What it’s REALLY like to be a photographer- My Advice to those who dream of becoming a professional photographer

I’m about to dive into some dark waters here, so let me start off by saying I am obsessed with what I do- being a wedding photographer and business owner is my passion, and I wake up everyday excited to work, and to create beautiful images for the best brides ever. But Lately I’ve had quite a few people each week ask me about breaking into the professional photography business, and it’s no surprise. With thousands of new photographers picking up cameras every single day it’s easier than ever to break into the world of professional photography. In this Blog post, I want to discuss some of the things I have learned in my first four years, and how being a photographer was NOT what I thought it would be at all.

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On the outside, it looks like a pretty cool job. I have to admit, the first day I spent as an assistant I was pretty impressed with all of the photographers and how cool their job was. I was only about 20 years old, and had a lot to learn. In reality being a professional photographer involves lots of un-cool things like Holding a giant 5 in 1 reflector in public, carrying around bags and cumbersome equipment, awkward interactions in intimate situations with people you just met,  and sweating…. lots of sweating.
Hanging Rock State Park Engagement Photography Dustin and Emily (22)

Years later when I finally had the courage to start my own business, I quickly found out that this job comes with a tremendous burden of responsibility. It takes a huge amount of professionalism, and self esteem to be a professional photographer, Neither of which I possessed when I began. A photographer, especially a wedding photographer does not have the option of calling in sick, and most of us spend lots of hours worrying about what we will do if we get into an accident, break an arm or leg, or go blind on someone’s wedding day…. It’s a terrifying feeling to hold that kind of responsibility.

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You need to be confident because there is always someone out there better than you- and sometimes that someone literally just went to best buy and picked up a DSLR kit while you went to school and achieved a degree….ouch! But taking the time to complain about that would just be a waste of time- It’s just the state of our industry right now, things have changed so much and we must change with them or go extinct.  In an artistic profession school and training can mean very little sometimes people just have “the eye “. While it is easier than ever to start a photography business, the stiff competition makes it  just as easy to fail as a photographer, so in the end only the strong will survive. If You have  the tenacity to bite down hard and keep improving yourself even when you feel like your best images are crap-  (and you will feel like your best images are crap) then you will be successful….eventually.

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It takes mad time yo. Becoming a successful photographer/ turning a profit just won’t happen overnight.  Sure there are a few exceptional photographers who really blew up big right away- but that is a rarity. I took a leap and quit my day job after the first year, because a day job will stifle your photography income- I could not be my full potential as a photographer while working another job.  I don’t use much by way of equipment just excellent bodies, with full frame sensors, camera mount flashes  a single reflector and prime glass- that is it  and my minimalist set-up cost well over 15,0000. Not counting the costs to maintain and host my website, my internet bill, phone bill, marketing materials, ect….ect…ect…. the costs could be listed all day long but you get the point. Now guess how long it took me to make 15,0000 a year? 3 years. So three years, two of which I made less than 15,000. in income while incurring all of the expenses above.  And after all of that hard work and sacrifice… after 85 percent fail…. the ones who make it are rewarded with a very average 30,000/ year income. 

Thanks to Chaundra Vaught Photography for taking this image for Koy and I !
Thanks to Chaundra Vaught Photography for taking this image for Koy and I !
It is a difficult job.  As discussed inone of my previous posts “Weddings are hard. Really hard. They take a ton of skill, and the ability to think and shoot very quickly without missing a beat.  As a Wedding Photographer, I preserve memories. But it’s really so much more that I do- I manipulate memories. It’s my job to make my bride not remember the 500 things that went wrong on her wedding day. It’s my job to give her a wedding album that is her perfect wedding day dream come true, even if the reality was a hot mess. I change lighting, move items to alternate locations crop out and photograph around distractions, wires, messy makeup bags, and exit signs. I airbrush armpit hair, pimples and sweaty foreheads. I give people pep talks to get them to cooperate for portraits, I wrangle kids, provide sewing kits, hairpins and water bottles. help clean up and move things. The other day I took down an entire cobweb including spider with my bare hands, you gotta do what you gotta do to get the job done. In wedding photography there are no re-shoots so you gotta make it count.”
On a wedding day I estimate that Koy and I squat well over 100 times. By the time I get home, getting out of the car is difficult because of muscle exhaustion. I seldom find time to drink water so I go home sick and dehydrated. I certainly need to make better effort, to drink water but sometimes water is not easily available or there is literally not a second to stop.

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A little secret- Photography is less than 50 percent of what most of us do. I made the mistake of thinking I would be “taking Pictures'” for the rest of my life, and boy was I wrong. You can take pretty pictures all day long but you have to be a good Great business person and have a true customer service skill-set to make a profit.  Unless you are clever, organized and funded enough to outsource many jobs such as bookkeeping album design product orders image edits , marketing and appointment booking, Web design, meetings and sales you will spend only a fraction of your time being a photographer- If photographing is what you truly love you may be better off second- shooting for someone. If editing and post production/ manipulation of images is your thing than you may consider doing it for someone else. Truth is photographers who own their own business spend more time being entrepreneurs and business owners than artists.
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If you’ve read all of this and still are interested than go for it, pick up a camera and shoot shoot shoot. Sleep with your manual and camera by your side, practice on everything and never quit, when it gets hard hang on and try harder take classes, read books, subscribe to magazines, Join WPPI, and meetup with other photographers. If you still dream of becoming a professional photographer here is my advice to you: You have to be Talented, passionate and Hungry and when you feel like giving up- you have to keep going .  Here are some of the best free resources out there to get you started And ten photography improving Resources I can’t live without.

Experienced Photographers: What is your advice for those who dream of a career in photography?

Aspiring Photographers, What questions or worries do you have?

Winston Salem, Greensboro, High Point, Lexington, Thomasville, and Kernersville Wedding Photography, Shanna Duffy

Please call or Email  for more information.

3 thoughts on “What it’s REALLY like to be a photographer- My Advice to those who dream of becoming a professional photographer

  1. That is Awesome!!! If you find that you really love it, just hang on through the hard times it is so worth it!!! I may be biased, but think wedding photography is one of the greatest jobs out there, it’s a lot of work but also a lot of fun!! Congratulations on your upcoming graduation, and wishing you the very best of luck in your internship!

  2. Great post! Commercial/ wedding photography seems to be something that may kind of be falling into my lap as I’m about to embark on my final semester of being a graphic design student. Opportunities are being thrown my way and I’m grabbing them, which is exciting because I love photography, but I’m also quickly realizing it’s a lot more work than I thought, and I’m only just starting to get a glimpse. I’m about to intern with a photographer though who’s been in the business for a couple decades, so I’m excited to learn. 🙂

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