Punch Bowl Falls, Columbia River Gorge, Oregon (OR), USA

Is it Time to Quit your Day Job?

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Punch Bowl Falls, Columbia River Gorge, Oregon (OR), USA Should I quit my job and become a full-time photographer? If you have ever asked yourself this question, you are not alone. Photography usually starts out as a hobby, but after a while, lots of passionate photographers start wondering if they could make it as full-time professionals. So, here are some questions to help you decide whether or not a full-time photography job is for you. Are you good enough? One of the first things you should do to a look at your portfolio. Are you good enough to a make a living doing this? That’s not an easy questions at answer, but it’s important. Facebook and other social networking sites make it easy to get lots of accolades. That’s great motivation and it makes you feel good – but positive comments from people who care about your feelings aren’t enough. They aren’t a true indication of your talent. Real critiques and evaluations are hard to come by on social media. Do you think your friends and family would feel comfortable telling you the truth – even if if meant they might risk damaging their relationship with you? And beyond that – are they qualified to know the difference between a good photograph and a mediocre one? One way to find out if you have the necessary talent is to compare your work with other professional photographers in the field. Be honest with yourself. How does your work match up with theirs? You don’t have to be the best out there, but your work should be competitive enough to provide an attractive option to your customers. Business or Pleasure? Varina and I are both Wilderness and Landscape photographers. When other photographers look at our images, they are convinced that we have a dream job… and for all practical purposes we do. But, photographs alone don’t tell the whole story. The graphic below shows an estimate of our business needs – and the perception of others who think photography is all about traveling to exotic locations.

What We Really Do

In reality, taking photographs is a small part of our business. Other business activities dominate day-to-day activities. As a photographer, you will probably have to do these activities yourself… at least until you are making enough money to hire someone else to do them for you. Just as in any other profession, there is often a difference between what you really like to do, and what you can get paid to do. You might hope to be a landscape photographer, only to find that you can’t make enough money unless you shoot weddings, senior portraits, or products as well. There are going to be some tough decisions as you make a transition into full-time photography, so prepared to face the facts of running a business. Will it kill my passion? So, let’s say you really are good enough to become a full time photographer – and you have the skills and patience required to run your own business. In that case, there’s one more thing you should consider. Will turning photography isn’t a money-making venture kill your passion for it? Aside from the physical work, being a full-time photographer may take an emotional toll as well. It will take time to establish yourself, and you might not be as successful as you’d hoped. It is very possible that selling prints, or filling workshops, or dealing with unruly wedding parties may make photography  feel like a chore. If you are struggling to keep a business running, will you be as excited about picking up your camera and heading outdoors when the weekend comes around? Or will you be relieved to put the camera down? For Varina and I, photography is a dream job… but it sure as heck isn’t easy. We have successfully navigated the turbulent waters of growing our business, and we’ve settled into a fairly comfortable routine that works well for us. There are still days when photography feels more like a chore than a dream job, but we still grab our cameras and head out into the wilderness every chance we get. Are you ready to let go of the security of your day job and take the plunge? Or have you done it already? We’d love to hear your stories and advice!

7 replies
  1. Scott Flaherty
    Scott Flaherty says:

    I’m in that “in-between” stage. While I have sold numerous prints and had some of my images used in advertising campaigns, my main goal right now is to have this “hobby” pay for itself. We all know how expensive photography can get. I still have a lot to learn and may never get to the point where I feel comfortable going full time. It’s nice to dream though . . .

  2. Alistair Nicol
    Alistair Nicol says:

    Very good though provoking discussion Jay. Indeed it is all about business vs passion, and it will be very difficult at times.

    Your image link -http://photographybyvarina.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/04/What-We-Really-Do.jpg is coming back as a 404.

  3. Lynn
    Lynn says:

    I love your work! Thanks for the article- I can’t get the list of “what we really do” to appear – says it won’t load : ( Can you repost it or send it to me via e-mail? Thanks

  4. Paul Jeyaraj
    Paul Jeyaraj says:

    Hi Jay, initially found you and your wife via Darlene out of Edmonton, I am an Indian born spent most of my adult life out of Calgary, and now live in beautiful Malaysia. I have started to think of what would life be like to make a living out of Photography.

    I know my skills are no were close to being good yet…still learning a lot from people around the world..and will continue to do so…

    I have a young family to support, I cannot see this hobby paying for all the needs…however I am thinking of it to prepare now to make it into a retirement hobby funding, ie: trips, gears etc…

    Paul

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