Being a photographer is fun. Or is it? The good news is that it can be fun. But you have to know some hard truth that photographers sometimes don’t tell.
It is not a secret that I run private coaching and will soon expand to running free webinars and paid workshops for photographers. The studio I use is also sometimes rented out to other photographers. This is all to say that I meet a lot of different creatives at different stages in their careers. More often than not, I see beginner photographers getting into the industry thinking it’s all sunshine and rainbows. As much as it breaks my heart to tell some harsh realities to beginners, I do it because I wish someone did this to me when I picked up a camera. Here are some harsh truths my coachees have heard from me in the past.
It Is Not a Get-Rich-Quick Scheme
It is a common stereotype that photographers have an amazing lifestyle of pleasure. I mean, just look at what they have to do? Take one picture, be praised for it, and get paid a ridiculous amount of money.
So, you may think that the moment you become a photographer, you automatically get given unlimited access to money. The truth is the exact opposite: photography can be a drain on your resources.
There are a million better ways to get rich quickly or at least faster than with photography. You can pick a more conventional career or perhaps even a lucrative one: just think of the prospects of being a lawyer. The career path towards becoming one is a lot clearer, in my opinion, and you will make a lot more than an average photographer.
Just to be clear, a get-rich-quick scheme is usually a scam. So, don’t fall for something that is too good to be true, because chances are, it will be a scam.
You Won’t Be Shooting Most of the Time
So, as photographers, we must shoot all the time? Well, not really. Just like with most middle-class jobs in the 21st century, we spend our days in front of the screen. For most working professionals, photography is a daily job like any other. Freelancing is not a “work two hours a week to get money” thing, it requires a lot more structure and work than a conventional job because you are your own boss.
Most of the time, you are in the office. This includes stuff like marketing, accounting, managing productions, editing, and drinking coffee. Lastly, if you are planning to be a professional photographer, you need to have a coffee addiction (I’m kidding, of course).
I would rather shoot, but ironically, I can’t do that for more than three full days. I need a break after. Luckily, editing and other business stuff make sure I get a break.
The Technique Is Only a Small Fraction of What You Need to Know
Knowing how to take a technically correct picture is good. It is the first step to being a photographer. So, once you learn technique, the actual art begins. It’s like being a writer: you need to learn the letters and how to use MS Word first.
With art, you really need to know your subject. Let’s go through a few genres and see what knowledge you may need in order to create relevant imagery that is viable (commercially).
Before going further, I would like to stress, that you need to know stuff beyond technique in order to be a commercial photographer. Most hobbyists won’t need this knowledge.
Working photographers in the fashion industry must know fashion. This means understanding the aesthetics of brands, magazines, countries, and more. Did you notice that US Vogue is more geared toward sexy commercial images, while Italian is more towards art? Or perhaps the difference between L’Officiel and Tatler aesthetics? A working photographer must be able to know the industry inside-out. Why? Well because if you send your client the wrong treatment or reference images, you won’t get the job.
Some People Will Do All They Can to Destroy Your Career
There are a lot of people who think too much of themselves. They will find every opportunity to show off their connections and then will attempt to destroy your career in any way they can. The first time it happened to me, I was scared. I mean, at that point, I thought I met someone with a great network that I can tap into. Sadly, after a few disagreements, the person said that they will do everything to destroy my career and reputation. Guess what? They didn’t. No one can destroy it, only you yourself. There isn’t a single person who decides whether you can be a photographer or not. Luckily, the industry is big enough to offer opportunities to everyone who’s good enough.
I know for a fact that people made calls and asked clients to not work with me. I also know a lot of other photographers who had that happen to them. Almost in all cases, most clients won’t listen if they like working with you. Producers, agents, and other folk think they can destroy your career. They can’t. The industry is not blind, and people will work with you, but not with the person who tried to “ruin” your career. Focus on your work, and stop caring about petty folks trying to hurt you. I promise you, there will be a lot of them.
You Are Criticized a Lot
It is easy to say and admit, but it’s a lot harder to experience. Despite my biggest efforts to not give too much attention to all the criticism, I get from all over the place, starting with my family and finishing with people I don’t know. As much as I don’t take it too seriously and consider it an interesting point of view, it still can be somewhat painful. It’s hard to fully detach yourself from your work, as there is a big part of you in it. That may not be so in the commercials, but definitely in the test shoots that you do. An article on criticism and how to deal with it is coming soon, as this is a topic worth discussing.
So, there you have it: things I hate telling my coachees. Of course, these are the most common ones. Sometimes, I have to tell people to change their Instagram bio or do other things like focus on the genre and not gear. The point is that being a photographer is not a glamorous job. As a matter of fact, I am writing this very sentence from a night train, not from a first-class private jet.