The sharing of my opinions below, was inspired by a friend who recently was forced to change from being a full time professional photographer, to a pro with a day job. Every day there are image makers being forced to make that same journey.
I’ve lamented many times on these pages on how most of the professional photographers people see on social media, are not really full timers. They have other sources of income, such as other jobs. Often it is a partner or spouse with a job that makes it possible. I did that myself at one time thanks to the kind woman that I was married to. That too has its limits. I myself have traveled back and forth between full time professional photography, part time, and being a hobbyist. Only recently have I become a “former” photographer. There’s nothing wrong with any of those avenues except that last one.
Being a full time photographer will make you feel like a million dollars. Unfortunately you will never actually even see a million dollars as a photographer.
Practicing the hobby of photography will allow you to lead a complete and full life. The kind with friends and family. You may however, eventually become a former photographer if you do not have enough passion for it. Hobbies come and go.
Most professional photographers are indeed part time. If you take this route, you will be tired from your day job. It takes energy and extreme passion to never quit when you are a part timer. I am proud to say that during my times as a part time professional photographer, I always continued to make pictures, and submit them (often successfully) to magazines and books. At times my day job, was approximately 70 hours per week. Much of that was before computers and digital photography. Working a day job and making submissions is difficult today, you can multiple that “at least” by ten for the pre-digital/computer era. The blessing of being a part timer is, the lack of worry about money. You will at least know where your next meal will come from. You can buy new equipment when you need it, and with digital photography, you will always need new equipment.
I have said a million times on this blog, well, okay not a million but a lot, that for outdoor photographers, the secret to making a living at it is workshops. Selling art is great. Selling stock (my favorite) is great. Giving slide shows and public speaking is great. I have done all of the above (less selling art). Once you begin to establish yourself as a workshop teacher, and that is not easy, that will become the center piece of your professional life. There is more money to be made in workshops, than anywhere else. I have come to realize that making income from workshops is not just for outdoor photographers but fashion photographers, product photographers, travel photographers, photojournalists, and most others.
Getting people to attend your workshops is another issue. I have taught group workshops with only one student. I once did an out of town group workshop with a partner, where we had only one student. I have also done successful workshops. I once attempted to teach 17 participants all by myself. So how do you get enough participants?
You have to create new images, and do so continually, and share the sort of pictures that at least a majority of likely customers will like. Those potential customers should say to themselves, I wish I could do that. They have to like you, or at least find you compelling and the sort of person who they want to learn from. On your website, blog or on social media, give people “little slices” of what you know. Your knowledge. Tips they can use. Enough to wet their whistles, but leave them wanting more. Price yourself fairly, but don’t give it away. If you charge $25 per person for a workshop, most people won’t think you are worth traveling across town for much less a 100 miles or more. If you (try to) charge $2,000 per person, you will probably make zero from your unattended workshops.
You have to be able to communicate the technical aspects of your (and their) image making first, and then the creative side. Maybe some of the top photographer, workshop teachers, don’t need to talk Xs and Os, but someone will almost always ask.
Remember, out of town workshops at famous places, need to be arranged with the location (national park etc.), and you will need to purchase insurance and lay out your day (s) and night (s), flawlessly.
A small business person of any kind, has to perpetually sell themselves. Sometimes that can be easier and less demeaning than actually selling the pictures. It’s hard to always suggest to others to spend their money with you on anything, and it’s the part I least enjoyed about professional photography. As a young commercial photographer in the 1970s, I actually called on businesses personally (no internet) to sell them on the idea of either putting my prints up in places like lobbies, or to purchase things like post cards or brochures from me with my work on it. Again, not a favorite part of photography for me.
Being a full time photographer many years ago was way easier than it is today. Everybody has top equipment today, and thousands of great image makers are sharing their work on social media. There are photographers out there willing to practically give away stock imagery just to get published, and prints so they can call themselves an artist. You have to find something to set yourself apart. That said, in my opinion, the friend that inspired this article did those things beautifully. Sometimes giving everything is not enough.
When it comes to making a living at what we love, we try to do what we want to do, but will end up doing what we have to do.
Throughout my pro photography days, I always made time for myself to make my own personal pictures, whether anybody wanted them or not. Even as a commercial photographer, I would disappear into the mountains and make pictures just for me. Never lose who you are as a photographer. It won’t make you a better pro to forget why you began making pictures in the first place.
Whether photography is your vocation, a form of artistic release, or an escape from a day job, you might be participating in the world’s most popular pursuit. I am proud to have pursued it seriously all the way from the time when most people only made pictures of Aunt Emma and Uncle Leopold at the family reunion, until digital imaging helped the entire world become photographers.
One of the things I miss most about photography is the individual subjects that I photographed. There were/are subjects that are around us, that you rarely see if you are not in the business of looking for them as a photographer.
Most of the images I have made of the beautiful hawk we call the Osprey, were created only about thirty minutes from where I live. Since I quit photography, I have never seen another one. I am not surprised at that fact.
Notice the difference in the whiteness of the birds in these three shots. That is the color of light as it evolves during the morning.
Have a great day and may God Bless, Wayne