I will be the first to admit that I have an amazing job. I love what I do, and there is rarely a day where I don’t wake up happy and excited to go to work. I really feel for people who are not lucky enough to be in a job that inspires them and brings them joy every week.
That being said, I gotta tell you, I feel like I am wearing down. Every time I turn around there is someone new cropping up to do the same job I do, with little technical knowledge, lacking the proper equipment and backup gear, and who pays no taxes and carries no business insurance. It’s exhausting, really. Some days I get so frustrated and scared that there is no future in this career path. I love what I do, but I am deathly afraid that I will not be able to keep a roof over our heads, and I might have to get a ‘real’ job like everyone else. I don’t have ‘another’ income, and I don’t do this ‘on the side’. This is my real occupation, and I have to play by the rules at my job just like everyone else. Because I am a legitimate business, I have legitimate business expenses that have to be paid. Taxes and insurance are two of these bills, but there’s also studio rent, heat and hydro, telephones (one business line and one cell), props, equipment, upkeep and lots of other little things that don’t immediately spring to mind. It’s expensive to be in business, and to provide good work EVERY SINGLE TIME, and under EVERY SINGLE CONDITION. Even though I have to play by the rules, most of the people who crop up with a camera and a dream do not, and can therefore give it away for free, or next to nothing. It’s not an ego thing, I swear it! It doesn’t bother me that most of my friends and family do not use me for their photos. For some, I am not in their price range, or they prefer another style of photography. No harm done. But when I see local people turning their favorite hobby into their new occupation I literally have to bite my tongue so I do not say something unkind. I am trying to be gracious. I do wish other entrepreneurs well. I just wish they would do a few things differently.
So you have a camera and a dream, eh? Well, there’s a couple of things you should learn about your new career path.
First of all, I hope you enjoy working weekends, and lots of them. Almost all of them, in fact. As it turns out, people are usually available during the weekend and evenings. That’s when most people DON’T work, and that’s when you will be working. Forget going to barbeques every Saturday in the summer. If you become a success, your ‘weekends’ will fall on different days of the week entirely. Having 7 days off in a row will be difficult. You will promise yourself that you will ‘take days off’ but then you will get a request for a job and you will go ahead and work anyway.
Also, the editing that comes with your workload can be staggering. You think it’s pretty fun to be out and creative with your camera, but imagine how much fun it will be when you get home and have to sort through the 300 images you took, in order to find a few that are properly exposed, tack sharp and have pleasing expressions on your subjects. You will start to see the value in getting that shit right in the camera BEFORE you take the photo. One year during the Christmas season I had a big splotch on my camera sensor, but I was so busy with work, I couldn’t seem to travel the hour and a half each way to get my camera guy to clean it for me. So instead, I spent more than twice the amount of time on every session I edited, in order to remove that goddamned spot out of every single frame. This was about 6 or 7 years ago, and way before I dreamed of editing in lightroom. No, I had to open each and every frame I took and edit them individually. That was 6 painful weeks of hard learning. Get it right the first time, and save yourself a boatload of time in the end.
While you are on your journey of financial freedom via photography, please keep in mind that there are very few successful working photographers who can make a living from their cameras. I mean truly support themselves and their families with nothing more than their photography. Do you know why so few are successful? It’s because it’s bloody hard. It is not easy to balance work, editing, life, children, home and a marriage in this career. I believe it was one of the biggest reasons for the failure of my first marriage, simply because it ate the majority of my time, and demanded nearly all of my attention. Owning your own business has many, many benefits, but you must be a real hard-ass of a boss to make it work.
You should also think of what you will need to propel you forward in your new career. It’s a given that you need a camera, but what about a backup body? What about extra lenses? Flashes? Are you prepared to spend thousands of dollars to outfit yourself with the kind of gear that you need to do the job correctly? Hopefully you are also prepared to buy a second copy of all of that expensive gear, in case you have a disaster with the first one. I remember having my camera crap out during a wedding on 3 separate occasions. Luckily, I had backup. I ALWAYS have backup. I have dropped flashes, lenses and battery packs and heard them crash to the floor, never to operate properly again. Of course, I had extras.
I mean, really, what professional doesn’t understand that SHIT HAPPENS, even when it isn’t convenient or cheap. I have had cards go corrupt, and have spent hours running them through software to extract the damaged files. That’s always a pretty fun afternoon, trying to find files that have vanished. The sweat that runs down your back is the kind that reminds you that you may have just completely fucked up the biggest day of someones life. I’m happy to tell you that that hasn’t happened yet, and we have backup methods on our backup methods to ensure that our client’s files are safe. That doesn’t mean that bad stuff doesn’t happen, even if you are very prepared, because it does.
Birdman and I really do try to patronize businesses that are owned by real people, and not corporations. We try to put our earning dollar into the pocket of people who own small businesses. We believe that we need to support and nurture business that is trying to make a difference. Well, I am one of those businesses. I am trying to give people something of great value and beauty for a reasonable price. I live to do it, and I want to do it until I can no longer do anything. It is what I believe my calling is, and how I hope to spend the rest of my working days. I believe in giving my clients the best of myself, every time. I am not giving it away for free, (unless I choose to). I am a skilled professional, and I guarantee the work I do. I am prepared to give 100% every time, and I will have fun doing it.
In the new year, I will go back into the studio and start dreaming up ways to make sure we make it through another business year. I will try to think of ways to generate income in the off-season, and to attract enough engaged couples to employ me to photograph their weddings. It’s exhausting, and it does feel like I am always hustling. I don’t need your pity, I just need your referrals. 😉
Thanks for letting me vent. I’m done now. I want to remind you that it isn’t all that bad, despite my rant. This fantastic job has provided me the opportunity to attend every one of my kids recitals, and school plays, volunteer at their school, and know all of their friends. I have been able to drive to countless playdates, host sleepovers and get-togethers, and I know all of the parents of my kid’s friends. I have watched soccer, dance, and home-made theatrical extravaganzas galore. I have the freedom to drive my kids to and from school EVERY DAY if I choose. Most days, I do choose to drive them. I like it. I like knowing that my amazing job gives me the freedom to enjoy the few short years that my children will actually give a shit if I am around them. I am relishing these years…reveling in them. If I was any luckier, I would have horseshoes stuffed up my ass. I love my job, and i don’t care how many half-price imitators crop up around me, I will always love it and be so thankful that it allows me to live this amazing life, with this amazing family.
Tomorrow I will hustle again, just because I can. 🙂