I absolutely love being a photographer.
Did you know that? You may not have, but now you do. So often I will finish a shoot and feel rejuvenated and excited and thankful for what I get to do every day as a job.
It’s not alway roses, though. You know that if you are a photographer as well. Somedays you want to curl up into a ball and leave it all behind. But don’t do that. Don’t let those feelings overcome you because by far, being a photographer has so many more good days than bad.
Let me spell out for you what I consider the good and the bad about being a photographer, and then I’ll share with you how I think we can fix the things that are not awesome.
Why it’s so good to be a photographer.
As humans, it is in our nature to create and be creative. We are always seeking to create, whether it be putting together a new outfit, cooking a new meal, or making babies! We as humans are creators.
If you are a God-fearing person, then the natural desire to create makes sense. We seek to be like Him who created us. The creator of all.
One of my very favorite aspects of photography is the ability to be creative. I have always been a creative minded person. In fact, in my growing up years, I wanted to be a graphic designer and create logos and branding –little pieces of art, in my opinion. Let me share with you the story of my becoming a photographer.
I was in college working through school trying to become a graphic artist. I met and married my wife, who truly was a photographer. It was her love, her passion. When she was younger, her friends always knew she would have a camera with her and that they needed to be ready to be in a photo at any time.
Or at least be willing to stop anywhere along the journey so she could capture something she spotted.
Nothing has changed. On road trips, I must always to be ready to slam on the brakes and stop the car, so my wife can document something she has spotted along the way. Once, I made the mistake of not stopping, arguing that it was unsafe because there was nowhere to pull over.
I only made that mistake once.
To this day, I still hear about how the hugging cactus went undocumented. I have learned my lesson, and now I stop every single time. But I digress.
She is the one that started our photography studio, just a year or so after we were married and grew it quickly to be very successful. She had a keen eye and knew the stiff, boring posing of film photographers was outdated and not going to last too long. So she shot differently. And the clients flocked to her.
Then came the point when she needed to hire someone to help her, she was just too busy. As we sat down to talk about this, I remember asking her how on earth she was going to afford to pay an employee. We were poor college students! As it turned out, she had been spending gobs of money on equipment, and that money could be used to pay for this new employee.
Well, as any person with a crappy job would do, I volunteered to be that new employee. Someone to meet with clients, place orders, etc. That was the beginning of my becoming a photographer.
It was a glorious time of fun and excitement for us. I would often go to shoots with her to assist and watch how she did things. We learned a lot during that time, namely how to work together while remaining friends and staying married. It can be difficult, for sure.
After a year or so of this fun and frivolity, she became pregnant with our first child. Together, we made a plan to train me to become a photographer so that when she was shooting, I could be with our baby boy, and when she was working, I could be with him. It sounded like the perfect plan!
In fact, we even had visions of a nursery at the studio where baby Josh would peacefully sleep while we worked with clients; how ignorant were we?
She and I learned very quickly that babies are a full-time job, and when that little fella was born, everything changed. At that point, we made the decision for me to become the primary photographer and her to shoot when needed.
We shifted everything for that baby, and our business remains like this even today. We’ve added two more boys, and she has not shot full-time in over 16 years, but we are happy with how things turned out.
The reason for my telling you all of this was to simply to say how happy I am that I am a photographer and not a graphic designer. Nothing against graphic designers, mind you. They are wonderful, creative people.
Photography is just a better fit for me, and the article includes the reasons why.
2. Having fun with people.
I absolutely love getting out and having a great time with people and being a photographer allows me to do this on a daily basis. All while getting paid too! You just can’t be it.
Making my sessions fun and enjoyable takes effort. It doesn’t just happen. Naturally, people are nervous when a shoot starts, and those nerves can translate into a boring and awkward photo shoot. To be completely honest, this is the secret to my success! Shhhh. It’s a secret.
By working to make my clients feel at ease and natural, and then delivering awesome pictures is the main reason why I have been able to stay a professional photographer for over 15 years. My clients become my friends, which brings them back year after year and allows them to feel confident in referring their friend.
In the world today, companies find success when they get personal. Have you noticed that? You are more likely to buy from someone you know and like than from someone you barely met. Personal connections and relationship are the keys to a successful business.
