6 Reasons Why You Should Never Become a Professional Photographer

I hate to be the bearer of bad news but being a professional photographer is not always as amazing as you may think. Here's why choosing something else as a profession may actually be a better option.

Talking about being something other than a professional photographer or bashing the industry are two popular topics of conversation that come up regularly when I speak with my peers. Could this be more to do with the type of people I surround myself with and not the profession as a whole? It's possible. Although, I do also hear similar noises from many other industries that are not photographic related. The consensus always seems to be that turning a hobby or passion into a profession can suck all the joy out of it. Let's take a look at some of the reasons why this may be the case.

1. The Image of a Professional Photographer Is Not What You Think It Is

If you believed everything you saw on social media, you'd probably have an incorrect image of what it's like to be a professional photographer. Glamorous photoshoots, exotic locations, celebrity subjects, and prestigious brands knocking on your door every day. While all of the above can be true, it's far from the average. What you don't see as often online is the boring photoshoots, the controlling clients, the art directors with no imagination, the horrible locations, and the monotonous days photographing the same thing over and over and over again. The main thing I want would-be professional photographers to know is that it's not all glamorous. Quite often, you are given strict briefs that allow very little input. The worst is when a client will hand you a tare sheet of some other photographer's work and you're told to recreate that image exactly. At this stage, you are little more than a camera operator in my opinion. I personally find that the bigger the budget and the more people involved, the less I'm able to express the real me creatively. This isn't the end of the world, and many of you may like these restraints. On the other hand, if you're used to being the boss and making images on your own terms, you're going to be in for a bit of a shock in the commercial world. A fellow photographer I know described it best when they said: "Being a professional is like doing the hobby you love but on other people's terms."

2. The Money Can Be All Over the Place

Being a freelance photographer can be feast or famine at times. I have earned five figures working with a big client for several weeks. I have also earned close to minimum wage when I factor in all the unforeseen work involved in some shoots. The number of days you work will vary too. Some months you'll be block-booked, while other months you may have very little on at all. All these numbers are going to vary dramatically depending on which area of the industry you work in. One thing which is more universal when being a photographer is that the job can be a hard slog both physically and mentally. The hours can be unpredictable and there are definitely easier and more consistent jobs out there. If a routine and regular income are important factors in your decision for picking a job, then being a professional photographer may not be the right profession for you.

3. You May Stop Making Personal Work

When you're working every waking hour to be a successful professional photographer, it can be hard to find the time or motivation to make work that is just your own. This phenomenon doesn't always happen overnight but I have seen it creep into some photographer's behavior over time. Some photographers may feel guilty doing something for themselves when they could be doing "real" paid work for a client. Obviously, this is the wrong approach to have as it's vitally important to carve out time to make work for yourself. Clients like to see it and your skillset will always benefit from doing new things. Still, the last thing many working photographers want to do at the end of a busy week is even more photography. This means personal work can go out the window.

4. Your Skillset Could Suffer

Being a professional photographer can bring great variety but it can also bring a lot of repetition. Many photographers will have several regular clients they work with often. While this is mostly a desirable outcome, it does come with a downside. If you only work with the same few clients your skillset will stagnate if they always ask you to do the same kind of stuff. There is nothing wrong with being a one-trick or two-trick pony but it can restrict who you work for in the future. If you're passionate about photography and you want to become a master of your craft then doing the same few lighting setups over and over is not going to help you progress.

5. You'll Spend More Time Being an Accountant, a Website Designer, a Computer Administrator, and a PR Specialist

The ratio of days behind the camera to doing other stuff will vary from photographer-to-photographer. One thing I would say with some confidence is that the numbers are usually stacked toward non-picture related tasks. Unless you work in-house for a company, you'll be working for yourself. This means doing all the paperwork that is involved with that. Filing tax returns, maintaining websites, doing meetings, chasing invoices, and trying to get work are just some of the things which will eat into your working week. The majority of your time is not behind the camera which is something that came as a surprise when I first started out. I always understood there was housekeeping involved, but I didn't think it would take up so much time. I am most happy when I'm behind my camera so anything that takes me away from that is not good. My strengths are not as an accountant or as someone good at schmoozing prospective customers or clients to get work. If the sound of these additional roles makes you want to run a mile then being a professional photographer may not be for you.

