Why Professional Photographers Might Actually Hate Photography

Have you heard this one? “I don’t take a camera unless I get paid.” Maybe you didn’t just hear it, maybe you said it. At some point in my career, that’s exactly how I felt.

It’s telling that at this time in my career, my studio was busier than it had ever been, and I was more unhappy than I thought. When I first started out in photography, the camera in my hand was such a source of joy; but within a few years I had become the cynical eye-rolling pro at the eager new photographers.

Why do we do it? Why do we take a perfectly charming hobby and try to turn it into a vocation? There’s a kind of craziness associated with the type of person who can’t just enjoy a thing for what it’s worth. A madness that drives a person to monetize anything they show an aptitude for. Maybe I’m just planning, but it’s something I thought about a lot.

The powerful emotion behind the madness comes from a good place, I think. A certain type of person understands that the most precious thing in life is time. If you can replace all the time you spend working to pay the bills with something you love, then you can create a happier life. That’s the theory, anyway.

Here’s the problem, though: when the hobby you love becomes your way of making a living, you run the risk of coming to hate the thing you loved. I call it the Hobby Paradox. It’s not just me, many photographers I’ve known over the years have turned cynical into professionals or left the industry altogether, never to pick up a camera again.

Here’s the crazy part: this applies to photographers who fail in their business AND to those who succeed. Developing a business with your craft that swallows your whole life with late nights and weekends is just as dangerous to your joy as failing to succeed with your art. I can tell you that from experience.

Success can come at a high cost

In 2019, our studio had its most successful year since my wife, Julie, and I started our business in 2008. We booked months in advance. For the first time in years, money was not an issue.

My work was featured in photographic publications, I wrote articles for Canon and Huffington Postand we were building a long and impressive list of clients like Microsoft, Uber and Bloomberg. By all accounts, our business has been a success. It never even occurred to me to consider the consequences this was taking on me, at least not until I ended up in the ER twice in a week. It was my first experience with panic attacks.

Now, I’m not saying my business was the only reason for my mental health issues, there were a lot of other things going on in my life at the time. What I realized years later was that not only had I built a life with no emotional room to breathe, but I had taken one of my greatest sources of joy and transformed it. into a monster that I constantly had to feed or consume. . My own little shop of horrors.

In early 2020, with my career exploding and my sanity collapsing, the world came to a standstill. When COVID-19 shut down the entire world, my business, the thing I had filled my life with, no longer existed. It would be hyperbolic to say the pandemic saved my life, but it didn’t. not Save my life. After struggling to get loans, grants, and whatever else we could to stay afloat for six months, I was forced to do what I hadn’t done in nearly a decade. Keep calm.

A funny thing happens when you have nothing to do. You need to find ways to occupy your time. I happened to have everything I needed to start a challenging photography hobby. Something happened to me when I took out my camera for no other reason than to have fun – I had fun. It’s true! Real, honest to God pleasure making silly videos for YouTube and taking pictures of my amazing daughters.

Through the prism of the machine of which I had become the servant, I rediscovered why I like to create. I rediscovered the world around me. I rediscovered my family.

Basic rules for professional photographers

As we rebuilt our lives and our business, we spent a lot of time talking about how we were going to do things differently. There was no way I was going back to the way things were. During this rebuilding process, we established some ground rules, and I want to share them with you now. If you find yourself overwhelmed, anxious and struggling, I hope these ideas can help you as they have saved me.

1. Enough. The Swedes have a word, “Lagom”, which basically means “just enough”. After all the work, all the time spent building, why was I working so hard? Who was I really serving? Would all the success in the world make me happier than baking pancakes with my daughters? And the idea for me is not just to learn to be satisfied with what I have, it’s to be satisfied with who I am. I’ve had enough, I’ve had enough. Lagom.

2. Demand joy. If you decide to leave the security and comfort of a steady job with benefits to pursue your passions, why wouldn’t you demand to do it in a way that pleases you? It took me so long to realize that you can create the type of business you actually want to work for. We built our brand around the photography that I love to create while making being home, being present, a priority. Nothing else is acceptable.

3. Let go. Creative professionals struggle with control, end-to-end. If you’re going to run a business that supports you instead of draining you, it needs to be run like a business. Outsource everything you can, hire help when you’re overwhelmed, and don’t be afraid to say no to work, even if it’s very expensive. Overdoing it could cost you much, much more.

4. Shoot for joy. Most adults have forgotten how to play. It’s funny because as kids, that was the only thing we cared about. Play heals you, fills you up, releases pressure. Photography is a great playground. Find a way to shoot on your own in a way that’s nothing like the work you do every day. Don’t let work rob you of the joy of creating. Learn to play again.

5. Get help. Anxiety and depression trap you in a cycle by making you feel lonely, unworthy, abnormal. If you reach out to someone, someone you trust, and share what you’re going through, you’ll be surprised at what you get in return. More than likely you will hear the words “me too”. You are not alone no matter how you feel.

It took a global pandemic and almost losing our business for me to rediscover the things that make me happy and how I was neglecting them, how I was neglecting myself. It really is possible to run a photography business while keeping your love of the craft alive, all you need is a few ground rules.

If you see me somewhere taking pictures for fun, try not to roll your eyes too much. I’m having a good time.


About the Author: Gary Hughes is a professional photographer and educator based in Florida. You can find more of his work on his website, Facebook, Instagram, Twitterand YouTube.


Picture credits: Stock photo by Depositphotos

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