If you struggle with this, then I would tell you, before working on your photography skills you need to work on your personal connection skills. They are a must in the world today.
So how do I do it? Let me give you some pointers that have helped me to create a fun atmosphere while out on a shoot.
First, understand that everyone is nervous in front of the camera. Everyone.
Unless you’re shooting supermodels who spend their lives in front of the camera, your clients are a little stressed about having their pictures taken.
So, when they first arrive at the shoot, I am loose, natural and engaging with them. I chat them up and don’t expect big answers in reply. Especially the men in the shoot, I work to help them feel at ease the most.
Most men hate getting their picture taken, and the more natural they feel straight out of the gate, the more at ease and natural they will be in the pictures.
Second, I work to inspire confidence. This is a big one. I’m not cocky, mind you, I simply let them know that I got this. I begin a shoot saying something like, “are there any specific images you want me to capture, or do you just want me to do my thing?”
Right away this sentence tells them two things. one, that I am open to suggestions and two, they don’t need to worry about anything if they don’t want too. I’ll take care of it.
One of the best ways I use to inspire confidence is to let them know I screwed up!
How on earth does this inspire confidence, you may say? It’s all in how you handle it.
In my early days, if I didn’t like a pose that I had just placed them in, I would take the picture anyway. What? Take a picture I know I wont like? Yep, I did. And I bet most of you have as well.
I didn’t want them to think I didn’t know what I was doing. If I set them up, then it must be good! Well, sometimes it wasn’t.
Nowadays, if I set people up in a particular pose and then look through the viewfinder and hate it, I will let them know how terrible it looks! Not in a mean or condescending way, but in a self-deprecating way. A way that lets them know that the mistake was mine, but I am going to fix it.
Third, I shoot in Aperture Priority mode which allows me to worry less about my settings and more about my subject. One of the biggest disconnects I see in photography, is when a photographer is constantly looking their camera instead of interacting with their clients.
By shooting in aperture priority mode, I only have worry about two settings: aperture and exposure compensation.
Everything else I leave to the camera to decide and let’s be honest, cameras are pretty dang smart these days. I know it seems sexy to shoot in manual mode, but in reality, it is not about how you shoot, it’s about the finished product: the images.
These techniques really do allow me and my clients to have a great time during the photo session. By the time the shoot is finished, we have been chatting the entire time, and my clients truly are my friends.
I also keep notes and put them into their account file so the next time we shoot, I know all their names and anything special that was going on in their lives the last time we talked.
Anything I do to make it a more personal experience, the better.
3. Documenting history.
I love seeing old photos, do you? Images that hearken to days-gone-by always are of interest to me. Some of the best are from Life magazine. I could spend hours looking at those just wondering about what life was like way back then.
Old wedding photos are some of my very favorites. Seeing the styles of clothing, the hair, the locations, all makes me wax nostalgic.
Photography allows me to have a stake in that. Creating images that will last a lifetime and beyond. The images we are creating today will be the heirloom photos of tomorrow.
They will be how your clients will look back and remember important times and events. These images will help them to show future generations what their lives were like way back then.
It truly is a powerful medium, photography. One that will allow future generations to see and feel what was like to live today.
4. New faces and fresh locations.
Meeting new people and shooting in cool locations is one my favorite parts of this job. Most of my clients are repeat clients or referral clients, so there’s already a base of friendship.
Getting together and catching up or getting to know someone new can be so much fun and helps turn the shoot from stiff and boring to very enjoyable.
And being out in nature, at beautiful locations; who wouldn’t want that? In Utah, where I am, I get all four seasons. Hot summers and snowy winters all make for a different look and feel to the images. And, it keeps me from getting bored shooting the same things, again and again.
Sometimes, however, we can find ourselves in a rut, shooting in the same locations time and time again. When this starts to happen, take a day off and use it to scout for new shooting locations. I always love exploring for cool, unfound locations. And, it helps me always to be learning and growing as a photographer.
It is invigorating to me to shoot in new locations. I’ll show up early to the shoot and scout out the spots I think are ideal, and then get creative with the client.