6. It May Destroy the Thing You're Most Passionate About

Being directed and micromanaged for years by unappreciative clients and art directors with no imagination can really suck the joy out of being a photographer. When you combine that with all the other things mentioned above, it's understandable that some people begin to associate all these negative issues with the art of photography itself. I've seen many photographers become so fed up with the industry that they leave and never pick up a camera again. This really is a great shame as I'm sure many of those people used to really love the act of making pictures. Unfortunately, turning something you love into a job can change how you feel about it in negative ways.

So there you have it, some of the reasons why becoming a professional photographer may not be a good idea. My intention in writing this article was not to try and put anyone off following their dreams. I just want people to be aware of the less glamorous side of the industry which is not always talked about. I also want people to know that just because someone can't label themselves as a "professional photographer" does not mean their pictures are any less worthy. In many ways, having a different kind of job can give you the time, money, energy, and breathing space to become an even better photographer than some of those busy "professionals" that are stuck on the same well-trodden path. There have definitely been times in my career where I have longed for a more regular and structured job. For me, it's always been about making pictures and I try hard to stop any of the negative aspects that come with being a professional photographer to ever cloud that.  

Do you think being a professional photographer is a good idea? Any of you already tried and not liked what you saw? I'd love to hear your thoughts in the comments below.   

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69 Comments

Paul Parker's picture

Im sure this is going to evoke some hearty debate. Be interested to hear both sides of this argument.

Let’s keep it civil though!

Joshua Boldt's picture

Pretty much sums up my entire experience! :)

Paul Parker's picture

haha! thanks for stopping by Joshua! hope you enjoyed the piece...

Robert Nurse's picture

Currently, photography isn't my day job. But, once I retire, I'd like it to be a source of income. To be a pro, I think you should probably like every, if not most, aspects of the job. If you don't something will suffer. As the author stated, don't let your photography suffer.

Paul Parker's picture

That's exactly it Robert. I genuinely believe the best photographers are those from different areas/fields. Those experiences can really enhance things and help people to come at problems from a very different and interesting tangent. I wish you all the best with your plan! : )

Jonathan Kull's picture

This article could be about any (commercial) creative pursuit. I've been a graphic designer for 20+ years and have experienced all of these things. Doing design work for a living also killed any desire I had to be creative in my free time. I took up photography as a hobby a few years ago to try to reclaim that.

louis heredia's picture

this is just a list of what it's like running a business.

Paul Parker's picture

anything missed off the list?

louis heredia's picture

Working with awful clients/customers

Paul Parker's picture

I do talk about "controlling clients and the art directors with no imagination" in point 1, but you're absolutely right that awful clients/customers should really have been its own point.

I have had many awful clients over the years. I do try to filter them out where I can. I hope you don't have too many awful ones yourself?

Paul Parker's picture

Great to hear you found another creative outlet Jonathan. I know lots of creatives with a similar story to yours. Graphic designs loss is our gain! thanks for stopping by... : )

David Blacker's picture

Quite agree. I spent almost 30 years in advertising as an illustrator, art director, and eventually creative director, and it killed any desire to draw or paint in my off time. I'm also a writer, and I wrote and published a novel some years ago, but I did it at a time when I was unemployed. The rest of the time, being in a creative day job sucked all desire to be creative at other times. I started photography as a hobby, and a couple of years ago I quit advertising to write and shoot full time, and having a two-pronged approach (which means I'm not only doing one thing) has helped to keep the passion alive in both areas.

