Is the life of a Commercial Photographer as glamorous as it seems? What is it really like to work in an industry where anyone can buy a camera and call themselves a photographer? What are the effects this has on you as a creative, a person and ultimately your career? Well read on here to find out the pros and cons for being a commercial photographer.
It’s true. My job is glamorous. I am one of the people you hate because I wake up in the morning happy and I LOVE my job. I love the cliché ‘no two days are the same’ scenario. I relish in the enriching opportunities of exploring worlds from opposite ends of the polarising spectrum. However, like everything there are always two sides to the coin. So what are the pros and cons of being a commercial photographer? Lets take a look…
Being in the Photography industry is tough. It is highly competitive, oversaturated and forever changing. One day you will find yourself having to justify your rate to a client in comparison with another Photographer who has just started, has a 10th of your experience and charges a slice, of your price. Other days you will be told you don’t have enough experience even know you’ve been in the industry for over 10 years. It can feel like you never win.
Your portfolio is an extension of who you are and you will always be judged on your ability as an artist and your last job. As a creative, this can be difficult to digest and disconnect the two to ensure this does not get confused with your own self worth. So be prepared to be knocked back quite a few times and know your value.
The technology industry works on the basis of doubling every 18-24 months. What does that mean for a Photographer? It means that you are constantly updating your equipment to keep up with the changes and this can become an expensive investment. Cameras are constantly being updated as is the software it comes with so chose your equipment wisely and invest properly. There is no need to invest into a pro camera straight away if you’re still in the ‘trying out’ phase. Remember it doesn’t matter what camera you have, it’s the way you use it that counts.
Running your own business:
Like any business, running your own Photography business is constant, hard work. Most of your time will be spent working on contracts, marketing, social media and paperwork rather than actually being on assignment shooting. Unless you are at the stage of being able to employ a team around you, YOU are your team. When you take a holiday, your business comes too. When you sit back and feel like slacking off, things wont magically get done or go unnoticed. Your to-do list will never end and you just need to be ok with this and know when to stop.
The huge risk factor of ‘will I make it or not?’:
When starting out as photographer work can be inconsistent and unreliable as can the paychecks. Certainly at the beginning stages you will most likely need a second income to support you while you are building up your portfolio, your clientele and finding your style.
And then there is the ever so gloomy question when leaping into the void of the unknown ‘will I make it in the big, wide world of photography?’. At some point in your life you have to take a risk and trust yourself. If photography is the one thing in your life that you are prepared to take that risk for, then the rewards will be worth it. But be warned, it wont happen quickly so make sure you are in it for the long haul rather than to make a quick dollar.
It can be really lonely
This is one of the things most people underestimate. Photography can be really lonely. Most days are not spent in an office so you don’t have the usual morning chit-chat catch up on your way to your desk, there are no straight from the office drinks, no lunchtime banters and no cigarette breaks to mentally download your frustrations throughout the day with a colleague.
For the majority of the time that you are not shooting, traveling or in meetings, it is just you. You need to be prepared for this because for some people, being alone can be a scary thing. Once you get your head around this, the rest is pretty easy 🙂
So what about the pros?
Doing what you love:
How many people out there get up in the morning, shower, put on their clothes and can’t wait to get to their work space to start their day? How many people can say they are genuinely filled with excitement when they receive a brief from a client and willingly work on the project day and night to ensure the end result is nothing less than perfect? How many people can say they are true to themselves, are not living a lie and feel there are never enough years in a lifetime to achieve all the things they want to do in their line of work? For me, I know a handful. The rest, I’m not so sure. I love my job as a photographer and entrepreneur and I would not have it any other way.
The best part about being a commercial photographer for me is the flexibility. I can work anywhere, anytime, so long as I have my camera, laptop and phone. I would rather work 24 hours a day for myself than a 9-5 for someone else. I don’t fit into a box-ticking system where my operating hours range between the normal office hours. My hours are all day, everyday whether that is in the middle of the night, the weekend or mid-week. My brain is always ticking over about something and the flexibility that my job gives me to think like this, is one of the many things I love the most about my work.
Freedom of choice:
As a Commercial Photographer I am able to pick and chose the projects I want to work on vs being told what to do. Being your own boss makes a huge difference to someone like myself to ensure that what I chose to work on is inline with my own beliefs and mission. I am very selective with what I work on and never take on projects because I have to. So freedom of choice is very important to me as an artist as it allows me to be fully creative as a person and as a Photographer.
The opportunity to make a difference:
There are not many jobs in the world where you feel you would be in a situation where you are given the opportunity to make a difference. Take my book Women of the UAE for example: as a cross-cultural communication tool showcasing an eclectic mix of Emirati’s and expatriates my book is now being used by the UN Women and Australian Embassy in Abu Dhabi as state gifts. As an artist and a Commercial Photographer, I have been able to use my talent for the better good, which for me equals total self and job satisfaction. Obviously this type of legacy is totally up to the individual but to have this choice is what makes the difference.
For me education falls under both categories. Not requiring a university degree or higher education to become a Photographer falls into both the pros and cons category. The pro is obvious: you can just start shooting and give yourself the title of a photographer but the con is interesting. If you don’t need an education to start being a photographer this means you will have much more competition in your field and the market can become over saturated. Which it did and is. So depending on where you are in your career and at what level will probably determine if education fits into the pros or cons section for you!
In summary the pros and cons of a commercial photographer depends on you as an individual and the legacy you want to leave as an artist. For me, the pros far outweigh the cons to be a commercial photographer and I love my job. But that doesn’t mean it will suit you. My advice if you’re thinking about taking the leap from hobbyist to professional photographer: take your time, don’t expect a quick result and be in it for the long haul. Like anything worth having; it takes time and effort so stick with it and the rewards will be worth it 🙂