Does a Love of Photography Help or Hinder a Career in It?

Does a Love of Photography Help or Hinder a Career in It?

Photography is a passion and a hobby for many and a career for a few. But to truly succeed in this competitive industry, does love for photography stand you in good stead, does it make little difference, or does it work against you?

I've asked this question of myself many times over the years. In fact, you could argue it stems from an earlier question I asked myself: would becoming a professional photographer kill my love of it? Well, I've discussed this before and all I can say is that so far, it hasn't. It has changed my relationship to photography, of that I have no doubt. By which, I don't mean that now it makes me money where before it rarely did, but rather my desire to take pictures is colored — rather heavily at times — by whether or not it will earn me money, be it through the acquisition of clients, print sales, or even furnishing my writing. This isn't a mindset many artists want, but I feel it's somewhat of a necessary evil to survive, particularly in tumultuous times.

This is a subject I've put a lot of thought into, and I'm going to present the cases for all three outcomes before I offer my answer.

The Case for Love Helping

Though it may be a bold claim, particularly on the grounds that I have not done the necessary legwork to verify it, I think that most professional photographers ended up in a career using their camera because they love photography. I do know professional photographers who took a job in the industry without a passion for it, but it's unusual. It is a common and reasonable dream to make money with a hobby or a passion, and on that, photography has a better success rate than most. It's significantly more difficult to make money off of, say, playing football, for example. The question is, does love and a passion for photography give you an advantage?

Well, it has certainly had its benefits for me. I, without question, am passionate about photography and videography, and it has served me well in two obvious ways. The first is that I am happy to work hard and work long hours to have a career in this industry. Some of the working weeks I have put in since I first started have been eye-watering; I have wracked up over 90 hours in a week on more than one occasion. There's no doubt I could have done this in an area I wasn't passionate about, but the truth is I didn't have to work that many hours, I just chose to. I will gladly work all week and then all weekend if there's a call to; it's partly a love for the craft and partly an acceptance that if I want a career in an area I'm passionate about, I better be willing to work for it.

The second way my love for photography has helped my career is right in front of you. I don't just take pictures and edit them, I write about the industry daily, I've given talks, I've tutored and mentored, and so on. Not only does this create a symbiotic relationship with my photography, insofar as being this involved in the industry improves my work, but it also earns me more money, which is one of two ways I measure how well my career is going.

My interest in cameras started young, apparently.

The Case for Love Hindering

While a passion for my craft has its value, it's not without drawbacks. I can lay out a counterargument to the above section with a simple but true sentence: I could have made more money if I didn't love photography. The further my career has progressed, the more often I have found myself in a situation where I choose an outcome I never dreamed I would: I turn down work. I've learned that for many photographers, their career is defined not by the jobs they take, but by the ones they turn down.

I have had many offers for many different roles that don't fit my aesthetic, or rather, my tastes. I have no doubts that I could have had more success both financially and in terms of reputation if I had taken opportunities and developed areas of my work were the biggest financial reward lie. But, knowingly, I didn't. I reasoned that I had chosen a career in an area I love, so to then choose to pursue a niche I do not enjoy or find rewarding would cancel it out; I may as well have taken a high-paid corporate job in finance with my peers.

My vision for my own work has kept me interested and in love with what I do, but there's a strong argument for it has held me back from more "success" depending on how you define it. Financially, I'm certain I could have and still could earn more money by shooting specialties I run away from. As for reputation or fame, it's hard to say, and not an area I'm overly interested in outside of the opportunities it affords me.

Finally, I would like to note the well-covered point many professional photographers make: being a full-time photographer will often mean you take fewer photographs. Instead, you spend the bulk of your time on the many other responsibilities of running a business. If you just want to shoot for the love of shooting and ensure that you do, it will likely cause your business to go to ruin. Someone who took a job in photography with no love for it would not suffer this fate.

