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.
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.
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.