Photography as hobby or career

Over on there is a good discussion of whether photography is a good way to make a living. The overwhelming response seems to be that it is an excellent hobby, but a very problematic career. It makes more sense to have a job to pay the bills; finance life, family, and photography; and allow you to treat the production of images as an artistic rather than a financial undertaking.

That coincides pretty neatly with my own intuitions about the matter. A few minutes on will turn up hundreds of top-notch photos. If the people making them are mostly warning of the difficulties of photography as a profession, it seems likely to be good advice.

Author: Milan

In the spring of 2005, I graduated from the University of British Columbia with a degree in International Relations and a general focus in the area of environmental politics. In the fall of 2005, I began reading for an M.Phil in IR at Wadham College, Oxford. Outside school, I am very interested in photography, writing, and the outdoors. I am writing this blog to keep in touch with friends and family around the world, provide a more personal view of graduate student life in Oxford, and pass on some lessons I've learned here.

18 thoughts on “Photography as hobby or career”

  1. Someone on the forum said: “Even Ansel Adams struggled to pay the bills.”

    If that’s true, what hope does anyone have as an artistic professional photographer?

  2. I’ve been able to turn my hobby of photography into a career. I do freelance work and it’s been good for me so far. But also have an ‘office job’ too. Probably has something to do with the love of money.

    But yes, it is possible to do the photography as a full time job.

  3. There is no question that is possible. Otherwise, there would be no debate.

    The question is whether it is a good choice for someone who enjoys photography and wants to live a good life, in general. Clearly, that depends on your preferences. If they include being able to shoot what you like, and being financially comfortable, photography may not be a great choice for a lot of people.

  4. Those photos are beautiful. The portraits are my favorite. Especially the clowns.

  5. There are some amazing shots, and the later ones in the series include a lot more countries.

    Which clown ones did you especially like?

  6. One other important consideration here: photography for money is just a lot less fun.

    You need to meet deadlines and quality standards of other people. You probably need to do things that you will consider boring, and try to conform to certain sterotypes. The pressure and rigidity are both rather unappealing.

  7. The Gift: Imagination and the Erotic Life of Property – by Lewis Hyde

    In The Gift: Imagination and the Erotic Life of Property, Lewis Hyde uses anthropology, economics, psychology, art and fairy tales to examine the role gifts have played and continue to play in our emotional and spiritual life. By gifts, Hyde means both material objects and immaterial talents and inspirations, such as ‘a gift for music’ or ‘a gift for mathematics.’ Or, as Hyde himself so lyrically observes, “I have hoped . . . to speak of the inner gift that we accept as the object of our labor, and the outer gift that has become a vehicle of culture. I am not concerned with gifts given in spite or fear, nor those gifts we accept out of servility or obligation; my concern is the gift we long for, the gift that, when it comes, speaks commandingly to the soul and irresistibly moves us.”

    Above all, Hyde is interested in examining the effect our current immersion in the market economy and the myth of the free market has both on our view of gifts and on our ability to give and receive them. The market economy is deliberately impersonal, but the whole purpose of the ‘gift economy’ is to establish and strengthen the relationships between us, to connect us one to the other. “It is this element of relationship which leads [Hyde] to speak of gift exchange as ‘erotic’ commerce, opposing eros (the principle of attraction, union, involvement which binds together) to logos (reason and logic in general, the principle of differentiation in particular). A market economy is an emanation of logos.”

  8. For Photographers, the Image of a Shrinking Path

    Published: March 29, 2010

    By the time Matt Eich entered photojournalism school in 2004, the magazine and newspaper business was already declining.

    But Mr. Eich had been shooting photographs since he was a child, and when he married and had a baby during college, he stuck with photography as a career.

    “I had to hit the ground running and try to make enough money to keep a roof over our heads,” he said.

    Since graduation in 2008, Mr. Eich, 23, has gotten magazine assignments here and there, but “industrywide, the sentiment now, at least among my peers, is that this is not a sustainable thing,” he said. He has been supplementing magazine work with advertising and art projects, in a pastiche of ways to earn a living. “There was a path, and there isn’t anymore.”

    Then there is D. Sharon Pruitt, a 40-year-old mother of six who lives on Hill Air Force Base in Utah. Ms. Pruitt’s husband is in the military, and their frequent moves meant a full-time job was not practical. But after a vacation to Hawaii in 2006, Ms. Pruitt uploaded some photos — taken with a $99 Kodak digital camera — to the site Flickr.

    Since then, through her Flickr photos, she has received a contract with the stock-photography company Getty Images that gives her a monthly income when publishers or advertisers license the images. The checks are sometimes enough to take the family out to dinner, sometimes almost enough for a mortgage payment. “At the moment, it’s just great to have extra money,” she said.

  9. “Mr. Eich and Ms. Pruitt illustrate the huge shake-up in photography during the last decade. Amateurs, happy to accept small checks for snapshots of children and sunsets, have increasing opportunities to make money on photos but are underpricing professional photographers and leaving them with limited career options. Professionals are also being hurt because magazines and newspapers are cutting pages or shutting altogether.

    “There are very few professional photographers who, right now, are not hurting,” said Holly Stuart Hughes, editor of the magazine Photo District News.