Paul Parker's picture

It's reassuring to hear others feel the same about their creative jobs. I think some may think their are the only ones who feel like this so your story will help others. The two prong approach is great btw! Why I always have to projects on the go so when I want to procrastinate I do it with the other project... thanks for stopping by. : )

Nick Bentley's picture

I feel a little like posts like this are a bit of a way of pros trying to put of competition. It’s up there with if you have a low price you lower everyone’s prices. Sadly that’s called business if your more efficient or more skilled at the business stuff you will be more competitive in pricing. These articles are a bit dull now we must get one a week I know people need to get articles out but really ?

Paul Parker's picture

I hear what you're saying Nick but it was never my intention to put people off the profession. I'm just trying to give people a better picture of what it's really like. I truly believe that a rising tide floats all the ships and that is why I've written almost 200 articles for FS. It's my way of giving back to the industry...

Are you a photographer full time?

Nick Bentley's picture

I was I’m 60/40 at the moment I shoot sports well cycling mostly and I’m lucky I had something else I can do to keep my going as covid took 40k off our order book. It’s just a feeling a I get lately that some pros are trying to keep people out. I’ve had a few interesting DMs on it and in my favourite discipline to shoot there is for sure a cartel type atmosphere with people being shouted down and mocked publicly just to keep the status qou. I really think it’s something our industry struggles with I come from an engineering background and I try and bring some of that to my business and how I work with people. I was told early in my engineering career that you will never know everything but you can always find some one who knows what you need. It’s all about collaboration and that’s what I try and do with my business.

I also stand by the saying find a job you love and you will never work a day in your life. I think any of us who fair paid to take photos can really appreciate that !

Paul Parker's picture

I'm sorry to hear you have personally experienced other shooters trying to put you off shooting. I'd try and take it as a compliment that they may feel threatened by you and others. There are definitely groups out there that treat their corner of the industry as a bit of an exclusive club.

I personally love seeing new photographers climb the ranks. It keeps me inspired and motivated to stay on my game. I'm sorry to hear about the effects of Covid on your job but am happy to hear you have your engineering. I genuinely believe the best photographers are those from different areas/fields. Those experiences can really enhance things and help people to come at problems from a very different and interesting tangent. All the best going forward! : )

Nick Bentley's picture

I’m of the mind set of what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger ! Thanks to covid I have found some new clients and way better pricing techniques. As well as some amazing customers who stick by us. As well as some writing work. So if you work hard there is always a positive.

To be honest my criticism wasn’t direct purely at you more at the atmosphere that seems to be creeping in.

But Paul thanks for your kind words and for the dialogue. It makes the difference.

Check out our work on insta @man_down_media or www.mandownmedia.co.uk I’d appreciate your comments

Paul Parker's picture

My pleasure. Keep shooting sir. Website looks great. Its clean and the images are big! The pictures should do the talking which is the way it always should be... :)

Nick Bentley's picture

Thanks yeah we are in the process of changing it and updating to reduce some of it down and add online booking thanks happy shooting to you to !

user 65983's picture

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Paul Parker's picture

Hey Jeff, thanks for your input to the conversation. Are you finding the Fuji fun to use? I've shot Canon all my life but several years back I got back into film just for fun. It really helped my professional practice when I go back to Canon. It seems to reset me and helps me to see though different eyes so to speak. I think having different systems can be healthy for this. Thanks for stopping by!

user 65983's picture

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Paul Parker's picture

ok cool, well I hope you enjoy it. Safe travels! : )

Stefan Gonzalevski's picture

I agree with these statements. I'd like to add that you lose a part of your photographic and creative freedom. I sometimes proposed some different approaches or lights for some shootings (product or portraits). And it ended with the same flat dull light as usual. Depending of the domain, but most of the time, it's art directors and client who have the final decision. And everybody knows that clients are scared of risks and novelties.

Paul Parker's picture

You hit the nail on the head perfectly Stefan! Clients, AD, Etc all hate risk. I also think many of them can actually SEE the difference or understand what we are doing. Many also don't care. It can be demotivating for sure. Hang in there brother, keep fighting them!!

