01 March, 2019

I enjoy listening to photography podcasts but it seems that so many are focused on some aspect of growing or developing a photography business. The world seems to think that anyone who is a photography enthusiast must naturally want to shoot professionally. “Do what you love and get paid for it”, is the mantra I hear all the time. Isn’t that the dream? Well believe it or not there are many who don’t want to go pro. You aren’t somehow inferior, or less of a photographer because you aren’t a professional. Far from it!

Going pro carries with it some pretty heavy baggage. The biggest of which is that you are always trying to please someone else .. namely the customer. I have friends who are professional photographers and they are constantly worried about their social media following. They stress over whether they are shooting what their prospective customers expect and worrying about how to attract new customers in a highly competitive market. I hear them say things like “I really love this picture but I don’t dare post it because I’m a portrait guy and if I post this landscape I will loose followers”. For the majority of pro photographers, the customer rules their life and creativity. There are very few who have the artistic freedom to shoot whatever they want, when they want.

 At the start of my career I was a Nurse in a very busy metropolitan hospital and had enjoyed photography as a hobby from a young age. Word soon got out to staff that there was a Nurse in the ER who knows how to use a camera. The hospital where I worked was not only a major hospital but it was also a teaching hospital. This meant we had a lot of young student nurses and interns, many of marrying age. Chatting over lunch one day, a colleague asked if I could shoot her wedding and I decided to give it a try. I priced low because I was new at it. In the end the couple was very happy with the results. I had fun and I got paid, how cool is that! Word spread like wildfire ... “Oh congratulations on your wedding, go see Jim in the ER he shot my wedding!” I soon found myself with more and more people asking for me to shoot their weddings. I began to raise my prices to (a) make them more lucrative and (b) to reduce the demand by dissuading people looking for a cheap photographer. It didn’t help because people seemed to like my work. The demand grew and pretty soon my days off were entirely spent shooting weddings, meeting clients, compiling albums, transporting film and prints to and from the lab and arranging shooting locations. I was working 7 days a week! If I wasn’t on shift at the hospital I was doing my photography business. This went on for a couple years and so many weddings. I was doing well financially but the fun was gone. Photography became work … hard, demanding and unrelenting work! I hated it and finally one day I decided I had enough. My camera went into the closet and I walked away. My beloved hobby had turned into an enslaving task master! I despised my camera, the whole idea of shooting photographs and especially wedding photography was repulsive. The last thing I wanted to do was pick up a damned camera! It wasn’t just the workload that did this! Anytime I was shooting it was for someone else to satisfy their needs. Photography had become a job! My love of photography was cold and dead! It would be 10 years before I even touched a camera again. I had discovered that nothing can kill your passion faster than turning a hobby you love, into a job! 

Does that necessarily mean that going pro will kill your passion? Not necessarily. I can think of several wonderful gifted professional photographers who still love what they do. I am saying that going pro does carry that risk. You need to follow your heart and chase what you love shooting rather than chasing clients. That’s easy to say but can be very difficult when you have a mortgage to pay and family to support! 

For the vast majority of enthusiasts, we have a career and no desire to go pro. There is nothing wrong with keeping photography as a hobby. It’s not a sin to be an amateur! In fact let’s look at the definition of the word;

“Amateur- A person who engages in a study, sport, or activity for pleasure rather than for financial benefit or professional reasons”

Notice those words … for pleasure rather than financial reasons! Being an amateur is about motivation rather than level of skill! In fact I’ve seen the work of some amateurs that are absolutely spectacular and as good or better than many professionals! Being an amateur refers to why you do it, not how. I love that … yeah … I’m an amateur and committed to keeping it that way! Being an amateur has some real benefits. As an amateur we can shoot whatever the heck we feel like shooting. The only one we need to please is ourselves and we have the freedom to take our photography in any direction the wind carries us. If people don’t like what we’re shooting … oh well who cares! If we feel like shooting today we will. If we don’t feel like shooting today we won’t. As amateurs we aren’t locked into someone else’s timeline or expectations. Being an amateur means total freedom to enjoy our passion in whatever way makes us happy! That’s awesome! Speaking personally, I intend to keep it that way! It’s totally ok to not go pro!
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