    That has left professional photographers with a bit of an identity crisis. Nine years ago, when Livia Corona was fresh out of art school, she got assignments from magazines like Travel and Leisure and Time. Then, she said, “three forces coincided.” “

  10. “If you want to photograph professionally you’ll make less money, have to shoot the boring stuff in crappy locations for which you’re hired, shoot it the way the client wants, and probably have to shoot everything as if it’s some big emergency every time. You’ll probably only be able to afford beat up old gear that’s “good enough.”

    Making a buck in photography is a lot tougher than keeping a real job. The photo jobs and locations that pay the most are the most boring. Think you’re going to have people hiring you as a travel photographer? Guess again.”

  11. In the photography course I am taking at SPAO, the issue of doing photography as a living has come up many times. It is certainly challenging these days, given that there are lots of people willing to allow the use of their images for nothing or for a very small fee.

    This is a big problem for those trying to make a living with their photographic skills. At the very least, it obliges them to produce a consistently better product than serious amateurs do.

    From a societal perspective, however, I don’t think this is all that bad. It’s a further step in the democratization of photography. The spread of digital gear, knowledge, and skills is allowing an ever-larger segment of the population to take professional-grade photos. There has never been such a large segment of the population able to photographically record things of interest to them at such a high level of quality.

    Because photography is so much fun, the supply of photographic services far exceeds the demand. Those are perfect conditions to make prices collapse. At the same time, people are still going to keep doing photography, precisely because of how much fun it is.

  12. Clay Shirky has written a piece on how the Internet changed the economics of newspapers:

    The classic description of a commodity market uses milk. If you own the only cow for 50 miles, you can charge usurious rates, because no one can undercut you. If you own only one of a hundred such cows, though, then everyone can undercut you, so you can’t charge such rates. In a competitive environment like that, milk becomes a commodity, something whose price is set by the market as a whole.

    Owning a newspaper used to be like owning the only cow, especially for regional papers. Even in urban markets, there was enough segmentation-the business paper, the tabloid, the alternative weekly-and high enough costs to keep competition at bay. No longer.

    The internet commodifies the business of newspapers. Newspapers compete with other newspapers, but newspaper websites compete with other websites.

    It did the same thing for some kinds of photography. If I need a picture of a sunflower for my brochure, I don’t go visit the local guy with 50,000 negatives. I just look on Google Image Search for a quality image, ideally Creative Commons licensed.

  13. Pingback: Self employment
  14. Artist Gwenn Seemel’s post, “How I make sure my art doesn’t get ripped off on the Internet” is a wonderfully calm, sensible and practical approach to living as a 21st century artist in an age where reproduction is a given. Seemel starts from six simple points:

    1) Be original. I aim to make art so original that no one will question who made it.

    2) Sell only live art. I’ve given up on the idea that art in reproduction is for sale and I focus on making work that is better in person than in reproduction.

    3) Pursue credit in innovative ways. No one has ever claimed a reproduction of my work as their own, but when I’ve known about images of my work being used without any mention of my name I’ve approached the situation as a teaching opportunity or used it as an illustrative point.

    4) Embrace the copying of style. Lots of people make originals that resemble mine somewhat, and it makes me feel pretty good about my work.

    5) Don’t assume that anyone is copying style. It’s usually pretty difficult to be sure that anyone is copying anyone else. That said, if another artist was making and selling works that I was certain were copies of my paintings, I would probably talk about them on my blog. It would drive Internet traffic looking for them to me.

    6) Be clear about what you want from the world and from the Internet. I make sure everyone knows where I stand with regards to copyright. At the bottom of every page of my site, there’s a smiley face instead of a ©. Click on the face and it takes you to a page that fully explains my beliefs.

  15. In 2010, the US Bureau of Labor Statistics documents that the median pay for photographers is $29,130 per year, or $14 per hour. “Median” pay means that half of photographers make less than this. You’d make the same as a bus driver, day laborer, security guard or a local delivery route driver — and each of those jobs has ten times as many jobs available as there are for photographers.

    Why try to become a photographer for low pay when there are so few jobs, when there are twenty times as many jobs as a top level executive — and they pay over $101, 000 per year! Honestly, you’re twenty times as likely to become a CEO, CFO or Senior Vice President as you are to find a photographer job, so get real and enjoy photography as a hobby.

  16. No One Would Buy My Photos, So Here They Are For Free: Mosul 2017

    My name is Kainoa Little, and I am a Shoreline, Washington-based conflict photographer. I was in Mosul in April and May 2017, documenting Iraqi forces as they fought Islamic State militants to liberate the city.

    I tried and failed to find newspapers and wire services who would purchase my photos. But the soldiers had fed me and given me a seat in their Humvees, and the refugees had tolerated my presence on some of the worst days of their lives. They very rightly expected that I would tell their story.

    The worst uncertainty for me as a freelancer in conflict isn’t that I won’t be able to pay my rent; it’s that no one will see the story, and then I will have failed to give a voice to the voiceless. So I have tried to share them where I can, and hopefully people can imagine some of the human tragedy and triumph playing out in Mosul.

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