Wednesday, February 26, 2020

Don't Quit Your Day Job

Heritage High School Library
Catoosa County, Georgia
(for Derthick, Henley & Wilkerson Architects, Chattanooga, Tennessee)
Canon 5D Classic, EF 24mm f3.5 T/S (tilt/shift) lens

To anyone who may be considering a career change to professional photography, may I give you a few cautionary words? As many have said, "Don't quit your day job!"

If you are far enough along in life and in your career that you could retire today and continue to live at the level you prefer with no additional income, then go for it. But don't count on making any money for a while, and maybe never. And don't count on spending much time doing photography. You will spend 80-90 percent of your time doing marketing and peripheral tasks such as post-processing. If you do not do the marketing you will make very little money.

Another factor to consider is this: pursuing a career in professional photography can become an all-consuming monster that will devour your life. Think carefully about this. If you can do something else that will allow you to live a life that leaves time for your family and for the photography that really matters to you, you will do well. You can be a photographer, even a successful one, without being a full-time pro. Something I've long observed is that you can nearly always make money at photography if you don't have to, but if you depend on it for your living it can become very difficult.

When you read about a successful photographer filling his days with interesting and profitable assignments, remember two things: 1, he is almost certainly a master marketer or has someone good who does it for him; and 2, he has been doing this for a long time and has built up an extensive list of good clients.

I went for it as a self-employed photographer and writer 42 years ago after working for other people in the photography and advertising fields for several years. Before that, I was a teacher.

So, how has it been? Truly, a mixed bag. My own self-evaluation is that artistically, my career has been a modest success. Financially, not so much. I've been able to go to many interesting places and do many interesting things because of my photography and writing. But I have been neither a good nor a diligent marketer, and if my wife had not loved me enough to work all these years so that I could pursue my dream, we would not have much. (Health insurance is an especially expensive problem for a self-employed person.)

Louise at 69

She is now retired from her career as a Nurse Practitioner, and thanks to her diligence, we have enough to live in reasonable comfort.

I'm still working, though not as much. Most of the people who gave me work over the years have retired or moved on to other things, and the younger art directors have a bit of trouble relating to me. But I can still travel, photograph, and write, so I concentrate on books and magazine articles these days. My latest book was published by a major publishing house in 2017 and I have several more in various stages of development.

One of my conscious goals going into photography was to have a career no one could make me retire from. So that part, at least, has been successful. But my very best advice to you is still this:

Don't quit your day job.

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