The Case for Neutrality

Many questions split answers into two polar camps; the medium format look is amazing or it doesn't exist, and so on. But I like to explore the possibility that for every argument, the middle ground is the most sensible, as it often is. Tim Minchin called it "in defense of the fence." In this case, there's a reasonable argument for it too.

As you can see, there are pros and cons to my love for photography and my experience isn't singular, albeit not necessarily typical. Perhaps your love for photography doesn't help or hinder a career in the industry in and of itself, but how much you let it dictate your direction does. If you're willing to sacrifice some of your passion for more money, then go and line your coffers. If you want to strictly abide by your artistic vision and integrity, then keep creating and shed any envy that creeps in.

Conclusion

In my experience, my passion and love for photography have both enriched and damaged my career, depending on which metric you use to measure it. By being loyal to my own vision for my career and indulging my passion, I have opened doors that would not have opened to me otherwise. Furthermore, by retaining and maintaining my love for the craft, I have certainly increased the likelihood of longevity in the field by lowering the risk of burnout and raising the amount of fulfillment I get from my work.

That said, I have walked away from money and opportunities that went in a direction I did not want to go. I can only offer conjecture as to whether I would be more successful had I followed the paths to the pots of gold rather than gormlessly chasing my own rainbow, but I certainly do not regret my decision.

What do you think? Has your love for photography affected your career for better or worse? Share your thoughts and experiences in the comment section below.

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14 Comments

Tony Clark's picture

I believe that you have to be passionate about photography in order to have longevity. Even after twenty-seven years, I am still curious and continue to experiment with new ways of lighting, capturing and editing images. You may specialize in one discipline but it's rewarding to try new ones and build on the techniques you've already done well with. Perhaps the most important aspect of running a photo business is knowing the value of your images and not underselling yourself.

Indy Thomas's picture

In my 40+ years in business I have always tried to figure out what made some people successful and others less so.
It has boiled down to one characteristic that is often defined many ways as "drive", "ambition", "focus", "persistence" and so on.

I believe it is "interest".

Interest that is unwavering and undistracted causes one to explore all aspects of the object of interest. It is that exploration that gives satisfaction and knowledge and, in certain areas, skills.
The child that delights in singing and performing does that to the distraction or joy of their parents.I would note that virtually every music artist today can trace their interest to their childhood. The same is true of people in any field of endeavor.
Scientists, engineers, gardeners, painters and so on often point to early interest that captivated them.

I also noted that many people work in jobs that give them a decent paycheck but that they live for the weekend when they can do the things that make them happy.

Interests are as varied as the people who have them.

Absent that interest and that desire to keep learning about the field one will never be a leading light in that activity.
That is not a criticism, just an observation.

It is also a fact that self help books that tell you the "secrets" of success are pointless because your success is where your interests will be. Wanting to be rich is a desire that can be achieved but the very rich are motivated by the activity of their business, not by the money. Thus they focus on the tasks they love and not the money except as a tally of the progress they are making.

Unwavering interest is also a characteristic of marital and relationship failure of so many successful people. They cannot make space for others and while focusing on their main interest.

Interest can also be seen as selfishness.

Marcel Rapuano's picture

Interesting point of view. I read somewhere that success (or hapiness in success for that matter) is determined by what "pains" are you willing to endure. I always wanted to be a famous guitar player, but never wanted to experiment with the "pain" of practicing 4-5 hours a day, I wanted the outcome not the journey.

I am an amateur photographer that never took the plunge into professional photography, because I'm not sure if I'm willing to endure the "pains" of such career, some of which are mentioned in this article (less photos more business for one). But regardless, it is easier for you to endure the pains if you have "interest" in the subject matter.

Indy Thomas's picture

My point is that if your interest is sufficient the "pains" are not seen as painful.
Think of this: You have a mad crush on someone. You know you want to meet them. You think about them all the time. You know they leave the library/work/gym at a certain time. You have met them a couple of times before so "bumping into them" would not be creepy. You decide to "bump into them" as they are leaving on a certain day. The day you decide turns out is rainy and you have to wait for twenty minutes without an umbrella. Yet you manage the meeting.