I love not having a desk job. I love being out in the world, meeting new people and shooting in new locations.
With editing, I do have to work at a desk often, but I’ve got that down. I’ve got workflows and presets that allow me to breeze through my editing. If you didn’t know, I have an entire site dedicated teaching people Lightroom. If you’re looking for help in that area, I got your back.
5. Being my own boss.
Being self-employed can be the best thing as well as the worst thing about being a photographer.
There is a lot of stress at times going from a bi-weekly paycheck from a company to never knowing when the next client is going to call.
I have listed this as being a good because there are so many benefits to it for me.
I have so many friends that talk about how they dislike their boss, or how they missed a promotion because of company politics. Yuck. Leave me out of it.
Being self-employed allows me to be as successful as I want to be through my investment of time.
The more I hustle, the more money I can make. If I need to slow down and focus on something more pressing, I can do that as well.
There is something so empowering about being your own boss. I know it can be scary, but it is completely worth it. One of my favorite quotes about entrepreneurs is from Lori on the ABC show, SharkTank.
She said, “entrepreneurs are willing to work 80 hours a week to avoid working 40 hours a week.” So true. Sometimes you have to work long hours now so that down the road you can raise your prices and be more choosy about the type of shoot or client you want to place your focus.
The bad about being a photographer (and how to fix it).
There are so many ways to get discouraged in this business. The first is not feeling like your work measures up to those around you. I remember when I was first starting out that being so disappointed with how my images looked and wondered if I was ever going to get better.
Today that is probably even more rampant with social media and the internet so prevalent showing you the awesome pictures everyone is taking.
Also, this is a tough business! The barriers to becoming a photographer are small, which means everyone with a camera can be a photographer. For these reasons, discouragement can set in very quickly, and you must work to fight it off.
One key to understanding how to deal with discouragement is to realize that you’re not alone. Every photographer was at one time where you are now.
And everyone has those moments of discouragement no matter where they are along the journey. You just need to keep plugging along.
So how do you overcome discouragement? How do you get past those feelings? Let me see if I can help.
First, I would tell you to stop comparing your images to others. Understand that your vision, your photographic voice is 100% different from theirs.
Even if you love their work, you are not them, and they are not you. What this means is that your work is going to be different, which is precisely how you want it to be.
Looking at social media can be a dangerous thing. Remember, you are only seeing that photographer’s absolute best work. Don’t compare your entire shoot to the few they show on social media. They had some dogs in there too, I promise you.
Next, let discouragement lead to improvement. As a photographer, you must always continue learning, or you will stagnate (which I cover next). Your work will become commonplace, and your love of photography will dry up. Trust me; I’ve been there.
At the beginning of each year, I try to find several areas I want to work on and improve. Then, throughout the year, I make a conscience effort to learn, grown and improve in those selected areas. To do this, I read books and articles, attend seminars, and most importantly practice!
One area I choose to work on almost every year is posing. It is so radically different from when I began as a photographer, and it seems tastes tend to change all the time.
But change is good, and it keeps me excited as I learn new ways to create beautiful images.
Take classes, read books, talk to other photographers. And practice. Never stop practicing.
Depending on where you are in your photographic career, stagnation is real can cause you to lose your love of photography.
Stagnation can lead to dreading shoots, loss of interest in clients, and heaven forbid, a lack of caring on how the images turn out. You have to work not to stagnate. If it hasn’t happened to you yet, it will. It is inevitable that everyone in every career goes through it.
I have listed several ways above that can help with stagnation. I will talk about them briefly again here.
First, always be learning.
As you get complacent with your photographic education, your photography skills quit inceasing. Make sure you are always trying to grow and learn as much as you can. Like I mentioned earlier, at the start of each year I pick several areas that I want to improve at as a photographer. I have found this practice to be very rewarding.
Second, shoot at new locations. It can be scary sometimes to arrive at a place that is new to you and shoot, but it also can be invigorating and exciting. And the more you do it, the more natural it will become.
As you do this, you’ll also begin to see that you can shoot anywhere! As you walk the grocery story, or down the street that you live on, look for spots to shoot. You literally can create beautiful pictures anywhere, so branch out and shoot at new and unique locations.
