I stand behind my headline here. Plain and simple, photography is hard. Certainly for me it is, and I do it full-time. So when does it become easy? If am brutally honest, I don't think it ever will. Allow me to explain.
First off, this is not to say that it won't be fun, or interesting. I'm not saying you cannot be inspired, motivated and excited about your photography work. In fact, that's why we do it to begin with, despite it being challenging. But why do I say photography is difficult? Well, let me remind you of a few things I am certain you already know.
Photography Is Something That Literally Everybody Does
There's no subtle way around this, so I'll just say it: Almost every human in industrialized countries owns a camera and takes pictures. Hell, everyone at least has a smartphone that of course has a camera. 5th graders have smartphones, and they too are taking pictures daily. Your mom takes pictures. Your little brother, your friends from high school, your grandfather, that weird guy who lives down the street - they all take pictures. Of their pets, of their food, of their families, of the sky, trees, animals and more, and some take pictures of themselves in the mirror.
Note that I said takes pictures to all of the above. Which is what I would consider the appropriate term for what they are doing. If you own an image capturing device of some kind, and you arbitrarily point it at things and push the button, you are taking pictures. Which is all of course perfectly fine. We've all done it, we all do it with some regularity, and taking pictures has been standard procedure for decades. From vacations to family gatherings and birthday parties to snapping pics of our old living room furniture for classified ads and Craigslist, we not only like to take pictures, we simply need to. Per capita, there are many, many more people who own and use cameras than there are people who play a musical instrument or partake in oil painting. Or singing. Or like, I dunno, rock climbing or skydiving maybe. I have done exactly zero research on these statistics, but if you want proof of my assertion here, visit 20 of your neighbors (be it down the street or in your apartments) and ask them each if they have anything in their homes that takes pictures. At the same time, ask them if there are any musical instruments, oil painting supplies, or rock climbing or skydiving gear in their dwellings. I think we both know you will be 20 for 20 on the question of photo devices, and decidedly less successful on everything else.
So, when you decide you're going to be a photographer, when do you crossover, if you will, into the realm of image crafting and not just taking pictures? When are you an artist and not just another person with a camera? Honestly, that is a very difficult concept to define in a finite manner. And it is because every-freaking-body (just about) has some way to take pictures, and does so. Often rather frequently. The novelty factor of "I take pictures!" is immediately irrelevant in the public eye, so you have a considerable challenge ahead of you if you want to be taken seriously as a photographer and, perhaps, get paid be one. Not to mention the general public's idea that creating great images happens because of a "really nice camera".
In short: A significant percentage of the public is not impressed that you take pictures or that you own photography equipment. Inversely, someone learning to skydive is immediately interesting to others. That is a dangerous and exciting thing to do from your very first jump. But, someone who just bought their first DSLR and is snapping pics of flowers in their yard, not so much. How do you get noticed, or make people care? Without trying to answer that, I'll move on to the next subject.
Photography Is Technically Complex
Do you know what your DSLR really is? It's a computer. Your lenses? Slightly more basic computers with advanced optics. They are both chock full of microprocessors and absurdly complicated digital technology. And this "problem" is just getting worse every year, as newer and better cameras are being developed constantly, each more complex than the last. You cannot pretend to ignore the technical aspect of photography if you intend to be any good at it.
Without trying to over-simplify what an oil painter does, the fact is, you can be handed brand new fine artist's brushes, tubes of oil paint and a canvas at random, and I would wager that you would able to manage to get paint on a brush and slap it on the canvas, all on your own without much analysis, training or effort. Your effort won't be a visually appealing stroke of genius to most people, in fact it will likely look like a kindergarten painting, but you would at least manage to get paint on a brush and then the brush on the canvas. Inversely, if you handed a brand new D810 and 70-200 2.8, right out of the box, to any random person, I would wager that, without any instruction of any kind, they would not be able to take a picture at all. Basically, you cannot make a DSLR perform its function strictly by dumb luck.
(Before I receive the wrath of Bob Ross disciples, I will add that advanced oil painting techniques are hardly simple, and require practice, study, and ideally mentoring to properly master. Years of effort are involved in becoming a proper oil painter. The same, however, can be said for a photographer. I simply mean that one is simpler to start on than the other.)
