Recently someone I met told me she is considering to try and change her career and become a photographer. I have fancied the idea myself, but never seriously considered it, and know many people that thought about becoming good at photography at one point or another in their life and get some external validation. If you are considering to become a photographer too or know someone who does, read on!
Are you like the person in the following story?
So, I met this attractive woman of 35: she never held a pro camera in her hands, only owns a phone, and got her entire idea of abandoning her job to pursue photography based on people telling her she takes good photos of places she travelled “and shit”.
She hasn’t really looked up any info on photography whatsoever, and is following the “follow your passion” and “get out of your comfort zone” advice that is now so widely in fashion. While I am all pro self-development (“following your passion”) and expanding your horizon (“getting out of your comfort zone”), I had some doubts about her plans based on how she talked about it.
First off, I think that if you do not even have an urge to look up basic info on “your passion”, and all you like it for is because people praised you, it can hardly be called a passion.
Also: fine if you want to expand your comfort zone and take risks, get out of the rut of your everyday job and life, but you don’t have to jump in completely blind. You can take calculated risks, or at least take some effort to give yourself some basic knowledge and make an educated guess about your chances, and to the very least make a basic list for yourself of your possibilities. (I did that below, so read on if you need inspiration for your own list.)
And finally, people telling you that you are good at something and praising you often surely feels good and boosts your confidence, but what is their praise worth? If you get this praise from people who have no background in photography other than as consumer (facebook, and owning a selfie stick), it is a form of praise of little value compared to praise of people who are hobby photographers and have spent time and money on their hobby, or from pros. Furthermore, if you mainly meet people in nightclubs or based on brief superficial connections (my impression of her), you can get a solid base of ‘followers’ who say whatever you would like to hear, including “get out of your comfort zone” (subtext: “and sleep with me without knowing me”), and “follow your passion” (subtext: “because that is what the cool people say, and if I encourage you to do so using words, you know we are both doing our best to appear cool”). Even if people you know shallowly are good at photography, you need to take their praise and encouragement with a grain of salt if there is a possibility they hope to someday shove something of their body in one or more holes of your body, and willing to tell you whatever in the hope of getting those backstage passes.
So should you abandon your job to become a photographer?
That depends entirely on your willingness in how far you are willing to go to make money out of photography.
Making money with taking good shots of touristic places? That is like hoping to sell air or any other freely available commodity for which there is no intrinsic demand for buying. Therefore, if you want to try and make a living selling nice pics of touristic places, your most important asset will be not your photography skills, but to have a business mindset. There is no other way to make money from it. Pretty much like art: there are plenty of talented artists who don’t get much money, and only a handful (who tell good stories, and basically are clever marketeers) that do. They can be good artists, but aren’t always the best at it: they are just the best marketeers!
In short: if there if no demand, you need to create it. If you want to sell, you need to market yourself, become a brandname (again like in art: it is not the art that sells, it is the name associated with it), create a recognizable style, exploit social media, get press attention, participate in events where you are likely to be noticed by potential clients interested in buying, or are likely to be noticed by potential investors interested in funding you. And you need psychology, to better predict which kind of pictures will stand out AND be in demand AND which will help you brand yourself. Quality of your photographs alone is definitely not enough. At least not if you are considering to quit your job to pursue this idea for a living.
Making money with nature photography
In addition to the above marketing skills also being necessary for this, having good shots of nature requires extra skill. Especially lots of patience, planning and luck: although lucky shots do happen and you just happen to catch something on picture, if you want to make money out of this, you need to plan carefully: what will the weather be like? What time is the sunrise? What time is the sunset? Where can I expect to find the animal or view or both that I want to take shots of? How many alternatives do I have available? How long does it take to get there?
You will need to be patient: once on spot, you cannot expect a snow leopard or even a fox to just appear and hang around long enough for you to take out your camera while you are walking around searching the perfect spot. Or if you want that artistic looking night picture: adjusting your shutter time and patiently waiting for that ‘click’ to happen. And also: reading your manual and knowing how to use shutter time.
And yes, luck does come in play too.
Making money with taking good shots of people?
Open a shop where people can come for passport pictures and be prepared to go to countless weddings of strangers just to make pictures of them. If that sounds too boring for you, maybe you should consider being a hobby photographer above all else, because this is how most ‘pro’ photographers earn their money, or started out making money.
In slightly less demand, but still workable for making money: work for a modeling agency or open one yourself. As a heterosexual male photographer, this line of work provides no extra guarantees in money making than it does for a female photographer, but according to rumour for men it is a good ‘profession’ or ‘hobby’ if you want to shove your penis in the vagina of lots of beautiful girls. But only if you are willing to exploit such girls’ vanity, insecurities, and if you are prepared to make them feel good one moment, then take it away the next and put girls on edge so they want to get that good feeling back and would do anything to get it from you. Also: be prepared to have your advances rejected a lot, and met with disdain or drama every now and then.
And an often overlooked avenue of serious money: become a paparazzo! (Except if you live in France, Germany or Norway: laws there require permission of the photographed people.) Buy yourself a good camera with a very good telelens, a short ladder to prevent people blocking your view or just a modified selfie stick, and a scooter or motorcycle for your ‘hunt’. Know that one picture is worth at least a few hundreds to thousands of euros! While living a loathed profession, this type of photographer must be multitalented (build a reliable social network to stay informed, be mobile, be patient, be quick, be bold, be a great negotiator to get your stuff sold at the most profitable price or guaranteeing you can sell more later.) Here is a list of 10 types of shots that always sell: (1) serious cleavage or just breasts, (2) celebs being cute (with kids or pets), (3) new rings that could fuel rumors of a new engagement/upcoming wedding, (4) personal interactions between celeb and other person (holding hands, hugging, kissing), (5) weight gain/loss or baby bumps, (6) new trends, (7) celebs looking shabby (baggy clothes, lack of make-up), (8) close-ups that could fuel rumors of plastic surgery, (9) holiday pictures revealing their shape, (10) designer clothing.
I probably didn’t cover every possible avenue of doing potography for a living, but this is off the top of my head, and is at least somewhat more detailed than the girl I know who considered quitting her work to become a photographer after spending all her money traveling and partying every night…