"Please could you tell me how to make money from photography?"
This is a question I get asked quite often by email, a majority are students entering their adult working life and trying to figure it all out.
And yet I don’t think it’s the right approach when pursuing any passion to obsess about making money.
Get a full-time job first to pay the bills, that's my main advice.
But don't do it so long that it poisons your creativity, individuality and drive as there's a very real risk of that happening.
Ever seen a gorilla sitting in isolation in a corner in a zoo? That's future you if you stay in a "normal" job for too long.
No but seriously, once you do have a job that pays the bills (and your passion for expensive cameras), then go on and pursue your dream, one step at a time.
Let it take over gradually to one day become your full time thing, it’s how I did it.
It's, I think, a lot safer and logical.
That is if it is really a passion, not just a temporary interest.
"But how do I know which it is?"
If you find yourself thinking about it all the time, day and night for a few years… you know it’s passion. When you wake up on a Sunday at 4am to get that sunrise an hour away from home, don’t get it, but go back the next week… it’s passion and tenacity.
If you’d rather sit on your sofa and pretend you’re taking photos… it’s a temporary interest. If you spend more time obsessing about cameras and likes than being out shooting... well you get it...
OK so before you can even think about making money from photography you have to ask yourself a few more questions and figure out the answers yourself.
First and foremost: Why do you want to photograph?
Define what it is you are actually after, what do you feel would be success? Everyone has a different vision of what success represents.
Let's use me as an easy example.
I’m not looking to become rich, I never have, I left the safety of a super well paid job and career in London to live a more simple life that photography could afford me.
I love nature, being in the country, the thought of growing a garden, being free. Ideally away from people most days. I want to have so much free time that it allows me to explore my creativity on many different mediums. Photography is not by any means my only artistic interest.
I have never enjoyed working nor did I put up much with authority. Yet I patiently put up with it for 20 years while I came up with a plan, to teach myself photography.
When I say I never enjoyed working, I mean as we are conditioned to think is a normal working life: 9 to 5, stuck in the tube, watch the news to remind yourself what to think about the rest of the world, stressed and pursuing the illusion of a career and the endless need for progression. Pay the mortgage, have kids, fit the mould.
When in reality we’re turning into robots all coming out of that very same mould.
And when I say authority, I mean that shitty boss we’ve all had who has his own insecurities and pointless life, abuses his so called power, and takes it out on his employees he pays peanuts.
I’ve had my share of these bastards (except my last) but I thank them for being a key part in my desire to break free.
Anyone in my life, teachers, family, friends, who didn’t believe that much in me has in fact motivated me.
You see all this has been my drive, I initially got into photography following some pretty tough times I went through (Why Photography Matters), but gradually as my photography improved and worked my arse off, well naturally people started being interested in my work.
I say naturally because it’s not that hard, I mean the basics aren’t hard to understand, it’s how much you take in, how tenacious you are and how good you are at applying these, every day, again and again until success finds you and until then never give up.
Fast forward to today, nine years after picking my camera for the first time and I am making a humble living out of my photography, my passion. Is this success? To some it is, others it isn't. But I'm happy. I work with huge brands like Peugeot and Adidas regularly and still sometimes have to pinch myself or remind myself that I AM a freaking photographer.
But I took things one step at a time, living in reality and not some delusion, worked a full time job until I was ready to make the move to focus 100% on my photography business.
So find out why you want to photograph, just do it well, put all your heart into it, be a nice person.
Also don’t be afraid to network, market yourself and what you do, some people will look at it as shameless promotion not understanding basic rules of business but that’s ok, it’s your business not theirs.
Keep working hard at it while others are having a pint at the pub, maybe you’ll lose a few friends on the way who won’t understand why you have no time or why you have different dreams.
It doesn’t leave much free time with a full time job and practising your photography aside.
But if one day you can break free and make a living out of it, not necessarily get rich, but live free?
It’s all worth it.