Can I make a living in photography? That is the question!
In hindsight, it really boils down to two things, and two things only: luck, and how badly you want it. Without either, you don’t have a career. Remember, you are going into a profession that has no regulation of standards, cutthroat competition, a highly subjective, non-scalable product, and high capital investment. You can be technically competent, professional, and be ready…but if every potential client you approach says no, or you don’t get a break, then you will ultimately run out of money.
Similarly, you can get jobs thrown at you out of the blue, but if you don’t work to maintain your reputation, nobody is going to come back. Talent is probably the lowest thing on the list because that can be learned and improved upon; the rest of it has to be there to some degree before you start. ‘Wanting it badly’ is a bit more than just desire: it’s the motivating force that makes you chase down just one more lead or go that extra mile to ensure your existing clients are happy, or late nights spent experimenting on a new lighting technique, or thinking about how you could monetize or promote yourself better.
It is the difference between success and falling just short, or specialising in one particular genre or subject and being known for it. It takes a huge amount of passion to maintain this level of effort; I run 14-16 hour days, every day; sometimes more. This site alone eats up 5-6 hours per day, and that’s on top of the actual shooting, processing, client management, accounting and billing, marketing, following up leads, organising logistics and travel etc. There are far easier (and more profitable) ways to make a living – think carefully, because being a professional means delivering what the client wants/expects, and that is often quite different to shooting what you want. In addition, you also need to decide if you can handle the financial and personal tradeoffs this kind of life is going to entail; understanding of accounting and cash-flow is also a must. It definitely isn’t the glamorous fifteen minutes of fame that review-bloggers would like you to believe their lives are; the reality is they’re pretty much making minimum wage from having sold out their soul to advertisers and manufactures. This is not meant to be discouraging, but I’d be remiss if I didn’t give you a realistic picture.
This blog was first written by the great Ming Thein. I thought some of you would appreciate it!
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Photo credits: Christian Delbert.