Stefan Gonzalevski's picture

Yes, it's true that sometimes some have the understanding that newness may be the good thing to do. But that's a minority. And you're totally right when you point that the more people involved in a project, the less you have your word to say.
About the advertisement world, there is a great french movie called "99 Francs". Worth the watch !
I slowly plan to move from photography business and keep it as a hobby.

Paul Parker's picture

Will check out the film recommendation thanks for that! I think variety is the spice of life so your plan to transition the business sounds like a healthy plan. I've spoke to a lot of photographers about going part time to do something else. For some of them it's a win win. All the best! : )

Paul Parker's picture

Just watched the trailer for 99 Francs. Hilarious! Many thanks!

Stefan Gonzalevski's picture

Hopefully, you can find it in English somewhere !

Paul Parker's picture

i dont mind subtitles, told a few friends about the movie too. The trailer really cracked me up! thanks again : )

Stefan Gonzalevski's picture

You're welcome ;-) It's a crazy movie, that comes from a book. The writer told about his own life as art director in a Parisian advertising agencies.

Penny Fan's picture

This is an honest article, being a professional product photographer for years, and its freaking boring. I had to fulfil my passion of photography with my weekend portrait shootings.

Paul Parker's picture

Thank you for YOUR honesty too. Many don't like to admit that their job is boring. My first job out of uni many moons ago was as a product photographer. I learned a lot doing it, but at times it was very boring. Shooting 200 different items of clothing on a manikin on your own without a stylist was a chore! So great to hear you have your side projects too. I just checked your work out and there's a great mix there. I can see that you understand how to control light. A skill which is especially important for product photographers. Thanks for stopping by and keep up the good work! : )

Lukas Renk's picture

Hey Paul!

First of all, great article I really liked your insights.
Ever since I have been to Australia I wanted to be a professional photographer. After going back to germany, I switched my studies at university to Business Administration to prepare myself for the Business part that comes with working for yourself.
I hardly have time to pursue my personal projects at times and I can absolutely relate to some points in your article.
I hope I made the right decision, because I was thinking a lot about studying something creative, like media conception and production. Any opinions on that?

Paul Parker's picture

Hey Lukas, first, I'd say there are a million ways into the industry. Second I'd say take EVERYONE'S advice with a pinch of salt. Including mine as no two routes will be the same in photography.

Saying all that, I think studying a business course is always going to be valuable. Almost all walks of life need some kind of business approach to them so I don't think what you are doing is a waste of time.

What I would say about being any kind of creative (including photography) is that you have your whole life to be whatever you want. There are lots pf amazing self taught creatives out there. There are lots of amazing creatives who come to it much later in life too. Having a qualification in anything at university is always going to be good to potential employers. It shows your ability to dedicate yourself to study for 3 years.

I also genuinely believe the best photographers are those from different areas/fields. Those experiences can really enhance things and help people to come at problems from a very different and interesting tangent. I know we all have busy lives but if you do love photography you should try and carve out some time to do it, especially if you enjoy it. That doesn't mean you have to spend loads of money and time on shooting. You can go out and take pictures on your phone and learn and grow as a photographer this way...

All the best on your journey : )

Lukas Renk's picture

Thank you kindly for your response, it is good to hear another perspective.
I agree what you said about the other perspective, I can totally relate to that when it comes to architectural photography for example!

Paul Parker's picture

happy to hear Lukas. Keep being inquisitive as you are. It leads to great things... : )

Guillermo Fierro's picture

There is a huge difference between been a photographer and entrepreneur. If you love photography and like to be entrepreneur so the things will be different and you will always love each part of your work.

Paul Parker's picture

Thats is an excellent point. There are many people who are either not good at being entrepreneurs or just don't want to be part of that side of things. This is an issue if you work for yourself.

