For most, photography is a hobby, for some it is a passion. Every serious hobbyist sometime or the other faces the question- to continue photography as a hobby or take it up as a profession?
(A photograph of a stone pathway. This photograph has earned me good amount of money and has been used on a book cover as well.)
In another article on Who is a Photographer?, I had discussed about the difference between an amateur and a professional. This excerpt is from that article: “Who is an amateur and who is a professional photographer? Professional photographer is simply the one whose primary source of income is photography. It has nothing to do with skills, quality of photography, artistic inclination etc. Amateurs indulge in photography without earning their daily bread from it. I am an amateur. My photographic skills are above average. I am trying to improve myself everyday.”
I do earn money from photography through various ways but I still do not consider it my profession. As I write this article, photography is still not my sole source of income. I call myself ‘semi-professional’. The other day, I was discussing about this with some friends of mine. The question came about why I was not planning to take photography as my sole profession.
Why not a professional photographer?
These are the points that I ended up explaining to my friends-
- I love to click what I love to click. I can not click photographs on the whims and fancies of others. Had photography been my sole source of income, I would have taken up any well paying photography assignment, instead of choosing to click what I like and what I don’t.
- Professional photographers whom I meet from time to time, spend more than 80% of their time in business dealings, marketing activities, running after various people involved in their chain of vendors/providers and trying to get new projects. The remaining time is used for all the other works including photography.
- I have observed that serious amateurs do the same amount of photography as professionals. The time apart from photography is used by amateurs in their regular jobs/businesses where as professional photographers use it for the activities listed above.
- Most professional photographers get limited to one or two genres. This may be a faulty observation of mine but then there it is. I love to click whatever catches my fancy. (Genre of my creations)
- The so called fine-art photographers who do their kind of ‘fine-art’ photography and sell enough images to live comfortably are very few. Not every photographer ends up becoming Ansel Adams or Henri Cartier Bresson.
- Weddings and Portraits becomes the main source of income for most.
- Professional photographers have to invest in equipment which even a serious amateur will not do. Think of high power lights, extra camera bodies, all rounder lenses and what not. I prefer primes (Prime Lens or Zoom Lens?) and work on my compositions frame by frame. High frame-rates do not attract me.
- Photography market is highly competitive. One has to keep on trying and showcasing the edge over others to be successful.
“Photography to the amateur is recreation, to the professional it is work, and hard work too, no matter how pleasurable it my be.” – Edward Weston
How to become a professional photographer?
Some practical steps that I recommend to those who still want to take up photography as their sole profession-
- Start slow and don’t quit your present job. Keep photography as a second source of income.
- Network and make friends. Network more and find prospective clients in them.
- Build a portfolio to show your work.
- Accumulate the required capital for equipment, studio, marketing and also for a rainy day. Have enough money in your kitty so that you can afford to be without a photography assignment for a few months.
- Take the leap to being a full time professional when you are ready to do all that I have written above, and maybe even more.
Loving photography is very different from taking it up as a profession. There are ways to earn money also while keeping photography as your hobby. Selling at stock image sites is one of the simplest methods (Selling at Shutterstock). Doing some paid photography assignments, once in a while also makes sense. If you are considering anything beyond this, give it a second thought and a third thought too. If you are convinced go ahead with your dream but be ready to face the realities too. Whatever path you take, do not loose out the creativity inside of you.
Whatever way you choose, spare a moment to ponder on these words –
“Once the amateur’s naive approach and humble willingness to learn fades away, the creative spirit of good photography dies with it. Every professional should remain always in his heart an amateur.” – Alfred Eisenstaedt
EDIT 1 (18 June 2018): Over the last few yeas, I have done many more photography assignments. What I have understood is that taking up photography involves a lot more than photography itself. The biggest problem is that the number of assignments is not constant. They come and go and the same happens with funds. Now I am focusing on networking and marketing my services. The time for photography has remained the same as it was few years back, reinforcing what I had earlier observed. The amount of photography done by amateurs and professionals is same. In fact amateurs do more photography than professionals to satisfy their creativity.