In this blog post, I have listed the pros and cons of making a career out of photography. As you will notice, the cons outnumber the pros, but also, the pros outweigh the cons.
Con: Way too much competition.
As a photographer, you’ll be working hard for exposure and recognition. There are about 143,000 photographers in the U.S. only. That’s an average of 2,860 in each state. That’s also an average of 14 photographers per city. Each person who wants their photos taken has so many options, it’s not even fair to the photographers. A photographer will always have competition, and will always know someone who’s getting all the clients. Although this sucks, it’s a pretty good motivation to improve and to find something that sets one apart from the other surrounding photographers.
Con: Has to pay models.
It kinda sucks when you’ve got a spontaneous idea that you want to try out, and you find this model on Instagram who’d appreciate that style, and so you want to shoot the next day, and then you realize you need a spare $300 to pay that model for two hours of their time. And that amount is not an exaggeration. This is a conflict, because photographers charge for photos, and models charge for modeling. Why can’t we have a fair exchange of each doing it for free? I don’t know. But apparently that’s not a thing. A suggestion for a compromise would be to photograph a very new model who’s willing to do it for free in exchange for photos for their portfolio, but sometimes your idea will only be brought to life with a professional in front of the camera. You know, someone expensive…
Con: People won’t take you seriously.
There are many people who do not understand how complex a photographer’s work is. They’re like “My sister took photos of me with her iPhone 5… and they looked really good.” It’s “just pictures,” apparently, but we spend money into our lighting kits, our lenses, and our post production software. Sometimes we can spend 45 minutes editing a single picture if we want it to be perfect! A compliment that photographers receive all the time which is not really a compliment at all, goes like this: “I love your photos! You must have an amazing camera!”
People think it’s the camera, and they forget to credit the artist behind the camera. People won’t take you seriously, because you’re “just taking pictures.” And if they don’t know enough, they’ll make the mistake of hiring a 13-year-old on Facebook who borrowed her stepdad’s digital camera and will take the pictures for free, instead of hiring a costly photographer who will create flawless photos that capture all the emotion.
Con: It’s difficult to make this a full-time job.
As opposed to waiting tables at a restaurant, this job doesn’t demand every hour of your day. Of course, this means a flexible schedule and more spare time, which is excellent, but it also means an unpredictable income. It’s difficult to make photography a full-time job if you’re simply waiting for people to call you about their graduation photos.
Con: Equipment is expensive.
Of course, after being a photographer for a while, you learn to find deals and you learn what’s a necessary purchase and what things you really don’t need… but you do have to purchase equipment. You can start with a camera, but you’ll find that your photos look better when you’ve got a variety of lenses. Lenses can easily be over $1000 each. Some go as high as $4000. If you shoot in a room that isn’t flooded with natural light, you’ll want to invest in a lighting kit. And if you pack a lot of your equipment for a photography adventure, you’ll want to purchase a large camera backpack to store it all.
Con: The photographer is unknown.
95% of people who look at a perfectly composed fashion editorial photo in a magazine don’t think of the photographer. They think of the clothing item and the model. Same goes with sports photography and event photography. Of course, those photos are taken to advertise a product or an event or a person, but few ever remember the artist behind that photograph.
Con: Unpredictable conditions.
The weather, first of all. Maybe you appreciate the dark overcast sky, but then it rains. Or you want to take photos at sunrise, and then it’s really difficult to get up that early and stand out in the cold. Clients could show up late, when you’ve got a tight schedule and other photo sessions to go to. And in my experience, they usually do come late. Perhaps you wanted to get pictures at sunset, and they come late, and then it’s dark when you’re trying to take pictures. Perhaps you forgot to charge your camera’s battery. Or your camera rejects your SD card. It’s all quite unpredictable, not at all like going to an office job.
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Con: Uncertain income.
This is because it’s difficult to make a full-time job out of something that people won’t need all day, every day. As a freelance photographer, you don’t have an average weekly income. You may make $8000 in a week if a whole class chooses you as their senior portrait photographer. Or you may make $300 in a week for a family session. Or you won’t have any business for a month. It’s all a possibility.
Those are the cons of being a photographer! If the job sounds depressing, please continue reading the pros, and then reconsider. While the cons listed all the things that aren’t ideal about a job in general, the pros are about the more rewarding aspect of the job.
Pro: Self employed freelancer.
Certain contracts demand exclusivity, and then you won’t be able to offer your services to anyone else. But as a freelancer, you aren’t tied to anyone or anything. You can work from home or on the road or in another country, because you don’t work on anyone else’s schedule. You’ve got freedom and you’ve got flexibility. Instead of putting your hair up and following a dress code and showing up to an office at eight o’clock sharp and not a minute late, and taking five minutes off for a cup of coffee, and then going home at seven o’clock, you lie in your own bed wearing underwear and a blanket, eating Oreos, while editing photos on your laptop and answering messages from your clients. To me, it’s extremely important that I’m able to set my own schedule and choose my own locations. I consider this the most important of the pros.
Pro: Gets to be creative and come up with ideas.
As opposed to doing everything your employer tells you to, and following his organized schedule, you get to come up with the ideas. I do not show up at a studio to take five headshots of a 30-year-old secretary, and then move on to a 40-year-old mother, and then take five headshots of 60 other people. I hold autumn leaves in my hand and think that I could make a crown of leaves, or I pick up my eyeliner pencil and think that I could use it to draw black veins on an arm. And then I call a model and ask him to meet me at a location to help me bring my brilliant idea to life.
For more of my photography: Instagram.
Pro: Opportunity for travel.
I have plans to take photographs all over the world. As a freelance photographer, you can build yourself up to a level of skill and recognition that provides you with sponsored travels. A new hotel which needs excellent commercial photographs for the purpose of building a website and promoting themselves may offer you three nights in one of their suites, free of charge, in exchange that you take pictures for them. I would jump at the opportunity. A calendar brand or National Geographic magazine may pay for your travels in exchange that you capture photos of a natural phenomenon that hasn’t been successfully captured before. I understand that I’ll need incredible skill to be eligible for opportunities like these, which is why I’m doing all I can now (while I’m still underage and therefore cannot travel much) to improve my photography skills.
Pro: Capturing emotion.
Lately, birth sessions have become increasingly popular. While it sounds rather weird the first time you hear of it, you soon discover that birth sessions are all about capturing raw emotion and priceless memories. And so on with other photo sessions: in-home session for a married couple. What’s magical about an in-home session is that the location is so familiar to the couple. It’s not a tree farm where they sit on the ground and smile at each other… it’s a familiar, warm place where you can visually document their daily routine: cooking and feeding the dog and washing laundry and pausing to kiss each other among all of it. And it’s very real and honest, when you can take the pictures in their own home. And it’s the photographer who is credited for helping them capture these memories! I consider it an honor.
Pro: Meeting people.
I know of photographers who have made lasting friendships with the clients they took pictures for, and those clients recommended that photographer to everyone they knew. But aside from clients, there are opportunities to meet people you’ve observed for a long time. You could very well make it a goal to collaborate with your favorite photographers who have inspired you, or to take photos of an actor who’s been your childhood hero.
In the end, it’s a matter of choosing comfort and consistency or adventure and unpredictability. This job is so worth the weird schedules and the uncertainty, I’m sure of it. As I mentioned previously, the cons outnumber the pros, but the pros outweigh the cons.