A dim light sits on a meager two foot by three-foot hotel desk. The light from a laptop spills out over a portable terabyte, humming and emanating gentle clicks as information is being dumped onto the computer, and from the computer onto the hard-drive.


It’s been a full 12 hour day.


Hotel breakfast is a nice benefit no matter how limited it may be, it’s basically food you’ve already paid for in the ticket price. Today, it is two glasses of orange juice, a muffin that I swear came out of a discount bin at the local past expiration bread store, and 3 slices of microwaved bacon… which I re-microwaved, as apparently the burners aren’t working, and then it’s off to start the day.


A parade with event pictures in the morning, artistic portrait session after that, then a quick bite to eat on the way to a family portrait session. Afterward stopping to visit family briefly as I happen to be working in the state they live in this time. After this another on the road bite to eat and then off to do some street photography and night scenes. This is partly hobby and partly looking for something print-worthy or usable as stock.


Finally long after the sun has set I pack up, head back to the hotel, grab a snack and a drink, and sit down to cull through the day's images. Good images get set aside for stock, great images get set aside for print and portfolio, weak images get tossed.


This isn’t a typical day unfortunately, I’m not a part of the established photographer community. I’m not making what anyone else would consider a decent or livable wage. I went full-time into photography too early, established myself too late, and learned the grind of the trade firsthand. And that was a decade ago and I don’t know how I’m still managing to grind it out today.


Shooting is an everyday thing. Wake up in the morning with no “jobs” to do? Out the door and into the yard, macro, bugs, leaves, landscapes, water-droplets, experiments in product photography, and come in and edit all down and upload it either for critiques from peers, or upload it to the stock sites as a storage of “maybe someday paydays”. Treating every day like a workday even when technically I have no "work".


Teaching is where I’m at home. I can tell you about leading lines, the golden ratio, how to use the rule of odds, avoid the rule of thirds, use symmetry, properly expose an image, make use of highlights or shadows, reign your editing process in, but ask me about how to thrive in this market? Is it the shoot and burn photographers that have it together by keeping costs low and skipping out on extra work like prints? Or could it be the IPS sales rattling off high-value print and album sales and making the big bucks? Maybe the business side of this isn’t for me.

I love photography, I don’t know that I’d continue to grind it out pushing forward if I didn’t love the art of taking an image so much. But make a profit at the same time? Clueless. I primarily market to weddings, I’m sure the money is there, but I genuinely love weddings. Those people are extensions of my family, I duck and weave and capture all the details keeping in mind that every detail I catch is one more they can reflect on when it’s all over and the day is done.


From my experience, no matter what kind of photographer you brand yourself as, you’re not JUST that type of photographer. The photographers I know have second jobs to pay the bills, or they have to diversify themselves into a “jack of all trades” type of work-flow. Landscapes in the morning and evening, weddings on the weekends, portraits during the week, maybe a few lifestyle shoots or birthing shoots at the local hospital. And don’t forget the stock photography. Buy a drone, market on Instagram, update your story, use Snapchat, be social, don’t show up to weddings or shoots with a less than professional looking camera, dress casual for the younger generation, dress to the nines for the older generations, and above all, don’t tell anyone that you’re struggling. Don’t even hint at it. Fake success and it will drive business in droves towards you.


What does it take to make money in the business of photography? I’ve heard people say just keep doing what you love and people will find you and quite frankly I’m calling bullshit. If that were the case I’d be hauling my money bags down to the bank in the back of my old/new fiat. (Don’t judge me.) I’ve heard that you can’t keep offering discounted sessions or it will devalue your brand. I’ve also seen photographers who “appear” to be doing well offering that same seven-day sale for months now. So which is it? Is there a single photographer who knows how to make a living doing what they love, and isn’t also fake to the teeth?


My fiance (also my business partner) and I took a rather large hit financially recently. The goal was to buy an RV, downsize, travel the country and keep doing what we love to do, making money along the way. Through a year of continual bad luck and money funneling out of savings, that plan was squashed. I don’t know what thirty thousand dollars looks like in hand, but I can tell you what it looks like in sitting in the parking lot of an RV repair shop. Now we’re figuring out why the electric bill is at an all-time high and how we can manage to bring in enough work to pay it month to month. I find myself multitasking promoting our work, going out to create new work, taking stock images, and mulling over bills and how our total doesn’t meet that total.


Now I don’t think my images are amazing. To be honest, I see progress, I know we’ve both gotten better and people typically seem to like our work. I still hate an image minutes after I’ve finished it. I see each flaw, each way I could have positioned myself to get a better shot, settings I could have changed, etc. But I don’t think that’s the cause of it. I see better photographers packing it in and worse photographers doing well for themselves. If that really is the case then Miroslav Tichy had it right when he said: "If you want to be famous, you must do something more badly than anybody in the entire world."


I’ve taken to this idea of "community" recently. The idea that you’re only going to be as successful as the depth in which you embed yourself into your community. It has to be that right? There’s more to just grinding away, through sheer force of will, taking no days off, putting out content all the time, right?


The grind is crushing, I love picking up my camera, looking for new things to photograph, thinking of new ways to edit, and making some new benchmark in the lands of personal achievement. But to be honest, I’m sick of coming to the conclusion that my images must be lacking in some way, or worse yet, that somehow It’s me that’s lacking. I can’t nail the sale or close the deal. I don’t smile enough or force extroversion against my introverted nature.

I’ll need to get a “real job” soon, and I know that will mean less time to photograph, not zero time to photograph mind you, but less time doing what I love. This industry isn’t the land of milk and honey the new photographers think it is, and it’s not the land of fake it and you’ll make it or push till you succeed that the veterans are making it out to be either.


Or maybe I just didn’t grind hard enough, push myself far enough, or stick it out long enough. Maybe my edits were lackluster, dated, or just not different enough to stand out. Maybe these observations are such a micro-scaled opinion that everyone will be left thinking something like "you're just burnt out" or "you must not have tried hard enough" and that's fine, maybe you're right like I said. I don't know the business of it.


Post Note:


I realized after finishing writing this how utterly bitter I must sound about everything. The non-stop working to find work, sell work, create work, etc. And maybe I am bitter, not towards the craft of photography, but towards the industry, sure, I can see that. I couldn't turn a photo shoot down two days after my father passed away because that was money we didn't have to turn away. Vacation is like a foreign word made up of playdough and hopes. And bills, unlike photography, don't have in between breaks where they "slack off a bit". If this were retail or a sales position for some used car lot somewhere I'm sure I'd have made more money and be more stable money in the long run. But this isn't retail or working for some used car lot. This is what it is to be an entrepreneur at its base level.


I wish you all luck in the grind, and for those of you doing this and living well, help some folks out, how did you do it?