Third, shoot new types of sessions. If all you ever shoot are babies, try shooting some seniors or families. What about weddings?
They can scare so many people, but that fear can turn into excitement and invigoration when you succeed. I’m not saying you have to restructure your business to include these new types of sessions, but try a couple to give you new found success.
Fourth, add or remove light. Lighting is a topic that will never get old; there is just too much to learn! Use and discover new lighting techniques by adding or removing the light from your images.
Learning off camera lighting is essential to your growth as a photographer, so if you haven’t already jumped in, what are you waiting for?
Bouncing light, using light modifiers, and the like will all allow you to grow as a photographer and will help you get away from stagnation.
3. Jealousy and the lack of sharing.
Jealous feelings and a lack of sharing are rampant in our business. Some photographers feel that how they shoot, or where they shoot is the key to their success and they guard it as if their businesses depended on it. C’mon, get real.
As we share with each other, everyone’s work improves. And to be honest, how I shoot and where I shoot is constantly changing!
They are not closely guarded secrets; they are simply points along the journey that I am taking in becoming a better photographer.
Some people are behind us on this journey as photographers, and some are ahead. If we reach back and help those behind, our entire industry moves forward.
Don’t let jealousy or pride get in the way of being awesome. Share when someone asks. Teach when someone seeks to be taught. And ask when you have questions, expecting that others will share.
If they won’t, then move on and find someone who is willing. I’ve got no secrets.
Ask me anything about photography, and I’ll be happy to share.
4. Lack of co-workers.
I remember my days of having a regular job and having an absolute blast working with specific colleagues. I don’t have that now, and sometimes it can get downright depressing! If you haven’t read this article from the New Yorker, you should.
It sums up what it can be like being self-employed.
Being your own boss is one of those positives that can also be a negative. You can overcome this in several ways.
Join local photography organizations and get to know fellow photographers in your area. Set up inspiration shoots where you all come together to learn and grow together.
Another great idea is to socialize with local influencers for your type of photography. If you’re a wedding photographer, taking wedding coordinators out to lunch is an awesome idea.
Becoming friends with, and socializing with other vendors is also an excellent way to make friends, and increase your business all at the same time. As other vendors get to know and like you, they are more likely to refer you as well.
Whatever it may be, find ways to gain relationships with people in this industry.
5. Overwhelmed trying to run a business.
And last, but definitely not least, one of the hardest things about being a photographer is running your own business. Trying to find the time to do everything that needs to be done can be downright stressful. Not to mention trying to figure out how to do everything that needs to be done.
As someone who has done this for over 17 years, there are two things that I have found to be the most helpful.
First, slow down and do one thing at a time. There are the moments when we feel as if we have to be a pro at everything. Pro accountant, pro marketer, pro social-media expert. It can be exhausting and overwhelming.
Take each task one at a time. Learn it, get it down and then move on to the next.
Some of these tasks you will enjoy doing, and others you will hate with a passion. Of those you dislike, outsource.
Outsourcing what you don’t want to do, can help your business flourish. You may be saying to yourself, I don’t have the money to outsource! Well, I think you’d be surprised how easy and inexpensive it can be to outsource.
Drowning in trying to keep up with your bookkeeping? Use a website like Mint to get organized. And as your business grows and needs something more, move into Bench or ZipBooks. These are surprisingly inexpensive services.
What about social media. Always feel like your getting behind? I know what you mean. For Instagram, I use an app called Planoly. It allows me to sit down and plan out several days or weeks of Insta posts. That way, I always have one ready to go. On a certain day, I may skip posting the one I planned earlier and share something that I took right then. Whatever I decide to do, it is covered.
For Facebook or other social media, you can do the same with other apps. Hootsuite is a big one as well as several others.
The point is, you can being to outsource for not that much money and remove some of the stress that comes from running your own business.
There you have it. The good, the bad and the ugly about being a photographer. Being a photographer is truly one of the best jobs you could have, so if you find yourself focusing on the bad, work to find ways to improve your situation.
It truly is worth the effort to become a professional photographer, I promise.
Let me know your thoughts in the comments below. What do you consider some of the good and some of the bad about being a photographer?