Why photography isn’t my job

Because it wasn’t how I made a living, I used to feel strange telling people I was a photographer. Sometime in the last decade though, I have started describing myself that way. It inevitably gets me a follow up question – do I sell my work? Do I shoot weddings? When I say no, another question always gets asked – why?

Because it would be a job.

I don’t need a job. When I worked full time I didn’t need another one.

Talk about taking all the joy out of it. When it becomes a job, it becomes a chore and there’s no way I’m ruining my joy of photography like that.

Very early in my photographic journey I fantasized about becoming a professional photographer. Visions of romantically rugged National Geographic expeditions filled my head. Jetting to remote locations. Communing with rare or endangered animals. Towering cliffs. Impenetrable jungles. Thundering waterfalls. Expensive gear.

I worked in camera retail for a time in the 80s and early 90s. Back then the market was as diverse and saturated in terms of what you could do, but not in the people actually doing it. Compared to digital photography, shooting film is a lot more difficult. The learning curve more steep. There was room to make a name if you worked at it and knew how to get your photos in print or displayed. If you knew art and photography editors. If you wanted to do portraits. Pet photography. Real estate. Whatever. I drank it in and took classes and learned.

Then reality set in. I shot a wedding.


Never again. I didn’t enjoy it. And, frankly, I wasn’t good at it. Granted it was my one and only time, but still, I am so sorry for that bride. But you get what you pay for and I worked cheap.

Nature photography is my passion and coincidentally probably the hardest to make a living with. I’ve put a lot of pictures up on a site that does stock sales as part of the service and I’ve gotten one bite. And just the thought of trying to present to and please a ton of magazine photo editors just makes me tired. Having to shoot to a brief or assignment, even tireder (is that a word? it ought to be). It’s a non-stop slog as far as I can tell and no thank you. The pressure would suck the joy out of it for me. Plus I don’t camp. So there’s that.

Speaking of losing the joy of it, another thing I’ve noticed lately among the photographers’ community is burn-out. Mostly social media burn out, but also plain burn out. That they’re chasing numbers or an assignment or participants in their workshops (which all seem to be to the same places) and it’s also non-stop. To be off Instagram or Facebook or Twitter for even a day feels like slacking. A day without new followers, likes, hearts, flowers, whatever, feels like failure. To be fallow is to be a loser and that’s very sad and untrue.

The agricultural meaning of fallow is a period of rest and restoration. A time for the soil to regenerate and become nutrient-rich again and able to sustain and nourish crops. Somehow the term has come to imply a meaningless, fruitless waste of time, not a recharging. Artistic pursuits are rarely constant and if they are, they’re rarely outstanding. Not all the time. Humans aren’t wired that way and to criticize someone for taking a break, is at best obtuse and at worst insulting.

When the social media tsunami came for us all, I did my best to fight it. Oh sure I have a presence, you’re reading this probably as a result of it, but I’m not a slave to it. I post once or twice a day to one or other or sometimes not at all. Grabbing followers or likes isn’t my goal. Mostly I peruse the feed to be entertained or to find out about something specifically. My content is mostly original because rehashing other people’s stuff is just boring to me. I hope it entertains or enlightens or just makes someone smile, but other than that I have no agenda, no plan and no hang ups about it.

For one thing, it’s super trendy in terms of what people “like”. Not just in subject matter, but in the way people process images. You know what I mean. Super saturated. Orton Effect. HDR. Sky replacement. Comp stomps of all the major icons of the world. No thanks. I shoot to please myself. That’s about it. Oh sure I’m happy when others like what I do or compliment me or follow this blog, why else would I put photos out there at all? But it doesn’t rule me. It doesn’t affect my decision to shoot or not to shoot something.

But I still call myself a photographer and why the heck not? I am. Just because I don’t derive income from it doesn’t mean it isn’t true. And putting the descriptor ‘amateur’ in front of that just diminishes my talent, experience and seriousness. So there. I’m a photographer.

8 thoughts on “Why photography isn’t my job

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  1. Pandemia shut down so many things, shifted focus on activities, changed work. Everything is different and what was important is not so much any more. Like you, doing the things I love is never a choice for a job and never will be. Then, the work I love doing for my pleasure becomes a chore for someone else’s pleasure or criticism. I always preferred working for a pay check rather than for myself, and a lot of that choice was based on the idea my creativity was mine, and not for someone else, at least on a most personal level.

  2. Bravo! I just stumbled across your post on WordPress “More on WordPress.com”. You took all the words right out of my mouth. In fact, I had just finished commenting on another photographer’s post about this very subject.

    I, too, am a “photographer” though it is not my day job. I had been shooting landscapes and night and city scenes for nearly 15 years when I finally decided to start a photography blog – not necessarily for the purpose of selling my work, but to tell the story behind my photographs. Selling was an added benefit. All my work has been living on hard drives or on the walls of my home. During the pandemic, I decided that I wanted to share my art to brighten someone else’s day and to give people something else to look at other than the sad news of the day with the pandemic or politics.

    I commend you on trying wedding photography, even if it was just once. It’s not something I’d be interested in doing. Too much pressure and I’d be worried about ruining someone’s big day with my inept people photography. My skill lies in shooting beautiful vistas – not in getting the white balance right so that the bride doesn’t look like they’re in a glowing white dress because the colors are blown out. Hahaha.

    I look forward to reading your other blog posts.

    1. I’m glad you found me, Deb. For some, combining earning money and a thing they love is a dream come true, but for me it isn’t. Being in nature, learning, connecting and disconnecting is where it’s at for me. The wedding I did…shudder. Never again. Sometimes I do learn! Looking forward to your comments here and I’ll have to skate on over to your blog as well.

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