The pain of being soaking wet is meaningless. OTOH if you were waiting for an acquaintance who rudely kept you waiting when you offered to drive them home you would be mad.

Marcel Rapuano's picture

Agreeing to disagree. I think there will always be "pains" regardless what you do, in photography, if you love photography, perhaps the business side of things could be a pain or the marketing side. I find impossible, even if you love something, to be OK with 100% of it. But I got your point.

Indy Thomas's picture

I never said there was no pain. Every path has obstacles.
Interest determines whether the goal is worth the effort to overcome the obstacle.

When I was young my brother and I played golf at a local course where the fee was very low. As a consequence we often played more than 18 holes in a day during Summer.
One day we got together with a friend to see how many holes we could play in one day. We started at 6AM. I gave up after 54 holes as I was tired and wanted dinner. My brother and our friend continued on to finish 72 holes.
I saw the pain as not worth the additional holes. My brother and our friend saw the pain as less important to the goal of finishing 72 holes.
My brother's interest in golf was such that despite his lack of coordination in his early years went on to become a superb player who was onthe Occidental College golf team and considered going pro. He eventually chose software design and has done well with that but still enjoys speed golf with friends.
Me? I have not picked up a club in 30+ years. Not interested in the pain of being annoyed while paying money.

Allan Wood's picture

Yes, interest if a person has the opportunity; many cannot or it is extremely difficult. I am thankful that I have lived and continue to live in a region where for many that is possible.

Indy Thomas's picture

Interest is crucial as is opportunity. However, the greater the interest, the greater the effort to create opportunity. I am not saying that desire and focus and energy *will* result in success, but it is necessary.
Some stories just do not have a happy ending.

Austin Rotter's picture

Fun thought experiment. Though I'd argue it could just be an arbitrary justification one may make for doing or not doing something.

But I also tend towards cynicism. I nevertheless appreciate the time and thought all this took to contemplate and write out.

dale clark's picture

After being a professional photographer for close to 15 years now, there is one thing that has changed for me. When traveling, out and about etc, I no longer take an actual camera anymore (I would bring a bag of gear before I was a pro and early into my business). I'm happy using my iPhone. I feel I need a break from the "tools of the trade". Plus, the simplicity of just pointing and shooting makes it fun. About 10 years ago I purchased a tiny Sony co P&S camera for travel. I started to find that cumbersome. Now it's just a phone.

Jerry Dalton's picture

I thought about being a pro when I was young, but I made a decision to keep photography as something for myself, uncontaminated by the pressures of professional life. I sometimes wonder how things would be had I decided otherwise. 30 years later, I sill have a strong passion for photography, and I shoot a lot. I continually strive to learn and improve. I dont’ make a dime. That is me. I am not advocating that what is right for me is right for anyone else.

This is a very subjective subject, IMHO there is no right answer. There is only the right answer for each individual. Hopefully your well written article on the pros/cons will help others find the balance that works for them.

Sébastien Tarnowski's picture

Good question!

Allan Wood's picture

No easy answer. Many times have I contemplated leaving my profession and attempting to succeed in my photography genre/s. Then, what is success? The journey is more important to me. If my history was different, the butterfly flapped a little this way or that way, then I would not have met my wife and had a wonderful son! My comments are from an older generation, my choices made, I am OK with that.

Indy Thomas's picture

I too, have made my choices. Some good others less so. I am thankful for the woman who was willing to marry me and the family we have. I am old enough to appreciate the fact that a life happily lived is not measured by regrets.
I was fortunate enough to have parents who did not try to dissuade me from pursuing photography. It was my own insecurity that delayed me from taking the leap into the field. Once having done so I do not regret the delay as it allowed me to do so many other things that prepared me for success (relatively speaking).

Now I am 65 next month I am taking the jobs I like and declining those I don't. I am taking more time to make photos I want for myself. That feeling has not been familiar for many years as the last thing I wanted to do was take pictures on a weekend after flogging gear all week.