Thanks for stopping by : )

Ron Gee's picture

All of this is spot on. I have been making my living shooting commercially for 30 years now. I have experienced all of this. Every now and then when feeling burned out from shooting a bunch of boring projects I have to reset my attitude by telling myself I am taking photos and being well paid to do so. Even boring shoots are better than a “real” job.

Paul Parker's picture

I have felt exactly the same Ron. The phase I have said often is that "I would happily sweep the car park for the day rate they are paying". We are lucky to do what we do for a living that's for sure. Thanks for your thoughts : )

Christopher Cooke's picture

I think this is pretty spot on, however I think it can apply more for those who try to become "professional" too quick. Since its so easy to start a photography business these days people think just buying a camera means they can become pro right away. Sometimes it works but many times it leads to all these reasons people get burnt out on the business and craft.
In my opinion I think that people who take their time and develop their style, craft, etc in photography FIRST will not suffer from these downfalls as easily. Being frustrated or having unhappy clients in the beginning chips away at confidence and the joy people feel about their hobby they once loved. If the skill is established before putting yourself out there for paid work it could help save the persons passion for the art or craft.

Paul Parker's picture

Excellent points Christopher. Kind of reminds of the cliche that if you're not happy being single then you wont be happy in a relationship kind of thing.

A building a good foundation for both photography and a relationship for that matter can only help in the long run. Thanks for your thoughts. : )

Glem Let's picture

Well said Paul, it’s all very true.... hers how I sum it up, particularly right now... and I’ve been a pro for 25yrs..

“What’s the difference between a full sized pizza and a professional photographer...?

A full sized pizza can feed a family of four...”

One point that I think people should know, some high street stores and many hotels suffer from this, they don’t understand colour space and output resolution, don’t have calibrated monitors and are often not from a creative background. It means your beautiful images, finished ‘just do’ end up looking like rubbish in their window displays and printed media.

Nobody looks at a photo A0 size, in a shop window and thinks great photo/bad reproduction..... they just think sh!t photographer...

But I’m not bitter 🤣🤣

Paul Parker's picture

haha I have heard a similar saying before! I feel your pain about unappreciative clients too. At least we can laugh about it. Gotta stay positive. Keep shooting my friend! thanks for stopping by! : )

Duane Gillette's picture

You are correct, but there is nothing like following your passion as a full time career. When the world was changing from film to digital era in the early 90's I was exactly where you are at with this article. Shooting for others and nothing for myself, being drug down by accounting, etc. I stepped out of the photography arena into the corporate world for nine years. I was making a healthy six figure income with full benefits, stock options and paid vacations. What I also found was I was working 65 hours a week and not happy with the direction of my life because I was not doing what I loved. I finally walked away from the corporate world to go back to what I love doing. I'm not going to say it was easy, but very rewarding and I wish I would have never stopped in the first place. My biggest input for anyone right now is be flexible and constantly ready for change. As technology changes it influences the direction of your business (so does COVID!). You have to take yourself out of your comfort zone and be willing to constantly learn new things or you will not survive.

Paul Parker's picture

Great advice Duane. Really appreciate hearing your story. It really does take guts to do what you did. I still love photography but I have been pivoting away from the commercial world for a while now. I feel like I have the right balance after filtering a few clients out. I'm still like a kid when I get home to look at the shots from the day. Being flexible and constantly ready for change is great advice too. I really hope that people remember the affects of Covid in years to come and how it all can be taken away in a second...

Thanks for sharing your story : )

Lawrence Woodd's picture

My father was a Bank Manager, his advice (which I followed) was that banks had a list of occupations that were most likely to default on loans. Top of the list was hairdressers/barbers, second was photographers. I spent the bulk of my career (now retired) selling photographic/photofinishing equipment and saving my love of photography.
lawrencewoodd.smugmug.com

Paul Parker's picture

Thats an interesting insight from the banks and I can believe it may still be the case. Surprised to see barbers at the top. You'd think they would always be in demand...

Very happy you still have a love for photography too. Everyone should have a passion in life. Thanks for stopping by! : )

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