"But I just want to take photos!" you cry out in vain, hoping you can achieve the results you see in your head without having to learn the technical aspects of image crafting. But the fact is, you can't. If you consistently remain recalcitrant about learning the technical details of how to make your camera equipment work, you are shooting yourself in the foot right at the start of the race.
And I haven't even mentioned lighting equipment yet. Or retouching. And that's to say nothing about Gear Acquisition Syndrome, a common problem among all experience levels of photography. It is very easy to drown yourself in the technical, especially as there is so much out there to be distracted by. You often have to peel back the gear, and strip it down, to go forward.
For me, the technical aspect of photography is hard. It is. I often loathe having to deal with settings and adjustments, occasionally metering, calculating crap in my head about depth of field or ISO and shutter, etc. I arrive on a set, and I want to craft images, not jack around with all the technical mumbo jumbo that is required to create the images I see in my head. And often, I hit brick walls, I get frustrated, and I even want to up and quit when it all becomes too much. I'll always be a technical shooter, as that is where my interest mostly lies, but it is a double edged sword, a catch 22, and is as nourishing as it is poisonous. I want that perfect exposure, perfect DOF, perfect color balance, perfect focal length, perfect subject distance, perfect light angles, perfect pose, perfect location - I want it all. Every time. But damn if sometimes I don't want to mess with it. It's a constant source of total awesome and total suck for me, at almost every shoot. Not to mention how I feel when I am at the computer, about to start retouching several sets. I want to, but I also don't want to. If that makes sense.
Bemoan it as I may, I cannot avoid it or get around it. I either accept the technical challenges, or quit. It's that simple.
Photography Is Art
And because it is regarded as art by many, it is as hugely subjective as any art discipline can be. This makes defining an image as either art or a dismissible snapshot often difficult, because, frankly, everyone has a different opinion. Said another way, one person's art is another person's mirror selfie. (Ok that may be pushing it.)
So, to reference what I stated above, how do you know when you're an artist and no longer a person with an image capturing device? If you know the answer to this, you're doing better than I am. I still don't consider what I do in my photography to be art, and struggle to this day with trying to determine when, and if (or ever), I will be comfortable referring to myself as an artist. With my profound love-hate relationship with the technical dominating what I do in my work, I have yet to be able to define what it is I do as art. After all of the effort I put into an image is said and done, I sometimes find myself annoyed with the final image. I've been thinking about it, planning, executing it, and finalizing it for so long, I'm simply sick of looking at it. Whereas an image I stumble on shot by an amazing photographer is a new, exciting, fresh and inspiring moment. My own images cannot bring out those feelings of awe and excitement in me that others' work can, so I am always in a state of doubt and fear - fear that I am wasting my time.
See how confused and self-deprecating I sound? It's not fun living like that, but it is the most honest self-assessment I have been able to muster. Especially as what I shoot seems to often be cause for controversy.
So while you're struggling to understand just what the hell all those buttons and settings and menus on your camera do, you also get to contend with trying to define what you do with all of it. In photography, you are a forced to absorb the technical and the artistic if you intend to create the images you see in your head. This is an inescapable fact.
Finding your balance of artistry and technical is, of course, vital in determining what motivates you and what produces the work you want to create. You may need deep knowledge of a lot of technical things, or perhaps just a few key settings, to create your work. But neither side can, or should, be ignored, if you want to go forward with photography. (That's to say nothing yet about marketing and business savvy, which is a whole different can of very squiggly worms.)
Want to succeed as a photographer? Then you need to be unique, technical and artistic. There is no way around it. You cannot succeed as a skydiver if you have a profound and unwavering fear of falling. You have to be a computer nerd and a bonkers artiste, a scientist and a poet, a researcher and a bohemian, if you want to make it all work for you the way you hope it will. Don't discount either side, and don't lose hope. Perhaps you may be in disequilibrium right now, but you will balance out soon if you keep at it.
How do you find your balance? And which side of the balance do you struggle with the most?