A couple of times every week, I get messages from aspiring photographers who tell me that they wish to become a professional photographer but are unsure how to progress from an amateur to a professional. My usual reply is to ask them why they want to become a photographer and most of the time, I get a similar answer. “I like taking photos and my friends tell me that I am good at it.” And to be honest, that’s a great reason as any to become a professional. Its the reason I became one! But its important to know that being a professional involves a LOT more than just taking photographs.
Becoming a professional photographer means that you are an entrepreneur. And unless you have the benefit of a trustworthy team, you need to take care of all the backend work too. Constant emails (from old clients and new clients), multiple rounds of negotiation, meeting clients, drafting contracts, dealing with vendors, keeping track of cashflow, maintaining accounts/taxes, taking care of equipment, managing your data/backups, updating social media accounts, editing/post processing, and the list goes on. And apart from all this, you need to have the time, energy and motivation to come up with creative ideas.
So the real question here is how do you want to spend your day? My advice to people is to first choose a lifestyle. Then choose a profession which would accommodate that lifestyle. Many people choose a profession because of its apparent attributes and final outcome. You want to be a rockstar? Sure, go ahead. But understand that it requires hours of practice everyday and an insane level of discipline to ensure long term success. Becoming a photographer isn’t that different. If you want to take brilliant photographs, then you need to be learning all the time, be critical of your own work and be open to inspiration. Want to become an astronaut? Better start working on your math skills and be ready to spend time away from family.
Don’t get seduced by the success. There is a significant amount of unseen work that goes towards achieving it. What are you willing to sacrifice in order to achieve your goal? Work when all hope seems to be lost. Work without any light at the end of the tunnel. Work when failure seems to be the easier option. Work when all those around think you are wrong. Do you have the courage to do that? Learn to embrace the process. Fall in love with daily life.
Because once you achieve that much awaited goal, it becomes mundane. Everything is temporary. The novelty factor wears off quickly. Do you remember wanting a specific video game when you were younger? Do you remember how long you used to await its release? And the day it came out, all the excitement and expectation died away. Adult life is pretty much the same, but on a larger scale. If you spend every day looking forward to a single moment, then you are setting yourself up for inevitable disappointment. As the kid from the movie Up said, “That might sound boring, but I think the boring stuff is the stuff I remember the most.”
Define your success. Personal success is very much different from public success. The public’s perception and acceptance of success could be completely opposite to what you would consider a success. What do you want to do in life? Don’t let society dictate terms. Some of us are more risk averse and prefer a monthly job where you get a paycheck on the 28th of the month while other are happy to take a risk and explore other options. Some of us prefer living close to family while others want to get away as far as possible. Some of us dream of living in a large mansion and others are happy with a simple flat. All options are right, its only your decision that matters.
For me, sometimes all I want in life is to be able to put up my feet up at the end of a day, watch a nice movie on a large screen TV and sip cold beer while eating cheesy pepperoni pizza. I cannot imagine a better simple pleasure in life. And fortunately, my profession lets me do that once in a while.