, creating and sending out invoices, chasing down clients that haven’t yet paid, and other daily business tasks. You get the point.
Many Pro Photographers Have an Unstable Income
One of the downsides of being a self-employed photographer is that you just never really know how much money you’ve got. You might have just completed six weddings with billables in the tens of thousands of dollars, but if all six couples are slow to pay you, what have you got? Nothing.
Many photographers, especially those just starting their careers, approach the end of the month with a little bit of a wince on their face for this very reason. It can be a bit of a crapshoot when it comes to figuring out exactly how much money you’ve got on hand. But to minimize the impact of late-paying or non-paying clients, the key is to stay on top of your paperwork, vigorously (but nicely!) pursue outstanding balances, and stash money away whenever you can to make up for the times that payments are slow to come in.
Not All Clients Are Awesome
Jumping into a career as a photographer is certainly exciting, and can come with many expectations. The jet-setting lifestyle mentioned above is an expectation that’s certainly out there, but a more reasonable expectation is that you will have fun clients that appreciate your hard work and who keep coming back over and over again because you’re so awesome and they’re awesome too.
Unfortunately, that’s a bit of a pipe dream. Although many - most - of your clients will be really great to work with, others definitely won’t be. And as much as that stinks, it’s just part of doing business with the public. Some clients will hate every photo you take. Others will demand reshoots or retouching. Yet others won’t understand why it’s been 48 hours and you still haven’t sent them their proofs. These more difficult clients are usually few and far between, but they can still bring down your vibe pretty fast.
There’s Still Schedules to Keep
Many people perceive professional photography to be a career that lends itself to more freedom. You’re in business for yourself so you can set your hours, work whenever you want, and take an extra long lunch if you please, right?
Again, this couldn’t be further from the truth! Photographers have appointments all day, every day, at least that’s the hope if you want to make a success out of yourself. You might work for yourself, but you certainly can’t be late to your client meetings or photo shoots. No matter how nice it is outside, no matter how sick and tired you are of working in Photoshop, you have to have the self-discipline to keep a schedule and complete the daily tasks set out before you. If you don’t, there will be a lot more long nights and weekends of work ahead to get yourself caught up.
The Final Word
Yes, professional photography has some drawbacks, just like every other job out there. But those drawbacks shouldn’t discourage you from pursuing a career in photography if you so choose. Just being aware that being a photographer is a really hard job will help you make better decisions about how you tackle being a pro. And, if nothing else, that awareness will make you a better photography client!